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Former NFL Players Join Troops in Iraq for Super Bowl XL

By Pfc. Cassandra Groce, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

TIKRIT, Iraq, Feb. 7, 2006 – Watching the Super Bowl with retired NFL greats at your side talking sports ranks right up there with being at the game itself.

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Former NFL players Keith Byars (left) and Bryan Cox sign posters for waiting soldiers at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. Photo by Pfc. Cassandra Groce, USA
  

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Soldiers viewing Super Bowl XL live at 2 a.m. local time yesterday were joined by an entourage of traveling football players at Forward Operating Base Speicher here.

New England Patriots running back Keith Byars, who played in Super Bowl XXXI; linebacker Bryan Cox, who helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl in 2001 for the first time in franchise history; kicker Nick Lowery, who broke virtually every Kansas City Chiefs record, including longest field goal; and Chiefs running back Christian Okoye, nominated for the 2000 Hall of Fame, attended.

Also with the group was businesswoman Bonnie-Jill Laflin, a former Dallas Cowboys and 49ers cheerleader.

They visited troops at several locations besides Tikrit, including Camp Adder in southern Iraq and Camp Ramagan near Samarra, Iraq.

While at Ramagan, the players' "toughness" was challenged by returning soldiers from a convoy. The jests led to the players being given a chance to fire a .50-caliber and an M-4 rifle.

The group's trip to Iraq had sobering moments as well. When they first arrived in Kuwait, they watched fallen soldiers being shipped back to Iraq.

"It was very sobering and really put things into perspective for them," said Brian P. Lee, director of Marketing Ventures and Promotions that put the NFL players' tour together.

"Regardless ... if you think the war is right wrong or otherwise, we have people over here battling for our freedoms," Cox said. "So it's important that I come over here and let the guys and girls know how thankful I am that (they) sometimes have to give up (their) life for others to be free."

Seeing the country firsthand and talking with Iraqis showed the athletes a whole new side to a very high-profile war.

"You read all kinds of junk about the country, and once you come to Iraq your thoughts and views are changed," Okoye said. "This is real and a lot of things are a lot better than I thought and what I have seen on television. (These) guys have really done a good job bringing freedom to the country. From what we hear on TV and see in newspapers, it didn't sound like this, so I am very impressed."

"It's funny talking to the Iraqis and seeing how nice they are," Laflin said. "Everyone here seems happy and that the war is making a difference. I think if you come over here it changes your opinion."

The players and Laflin spent hours visiting troops throughout the camps, signing autographs and taking pictures with them. They also took the time to eat dinner with troops at their chow halls.

"We want to say to them to hang on keep doing what they are doing," Okoye said. "They have our support. Just looking at them and seeing the smile on their face makes me feel good, so they have my support."

Even though the athletes had been on the go for 20 hours, they wouldn't pass up the chance to watch the 2 a.m. Super Bowl game with the troops. The group traveled to different locations where servicemembers were viewing the game.

"We've been all over Iraq to support the troops, and it is very dear to my heart," Laflin said. "My uncle served in Vietnam and my grandfather in World War II, so it was very important to come out here and give the troops a smile and hopefully make a difference."

(Pfc. Cassandra Groce is assigned to the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAirmen and soldiers alike waited at the morale, welfare and recreation center at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq, for a chance to visit with the former NFL players and former NFL cheerleader Bonnie-Jill Laflin. Photo by Pfc. Cassandra Groce, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSoldiers wait behind Keith Byars and Bryan Cox for an opportunity to take a photograph with the former NFL players at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. Photo by Pfc. Cassandra Groce, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMany soldiers took advantage of the opportunity to meet former NFL stars and took photographs of and with the group at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. Many brought personal items to be signed by the group as well. Photo by Pfc. Cassandra Groce, USA  
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