Members of the Carolina Panthers took their show on the road this offseason, traveling to four military bases in Germany as part of a week-long USO/NFL tour earlier this March.
Five players -- Mario Addison, Dean Marlowe, Andrew Norwell, Kawann Short and Trai Turner -- two Panthers cheerleaders and members of the USO of North Carolina and USO Europe visited Ramstein Air Base, Vogelweh Air Base, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr and U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, in what Short described as an "eye-opening" experience.
"I had never been to Germany, so we went to a couple different cities, different bases," Short described to NFL.com "It opens your eyes up to what these ladies and gentlemen do for our country and how well they deserve for us to come down there and just be a part of their success."
In between testing artillery and signing autographs for Germany-based Panthers fans, Short said the players learned a lot from their military hosts, especially regarding one very serious issue that ails soldiers abroad.
"One thing that stood out to me was how many people commit suicide on the base," Short detailed. "It's crazy, just because of their life away from their family, they can't really be back in their hometown and it's stressful. A lot of people don't really know that.
"Before going in to that whole thing, I never really thought suicide was a big issue. They were like, that's one of our main reasons of why soldiers really die is because there's so much going on in their head and they don't really have family there to give them that hug, that comfort zone that they really need."
That, and much more, gave Short and his Panthers teammates a new perspective on what it truly means to serve.
"We say it all the time, especially during (Salute to Service) and stuff like that. But I don't really think that's justice for what these guys do for us and how they protect out freedom and all that," Short said. "By going over there and being able to have fun with these guys and sit down and talk, that's something a lot of the soldiers really do want. Just have that conversation, get away from their job and that's something athletes want to do as well. They don't want to talk about football all day. They just want to have a regular conversation, like we've been friends forever.
"That was very important, and you could just see the smile and excitement on these people's faces. It just warmed my heart up to see that."
The Panthers' six-day trip through Germany was an educational experience in more ways than one for Short and company. They got to experience German delicacies, including wild boar and goulash soup. They met with a German high school football team that recently won its league's championship and fielded "deep" questions about life in the NFL. ("When did you know you wanted to take football seriously?" was one query Short recalled.)
But ahead of an important season in Charlotte, what Short took away most from the sergeants and soldiers he met on the USO/NFL trip was the importance of teamwork and developing camaraderie.
"You've got to trust the guy next to you; the faith and the belief have to be there; and the camaraderie," Short said, explaining the parallels between football and the military. "You're getting paired up with people you never knew. We're trying to win, and that's the whole thing.
"It goes for them; they're trying to win the battles they go through. There's going to be good times, there's going to be bad times. But how well you adjust to adversity through the good times and bad times matters. We just came off a season that we weren't proud of, so what are we going to do to get back to where we were a couple years ago?"
Short added that the lessons he learned could be specifically applied to his unit, which is welcoming a new member in veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers.
"Playing on the defensive line, I have to know who's on my left side and who's on my right side," Short explained. "I know the strength of Mario. I know the weakness of Mario. I know the strength of Star (Lotulelei). I know the weakness of Star. So when (Peppers) comes in and all that, we've got to build that trust, we've got to actually sit down and evaluate each other.
"In the game, coaches are going to call the plays, but we've got to be the ones to adjust to each other and know what to do and what not to do when we're in the game."