ARIZONA: The Cardinals and the NFL helped give a local high school a super upgrade this spring. Through the team, the league donated the sod installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for Super Bowl XLII this February to Moon Valley High School in North Phoenix. "It is a plus-plus for the kids, it's a plus-plus for the school and everybody who takes part in athletics at the school" said Cardinals owner BILL BIDWILL, who was on hand for the event at Rocket Stadium. "Athletics is part of the educational process, and we're just happy the sod is here." DR. MICHAEL FOWLER, the school's principal, was grateful to receive the Tifway 419 hybrid Bermuda grass, which was grown in Alabama and transported in climate-controlled trucks to the Super Bowl site in Glendale, Arizona. "We are honored," said Fowler. "It is an excellent commentary on the Cardinals and the NFL that they are giving back to the community. This will be a huge benefit for us and one we will feel for a long time."
ATLANTA: Rookie head coach MIKE SMITH takes over the Falcons after spending the past five seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars. "I'm thrilled and excited to be the new head coach of the Falcons," says Smith. "My goal is to build a well-disciplined, hard-nosed team that will be able to run the football on offense and stop the run on defense. I've always believed that's what makes championship teams." The club then went out and signed UFA running back MICHAEL TURNER, who spent the past four seasons in San Diego. "Besides being a quality football player, Michael Turner is a quality person," says Smith. "He is the type of player we are hoping will help build our football team. I'm excited he is joining us."
CAROLINA: *Panthers defensive end *MIKE RUCKER was one of three NFL players to visit U.S. troops at military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan as part of a week-long USO tour this March. Rucker joined San Diego Chargers defensive end LUIS CASTILLO and Chicago Bears defensive tackle TOMMIE HARRIS to continue an NFL-USO tradition initiated more than 40 years ago. "These men and women are away from home and they're defending our country so we can be safe at home," says Rucker. "The least I could do was to go over there and meet them and say 'thank you.' They are the true heroes, because they put everything on the line. We entertain in our job, but they risk their lives in theirs. We are so thankful for what they're doing. I think about them all the time. This was a life-changing experience."
CHICAGO: This offseason, Bears defensive end ADEWALE OGUNLEYE and defensive tackle ISRAEL IDONIJE traveled to Nigeria on a "homeland" trip along with AMOBI OKOYE and AHMAN GREEN of the Houston Texans and OSI UMENYIORA of the New York Giants. The players, all with Nigerian roots, pooled their money to give scholarships to 20 students at Nigeria's major universities in connection with the Changing Africans Through Education foundation. Ogunleye, who is a provincial Nigerian prince, delivered HIV test kits to university medical programs and dug fresh-water wells in his parents' hometown of Emure. "I feel that it is my obligation to give back and continue the example my parents started for me," he said. Idonije, who was born in Nigeria before his family moved to Canada, was excited to return to his homeland. "The main thing is being able to make an impact with the children," he says. "It's important to share with your community and your culture."
DALLAS: Pro Bowl tight end JASON WITTEN was recognized in February as one of four finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player's community service contributions as well as his on-field performance. The nomination still thrills Witten. "It was a real, true honor to be a finalist for the award because of what Walter Payton stood for," he says. "If the NFL could paint a picture of the perfect a guy to come into the league, that would be Walter Payton." Along with his participation in the Cowboys' annual charitable work, Witten and his wife MICHELLE recently launched the Jason Witten S.C.O.R.E. Foundation, established in part to provide support and assistance for families and individuals affected by domestic violence. "I had a lot of influences," says Witten, "and my grandfather was really a mentor to me. He was a father figure and showed me the way to be a man and to be an influence as we started our foundation."
DETROIT: The team's philanthropic foundation, Detroit Lions Charities, recently announced that it had awarded 102 grants totaling $508,884 to non-profit agencies in 2007-08 -- bringing the program's total donations in its 18-year history to more than $4.8 million. Detroit Lions Charities was established in 1990 to assist all age groups in a diverse range of needs and programs in Michigan. Particular emphasis is placed on efforts that benefit the children and youth of Detroit. "Detroit Lions Charities is pleased to award grants to these many worthwhile charitable organizations," said Lions vice chairman WILLIAM CLAY FORD, JR. "Our desire is that, with the help of these funds, these organizations can make an even greater impact in our community."
GREEN BAY: A new era in Green Bay is underway as quarterback AARON RODGERS takes over for BRETT FAVRE, who has retired. "I'm in a good situation," says Rodgers. "I've got a great team around me. A lot of people are focusing on what I'm going to do. It's what the team is going to do, really. I'm an important part of that, I know my role, and I need to play well." The Packers' first-round selection in 2005 knows that expectations will be high as he takes over for Favre and inherits a team that advanced to the NFC Championship Game last year. "I'm stepping into a team that's established already," says Rodgers. "I'm going to be expected to play well, I expect to play well, but I've got a great supporting cast around me. I'm not Brett Favre, and I'm not going to be him. I'm Aaron Rodgers. I'm going to be the best quarterback I can be."
