On a field where oftentimes many are called heroes, the true heroes in our country were celebrated on Tuesday night when the team hosted the annual Heroes at Heinz Field.
The event, which is part of the Steelers Huddle for 100 to help the NFL reach its goal of 100 million minutes of volunteerism and community activism, is done in conjunction with the VA Healthcare VISN 4 to honor the men and women who truly embody what being a hero is all about.
The event aids post-9/11 veterans who are still adjusting back to civilian life, but it does a whole lot more for them. It makes them realize how admired and respected they are.
"This is the 12th year we have had the event. During that time there have been over 2,100 veterans and guests that have come through this facility," said William Smathers, Transition Patient Advocate for the VA Healthcare VISN 4. "For us it's an opportunity to connect with the veterans. So many times, the veterans who did the most are the last who ask for help. When they are in this venue, they're able to enjoy themselves. This is the team, the players they grew up watching. With us being here, the VA willing to help them, we have been able to change lives. It's all because of the Steelers and their participation and support for this event."
It's an opportunity for the veterans to just relax and enjoy themselves as they take part in three different football stations, learning the art of kicking, passing and receiving from Steelers players.
"I wasn't expecting it. I got a call the other day about it," said Adam Deem, who hails from Somerset, Pa. and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. "I thought it would be great to bring my dad out here and experience this. We have been lifelong Steelers fans. It's been cool to be on the field meeting some of the players, especially Alejandro (Villanueva) being in the service himself. I have his jersey on tonight and I think it's cool he is out here tonight, and the other Steelers are.
"They do a whole lot for the veterans and the community. When you help and do service for other people, no matter how big or small, you are a hero to someone. I appreciate them as much as they appreciate us."
Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, was joined at the event by several of his teammates, including Tyler Matakevich, Cam Sutton, Jordan Berry, Zach Banner and Tevin Jones.
"This is awesome," said Matakevich. "Giving back. Seeing all these men and women and giving back to everybody. The sacrifice, I can't even imagine what they have done. What they have sacrificed for their country. For them to do it for their family and people they don't even know, that speaks volumes of who they are. I have nothing but respect for these people.
"And Al can relate to everybody out here more than any of us. He went through it. He is just like them. To see all of them get excited, hang out with him, tell stories, it makes you appreciate everything."
The Steelers hosted Heroes at Heinz Field, giving back to veterans, as part of the Steelers Huddle for 100
The fact that the event fell on the eve of September 11 made it even more special for everyone. A moment of silence was held at the start to honor the victims of the attacks and being there to support those who continued to defend our country really touched everyone.
"It's important. It's really special," said Sutton. "It's exciting for us to be around them, interact with them. They get to see us outside of Sunday and game day and be more personal with us. It's something I always look forward to and keep coming back.
"I can't really put into words the sacrifice and amazing things they do for this country, for everyone else. It's free willing. They put their lives on the line. They do things people think are unimaginable.
"It's hard to put into words the gratitude I have and everyone else here has for the veterans and everyone who puts their lives on the line to protect our country."