At NFL Pro Bowl, players make time for veterans

January 28, 2019 - 1:27 pm

By Ben Krimmel

Andrew Coughlan and forty-five veterans and active duty service members with the Wounded Warrior Project took the field at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando to play some flag football.

"It was just us being kids again," Coughlan told Connecting Vets.

But the Warriors weren't alone on Saturday as they were joined by Russell Wilson and other NFL Pro Bowlers.

The WWP's flag football game was apart of the NFL's Pro Bowl Community Day when players spent Saturday interacting with veterans and active duty servicemen and women and their families.

Coughlan, who served a tour of duty in Iraq from 2003-04 as an Army infantryman, was medically discharged for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2006. He credits WWP for saving his life. 

"It tends to be a cliché thing to say but without any doubt in my mind, if it wasn’t for WWP I wouldn’t be alive," he said in 2017

He told Connecting Vets events like Saturday's are great ways to "get warriors out of the house and form that comradery with each other."

"There was a little of that competitive edge that came out," Coughlan said. "There was some trash talking going on."

"It is cool for guys to be able to say, 'Hey I caught a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson,'" he said. 

And it was even cooler for the one veteran who spent Saturday bragging about intercepting the former Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Along with Wilson, Atlanta Falcons' Alex Mack, San Francisco 49ers' Kyle Juszczyk, Kansas City Chiefs' Anthony Sherman, and Dallas Cowboys' Leighton Vander Esch, were among the Pro Bowlers who participated in the WWP's two flag football games.

The NFL also teamed up with families from Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to build wooden American flags to honor their lost loved ones.

“TAPS is grateful to the NFL for its longstanding commitment to the men and women of our armed forces, their families and the families of the fallen,” TAPS president Bonnie Carroll said.

This is the third season TAPS families have participated in activities at the Pro Bowl. TAPS' sports program, Teams4taps, to create opportunities for survivors to get to know  athletes and teams "they cheered for with their fallen hero" and has worked with over 175 teams across the country since the program began in 2013.

“One of the best ways to honor those who have given their lives for freedom is to recognize and support their families, the living legacy to their service and sacrifice,” TAPS VP of Sports and Entertainment Diana Hosford said. “While we cannot take away the pain of the loss, we can all help families make new, happy memories together. Being invited to share in the joy of the Pro Bowl, which showcases the very best of the NFL, means so much to the more than 85,000 TAPS survivors across America.”

Pro Bowlers DeForest Buckner, Juszczyk, and George Kittle spent time with TAPS families while Benardrick McKinney and Taylor Lewan joined with a youth football team to pack Military Care Kits for The USO.

"The NFL provided a great day that not only a great day for the warriors and their families, but also connected us to Gold Star families from TAPS," Coughlan said. "For some that is another part of their healing."