WEST ORANGE, N.J. – Former Philadelphia Eagle special teams captain Vince Papale told the world about the “hero” connection between NFL players and the United States Armed Forces while promoting the third annual Wounded Warriors Amputee Football Challenge.
On Wednesday, in front a packed Essex County Codey Arena, the relationship between professional football player and military veteran was seen in dramatic fashion, as the two groups, along with 9/11 First Responders entertained the crowd with a charity flag football game.
“It’s a great honor to be a part of this great event,” three-time Super Bowl champion and former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi said.
Fans crowded the arena floor, which was decked out in the actual turf used by the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul over 30 minutes before scheduled kick-off, and remained on the playing surface for an hour seeking autographs and interacting with the Wounded Warriors and NFL alum.
Chris Draft, a 13-year NFL veteran threw touchdown passes with the football team from the Seton Hall Prep football team and the 25-deep line of children. While other football alums signed autograph after autograph for Wounded Warrior Project supporters.
Aside from being a former NFL running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, Rocky Bleier is also a Vietnam War Army veteran. After spending time in both camps, Bleier understands the importance of this event.
“I think how important it is just to show, from an inspiration point of view, overcoming physical challenges in one’s life or disabilities you might face,” Bleier said. “These are positive role models for our young soldiers coming back. Its very terrific.”
Franklin Lakes resident and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos quarterback Matt Simms was a relatively latecomer to the event. However, once he stepped onto the turf, he knew he was in the right place.
“Its for such a great purpose, so many great people, people who have had some bad breaks in their life,” Simms said. “For me to come out, throw a few balls around and have fun for a good cause is totally worth it.”