Tuesday normally is an off day for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but this Tuesday, many players found time to interact with a special group of fans at Heinz Field.
The Heroes at Heinz Field event, in its sixth year, is intended to give the veterans -- many of whom are struggling with post-traumatic stress, delayed disability payments, and family and employment problems -- a "break from the norm," said Marc Lockett, a case manager for the VA Healthcare Veterans Integrated Service Network 4 area, which includes 10 Veterans Affairs medical centers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.
Mr. Lockett said most of the veterans invited to Heinz Field have "been through the most stressful deployments."
Some of the injuries were obvious as the veterans ran passing routes and attempted field goals, including prostheses to replace lost legs and canes to help them amble across the grass.
Other lingering effects from their military service are less apparent.
"A lot of the guys aren't stable financially," Mr. Lockett said. "This is just a break from reality."
The event meant as much to many of the players as it did to the "Heroes."
"It's great to be out here. This is what true sacrifice is," said cornerback Cortez Allen, who was drafted by the Steelers in 2011 from The Citadel, which gave him a window into military life. Mr. Allen said some of his friends and classmates from the South Carolina military academy are still serving overseas.
"To be in the midst of them is truly humbling," he said.
Former Steelers offensive lineman Craig Wolfley, whose son, Kyle, spent a year in Afghanistan with the Army, told the assembled veterans and their relatives that the organization was "in awe of your presence."
"When you meet a man or woman who has served in combat, you are awed and you are diminished," said Mr. Wolfley, who was joined by Steelers broadcaster Tunch Ilkin and a dozen current players, including offensive tackle Mike Adams, guard David DeCastro, cornerback William Gay, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, defensive end Brett Keisel, punter Zoltan Mesko, tight end Heath Miller, linebacker Sean Spence, cornerback Ike Taylor, longsnapper Greg Warren and linebacker Jason Worilds.
-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor