On Sunday, November 24, I had the good fortune to attend one of the best football games of my life. It wasn’t because the Detroit Lions played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It wasn’t because the Lions played well (and based on the reactions of the crowd, they didn’t). It was because it was the Detroit Lions Salute to Service game.
The NFL has a long history of honoring veterans and service members, but with their new Salute to Service campaign, they go above and beyond the call of duty. Beginning in November, in honor of Veterans Day, the NFL designated 32 Salute to Service games with the purpose of honoring veterans and service members. Additionally, for every point scored during a Salute to Service game, the NFL donates $100 to each of its three military non-profit partners – the Pat Tillman Foundation, the USO and Wounded Warrior Project – for a total of $300 per point.
At each Salute to Service game, the home team does something different in honor of the men and women of the armed forces. Together with the Detroit Lions, Quicken Loans invited 150 active-duty and veteran military members, along with 26 veteran Quicken Loans team members, to the game for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not only did they get to form a “fan tunnel” to greet the Lions as they entered the stadium, but they were able to help showcase an American flag that spanned the entire length of the football field during the National Anthem.
Watching the service men and women walk out onto the sidelines carrying the flag was incredible; you really have no idea how big the field is until you see a train of uniformed service members holding a flag that’s 100 yards long. It’s huge. They lined up along the back side of the field and raced across, unfurling the flag in a display that was completely breathtaking and something that I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to see again – at least in this magnitude.
After the pre-game fun, 26 active-duty service members and the 26 Quicken Loans veterans were able to come back and hang out in the Quicken Loans Dream Seats – a posh seating area that’s like no other in the NFL. With overstuffed black leather lounge chairs and personal large-screen, high-definition televisions at nearly every seat, the Quicken Loans Dream Seats are luxurious and comfortable and the way I think every seat in Ford Field should be, but that’s beside the point.
At one point in the game, the Lions arranged for Marine Captain Josh Munsee to surprise his wife with an early homecoming. As his wife and three kids went out onto the field for a special recognition event, they were greeted by a video message from Captain Munsee, followed by a video from Matthew Stafford thanking him for his service. “Welcome home, Captain Munsee,” said Stafford just as Captain Munsee ran out onto the field into the arms of his unsuspecting family. I cried. People around me cried. People were truly happy and honored to be able to share in this event honoring and celebrating these veterans.
The thing that is difficult to explain, but that hit me the hardest, was just how unprepared I was for the outpouring of gratefulness from other Lions fans for how we were taking care of veterans. A family came by, and in the course of our conversation they mentioned how happy the service members looked. “They’re all beaming from ear to ear,” the mom said. “Just look at them. It’s hard not to be happy when you see that. It’s infectious!”
That mom couldn’t be more right. The whole game, the veterans and service members mingled and enjoyed themselves. As I sat and watched, it seemed like every 10 minutes someone came up to shake their hand and say thank you for their service, to just take the time to appreciate what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.
I really was most surprised about the reactions from the service members themselves – they were so grateful for all the well wishes and the outpouring of thanks from the fans. It’s what makes it all worth it to me, seeing the veterans so genuinely happy and honored to be there. They don’t expect to be revered; to them, serving is just what they do. It’s humbling and inspiring to be around such a strong and dedicated group of people. That’s why I work so hard every day to ensure that veterans and service members know that Quicken Loans cares.
But make no mistake; we didn’t do this because we’re looking for recognition. We did this because it’s our culture to pay it forward. There’s nothing that can be bought or sold that could ever compare to brightening someone’s day by saying “thank you for all you do.” It’s a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, and one we’ll continue to do because we can and because we care.
Jay Farner, President and Chief Marketing Officer of Quicken Loans, says it perfectly: “Quicken Loans is proud to be part of this event and to recognize those who have given so much to keep us all free and safe. We are committed to honoring our military through veteran hiring programs, offering military loan programs, supporting military charities and special events like this weekend where we pause to say thanks and help create a lifelong memory for the heroes who are willing to selflessly sacrifice to protect our country.”
At Quicken Loans, we do something to honor veterans every day. Whether it’s providing VA loans so service men and women and their families have a place to call home, or helping veterans transition to careers through our veteran recruiting program, helping those who have served our country is who we are.
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