WEST ORANGE, NJ - It's every young boy’s dream to play in the National Football League. Many children grow up idolizing their favorite athletes, but not many have the opportunity to meet, interact and play with their childhood heroes.
New Brunswick native Bobby Donnelly has been living the dream of a lifetime.
One of the captains of the Wounded Warrior Project’s Football Team, Donnelly will lead a squad of amputees and victims of war in a flag football fight against former NFL greats on Jan. 29 at Essex County’s Codey Arena.
“All these guys you look up to growing up, whether you were alive or not, you still look back and reflect on them,” Donnelly said. “The past players, you look up to these guys. To play with them is amazing.”
Despite Donnelly’s nostalgia of playing with childhood idols, he is the true hero. After joining the United States Navy in 2003, Donnelly lost his right leg following an accident while training to become an explosive ordinance disposal diver.
The potential life-altering injury did not discourage the veteran. Since recovering from the amputation, Donnelly has been one of the leaders of Team Warrior.
The squad has previously played games against alumni from the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins and that has yielded plenty of fan support.
“We’ve done pretty well,” Donnelly said. “A lot of local support, it just depends on the day. We’re going to be out here three or four days before the Super Bowl. Hopefully, maybe, we get some extra people in here and fill it up.”
While some may expect a different brand of football, the Wounded Warriors will surprise all the fans that will be in attendance at Codey Arena. Donnelly assures that you haven’t seen flag-football like this before.
"We get pretty aggressive,” Donnelly said. “It really depends on how aggressive the other team is playing. In the Redskins game that we played in a couple of months ago in the end of October, it got pretty aggressive, so there were definitely some hits thrown in a flag-football game. It's fun.”
Donnelly and the rest of the Team Warrior squad expect a full house in next week’s fundraiser, but that hasn’t stopped him from making a sales pitch to other local heroes including two of the biggest names in New Jersey.
“As a New Jersey native and a veteran who is going to be playing in this game, I challenge all of my fellow Jerseyans to come out and show their support,” he said. “As a Jets fan, Rex Ryan, I know you’re not busy, you better get out here, and [Governor Chris] Christie too.”
Tickets for the game are still on sale at the Codey Arena Box Office or the Wounded Warriors’ Football Team’s website.