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Face of Defense: Former Giant Cheers Team from Afghanistan

By Sgt. Jim Wilt, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Feb. 4, 2008 – As millions of Americans gathered around their televisions to watch Super Bowl XLII last night, servicemembers here rolled out of beds, cots or sleeping bags to watch the big game in the early morning hours.

The New York Giants and New England Patriots each had plenty of rooters here, but one soldier assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 82 took special pride in the Giants’ stunning 17-14 upset of the previously unbeaten Patriots.

Before he joined the Army, Lt. Col. Nate Rivers, CJTF 82’s logistics maintenance chief, played in the National Football League in a career that included two years with the Giants.

Rivers, a resident of Anchorage, Ala., was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1979 after a successful college career as a quarterback at South Carolina State University. Shortly thereafter, he was traded to the Giants. Rivers said he was with the Giants for two years before being traded again to the Baltimore Colts, where he ended his career in 1981 as a wide receiver.

After a stint on injured reserve, Rivers said, he knew his career was over. “I knew I needed to move on,” he said. He’d seen players trying hold on to the sport after their time was over. “I just decided I wasn’t going to do that,” he said.

Less than a week later, he was standing with his right hand raised at an Army recruiter’s office.

“I told the recruiter I wanted the hardest thing out there,” Rivers recalled. He found himself at Fort Benning, Ga., training to be an infantryman.

“The Army provided me the opportunity to be on the ‘first team,’” he said. “Twenty-six years later, that is why I am still on the ‘first team.’ The Army offered me a better deal.”

Rivers still has good memories about his days as a professional football player, including flattening a future hall-of-famer in practice.

“I was there for Lawrence Taylor’s rookie year,” he said.

“I don’t think too many people can say they knocked him on his back and stood over him and said ‘Get up, Rook.’”

Nate Rivers never became a household name, but he’s still proud of his gridiron accomplishments. “Reporting to (training) camp is a feat in itself,” he said.

Playing pro football and becoming an officer in the Army are two accomplishments many people would be proud of. But they are not the icing on Rivers’ cake, as far as he’s concerned.

“The most important (accomplishment) in my mind is when I got my college degree,” he said.

Even as Rivers watched his old team win the world championship, he still remembered why he is here.

“This is a Super Bowl here, too,” he said. “There is a winner and loser, and God forbid we come out on the losing end in the war on terror.”

(Army Sgt. Jim Wilt serves in public affairs with Combined Joint Task Force 82.)

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