Tonight, the New England Patriots will play one of their biggest games of the year. The defending world champions will host the team they defeated in Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons. Naturally, this is a highly anticipated matchup between two squads who are among the NFL's best. It also is a game that will see a large contingent of military members in the stand – courtesy of a joint effort by the Patriots' players and coaching staff.
As ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss relays in his latest quick hit thoughts column, the team has donated 200 tickets for military members to attend tonight's matchup. The idea behind the donation was born by Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, who actively serves as a member of the Navy and told Reiss how the plan was realised: “It was a collaborative effort. I was talking to Matt Slater, we were thinking of ways to reach out, especially to our local military community, and show how much we value them.”
“My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game,'“ Cardona noted. “Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team.” The idea quickly found support in the Patriots' locker room and beyond and as a result, 200 men and women in service will receive an almost all-access experience at Gillette Stadium today; they will be on the field prior to the game and also receive a look behind the scenes.
“One personal goal of mine is to bridge that gap [between civilian and military world] and also the narrow divide and mentality between a war fighter and a professional athlete where performance is so important,” the Patriots' long snapper also pointed out. The thoughts were echoed by special teams captain Matthew Slater, who helped Cardona put the idea into reality. For Slater, it reflects how the team feels in regards to the military, especially in light of recent developments across the NFL.
“It's important to us that the military knows that those in this locker room, those in this building, we support them, we appreciate what they do and we understand that we wouldn't be able to live the lives we do without them,” Slater told Reiss while also praising Cardona for comung up with the idea in the first place: “I'm proud of him for the leadership he's shown. And I'm proud we'll be able to have those men and women here.”
To read more of Slater's and Cardona's remarks, the donation in general and more storylines, please visit Reiss' story.