Three NFL players who excel on the field and in their community are continuing an NFL-USO tradition initiated nearly 50 years ago. These NFL ambassadors are taking part in a week-long tour throughout the Middle East to visit U.S. troops at military bases.
The NFL and USO have worked together on overseas morale-building visits for 48 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO and became the first sports organization to send players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia.
Since then, NFL icons including Terry Bradshaw, Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, Howie Long, Don Meredith, Lynn Swann and Johnny Unitas have visited troops on NFL-USO tours in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Kuwait and Somalia. In 2008 Commissioner Roger Goodell became the first sports commissioner to visit the troops overseas as part of a USO trip when he toured Iraq and Afghanistan.
NFL players Champ Bailey, D'Qwell Jackson, Davin Joseph, Von Miller, Steve Smith and J.J. Watt took part in last year's USO tour overseas. During the tour, the group visited military bases in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. They dined with service members, greeted military personnel and signed autographs.
Also last year, former NFL players Chris Draft, Donnie Edwards, and Eric Metcalf along with former Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian, spent the beginning of July in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, visiting troops and showing their appreciation to service members.
Players participating in this year's NFL-USO Tour:
Brandon Fields has been an integral part of the Dolphins since he was selected by the team in the 2007 NFL Draft. A 2014 NFL Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro second-team selection, he became just the second Miami punter to be named to the Pro Bowl. Fields currently ranks first in Dolphins history in highest gross punting average (46.8) and net punting average (39.3). His career average of 46.8 yards per punt ranks the seven-year veteran third all-time in NFL history. He completed the 2013 season ranked second in both the AFC and the NFL in punting, and first in the AFC and second in the NFL in net punting.
For his tireless work within the community, Fields was named the recipient of the Dolphins' 2012 Nat Moore Community Service Award and has twice been named the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominee (2012, 2013). His off-the-field work includes participating in the Dolphins Foundation Fishing and Golf Tournaments as well as the team's annual turkey giveaway and "Lift Up America Food Giveaway" event. He has helped purchase toys and meals during the holidays and helped serve food to the homeless. In addition to participating in team's events, Fields, and his wife Katie, established the Brandon and Katie Fields Youth Fitness Fund in 2010. With a focus on health, fitness and a positive attitude, the fund promotes physical activity and good health to children in the community.
"It means a great deal to have the opportunity to go overseas to visit the troops. It is a way for me to show my appreciation, knowing all they are sacrificing fighting for our freedoms and the liberties of other people throughout the world." said Fields. "I feel honored to get to spend some time with them and hopefully bring them a little piece of home since they are stationed overseas away from their families for long periods of time."
Garçon, a tenacious blocker and explosive receiving threat, signed with the Redskins as an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Garçon became a key component of the Redskins' offense in 2012, leading the team to a 9-1 record in games in which he played, amassing 633 receiving yards in just 10 games. Garçon finished the 2012 season having played in 68 regular-season games with 53 starts, totaling 232 receptions for 3,152 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Colts and Redskins. In 2013, Garçon broke Art Monk's team record for receptions in a season, posting a career high 113 receptions for 1,346 receiving yards and five touchdown grabs. Garçon has appeared in five postseason games, starting all five and posting 30 career postseason receptions for 413 yards with three touchdowns.
Garçon's work off the field includes founding the Pierre Garçon Helping Hands Foundation, which provides resources for Haitians affected by the 2010 earthquake. He has flown to Haiti on several mission trips and worked with other charitable organizations to assist the region. In 2013, he hosted a charity event that raised more than $30,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.
"It's an honor to go over and visit the troops in their environment, not only to see how they're doing but also to appreciate what they're doing to keep us safe back in America," said Garçon . "I'm so proud to be a part of this event and to be able to thank the real heroes in person."
Graham was a third-round draft choice of the Saints in 2010. In just four seasons, he has become one of QB Drew Brees' favorite targets. In 62 games with 36 starts, he has 301 catches for 3,863 yards with 41 touchdowns and has already shattered the club's all-time receiving record for a tight end. Graham, who played four years of basketball and one year of football at the University of Miami (Fla.), has recorded 270 receptions for 3,507 yards with 36 touchdowns the past three seasons, ranking him fourth in the NFL in receiving, first at his position. In 2013, he led the Saints in receiving for the third consecutive season with 86 grabs for 1,215 yards with a club-record and NFL-best 16 touchdowns, leading NFL tight ends in all major statistical categories. Graham was voted All-Pro this year and selected to play in the 2014 Pro Bowl.
Graham was featured in a recent USA Network television program called "NFL Characters Unite," about his mentorship of a New Orleans teenager. He has hosted a youth football camp at Tulane University and is an avid supporter of Boys Town Louisiana. Graham also supports the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans, the Toys for Tots program, and the Volunteers of America Foster Kids Programs.
-- NFL Communications