CHARLOTTE, NC - Players, fans, the media. Everyone. We all get to appreciate a Sunday of football, or any day for that matter, because of the sacrifices made by member's of America's armed forces.
"Giving us the opportunity to do what we love," said Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers quarterback. "Of course, we can't say thank you enough, but we all mean it from the bottom of our hearts."
The team showcased that gratitude on Sunday by inviting the families of fallen soldiers to the field during pregame activities. The USO of North Carolina and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) helped coordinate the day to make this possible. Each player wore a special decal on their helmet, featuring the initials of one of the fallen soldiers.
"The idea is to do something a little bit bigger than just represent one family or one branch of the military," said Miguel Vargas, Panthers director of entertainment. "We wanted to represent everybody."
"I think it's tremendous, I really do," said Ron Rivera, Panthers head coach. "I think it's something that's long overdue, that we're paying tribute to those who defend our nation."
During the break between the first and second quarters, the families returned to the field to a standing ovation. That came just after they received a special gift for the team. Each family received a helmet with a personalized message from the player honoring their fallen loved one.
"We're not standing alone," said Ava Bradley, who lost her husband, sergeant Juantrea Bradley. "My husband did not do what he did in vain."
"I think it's a great thing," said Ed Brazas, who lost his son, MA2 Sean Brazas. "It's a tribute not only to my son, but every man or woman who puts on the uniform of their country, because they do it voluntarily to protect our rights."
Brazas and his family received a message on their helmet from Roman Harper.
It read: "thank you for everything your family represents."