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The players were popular visitors, yes, but not as much as the group of Wounded Warriors seeking autographs and interaction with their hometown NFL team.
“(Seeing the wounded soldiers) really means a lot to me,” said Marcus McNeill, whose mother has served as a colonel in the Air Force Reserves. “Just their mindset and the things they had to go through and the adversity they’re facing right now, it really sheds a light on what’s going on over there.
“Whenever you get to see guys like that, and they welcome you, you have a smile on your face and you really get to appreciate those things.”
San Diego staged its walk-through in front of the Marines and their families, then signed autographs for about 15 minutes after practice.
A few members of the Miramar Falcons, the base’s football team, participated in 1-on-1 drills. One Marine in a No. 11 jersey executed a double move on his teammate and caught a long touchdown pass from Philip Rivers, earning a leaping shoulder bump from Takeo Spikes.
Chargers Vice President – Chief Executive Officer A.G. Spanos and Head Coach Norv Turner presented a football helmet signed by the entire roster to the base’s commanding officer, who responded in kind.
“We’re gonna give you a weapon,” Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Conant said with a grin, handing Spanos a knife mounted on a plaque with “SD Chargers” engraved on the blade.
“I think it’s a two-way deal,” Turner said. “I think it means a lot to the Marines for our guys to come out here, but I think when they come out here and get to be around some of the Wounded Warriors and see some of these young guys that are defending our country, I think it makes them appreciate the things they have.”
A cavalcade of tweets from Chargers players minutes after re-boarding the bus to return to the facility attested to that.
“I feel truly blessed and want to thank all our troops who protect every American’s way of life,” Antonio Garay posted on his Twitter account. “Again we thank you. Love and God bless.”
Said McNeill: “One of the things that people do is take for granted the freedom that we have. These soldiers really put their lives on the line day in and day out, so whenever we get a chance to give our support, I love to do it and I want to do it. Being here today is a privilege for me.”
Conant, who commands more than 17,000 forces every day, expressed gratitude that the NFL will play a full season after negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in late July.
Colonel Frank Richie also spoke to the players and coaches about the importance of the Marines’ resolve to protect America since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nearly 10 years ago.
“Marines like the offense. Nothing against the defense or the special teams,” Richie said. “Marines do three things on the battlefield. They locate, they close, and they destroy our nation’s foes. And every one of these Marines is willing to do it.
“Our way of life is so important to them that they’re willing to fight for and die to preserve it. They don’t ask a whole lot in return. They ask for your friendship and they ask for your understanding. Yesterday they asked me for one more thing: a Super Bowl for the Chargers this year.” Read