MINNESOTA: *The Vikings added an offensive weapon to join Pro Bowl running back *ADRIAN PETERSON by signing wide receiver BERNARD BERRIAN, who set career-highs with 71 catches and 951 yards last year for the Chicago Bears. "I think that he can stretch the field and people have to honor his ability to get up the field," says Vikings head coach BRAD CHILDRESS about Berrian. "He also has the ability to work all of those short and intermediate zones as well." The five-year veteran is excited about joining the team and has high hopes for 2008. "I saw the upside that is here," says Berrian. "They've got a great defense and both lines – on offense and defense – are great. They have a great running back in Adrian Peterson, as we all know. The key part that was missing was a receiver who could go out there to take some pressure off that running game." With the acquisition, the Vikings believe they have addressed that need.
NEW ORLEANS: The Saints were chosen by the NFL to face the San Diego Chargers in the second regular-season game ever played outside North America when the two teams meet at Wembley Stadium in London, England on October 26. "This is a unique and exciting opportunity for our team and we are very proud to represent our region and our great fans when we travel to the United Kingdom in October," says Saints owner TOM BENSON. "The national and international exposure that our team, our city and our state will receive will be unprecedented." New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES is also looking forward to the game. "This is an amazing opportunity," says Brees. "And I believe I speak for all my teammates when I say we are excited. London is a great city and they showed last year how much passion they have for our game."
NEW YORK: After leading his team to victory in Super Bowl XLII, head coach TOM COUGHLIN was rewarded with a new contract. "Tom has done a great job for us and we think this contract recognizes his outstanding achievements here," says Giants President and Chief Executive Officer JOHN MARA. "For Tom Coughlin, 'coach' is not just a title, it's a responsibility," adds STEVE TISCH, the team's chairman and executive vice president. "He took a group of football players and molded them into the best team in the world. We are honored he will lead the New York Giants for many more years." Coughlin, who became coach of the team in 2004, is excited about the future. "The opportunity to be the head coach here was the fulfillment of a dream of a lifetime," he says. "And now to be able to continue in that capacity – with this organization, with this leadership, with this football team and with my coaching staff in place – is something my family and I are extremely excited about."
PHILADELPHIA: *The Eagles made a splash in free agency by signing Pro Bowl cornerback *ASANTE SAMUEL to help strengthen their defense. "Obviously, the cornerback position is very important," says Philadelphia head coach ANDY REID. "When you have the opportunity to get the best one in the business, then you need to look at that. I welcome him aboard and I know that (defensive coordinator) JIM JOHNSON has great plans for Asante." Samuel, who recorded 22 interceptions in his five seasons with New England, is looking forward to playing in Philadelphia. "It's a great situation," he says. "When I visited, everybody treated me like I belong here. I think I fit right in."
ST. LOUIS: The Rams have welcomed a familiar face back home by signing quarterback TRENT GREEN. Green, who has been selected to two Pro Bowls (2004, 2006), played for the Rams in 1999-2000. "We have now solidified our quarterback position," says St. Louis head coach SCOTT LINEHAN. "You will be hard-pressed to find the quality we have at that position. Trent not only brings experience, but adds leadership to our team." Green, who spent last year with the Miami Dolphins, grew up in suburban Oakville, Missouri and played high school football at St. John Vianney in Kirkwood.
SAN FRANCISCO: *The San Francisco 49ers Foundation and Hedge Funds Care recently partnered for the seventh annual West Coast Open Your Heart to the Children Benefit to raise nearly $1 million for the prevention and treatment of child abuse. Team owners *JOHN and JED YORK, head coach MIKE NOLAN, center ERIC HEITMANN, linebacker MANNY LAWSON, guard DAVID BAAS and 49ers executives all attended the event. "Any time the San Francisco 49ers get involved in events with our coaches and players, it's another way in which the community can touch the team," said John York. "That's what access to the 49ers means and that's why we are able to raise money in this community." Lawson, a first-round draft pick in 2006, understands the importance of helping abused children. "This is about the kids," he said. "The kids are the next generation and we have to do right by them right now."
SEATTLE: Seahawks linebacker LOFA TATUPU has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three years in the NFL and Seattle rewarded him this offseason with a contract extension through 2015. "It's great news for our team, great news for our community and great news for the city of Seattle," says Seahawks president TIM RUSKELL. "It essentially makes him a Seahawk for life." Tatupu is looking forward to finishing his career in Seattle and knows what the ultimate goal is. "I'm happy here and I want to spend the rest of my career here," he says. "They're committed to me and I'm committed to them. I just want to win some more games and win some championships. I'm going to end my career here. In this day and age, that's rare for someone to start and finish with one team. I love my team and I couldn't ask for a better group of teammates, coaching staff and organization."
TAMPA BAY: *Buccaneers linebacker *DERRICK BROOKS was recently honored with the Outstanding Citizen Award by the Sports Club of Tampa Bay for his community contributions on and off the field. The award is "given to the citizen who has most contributed to the growth and development of the community's sports environment." Through his foundation, Derrick Brooks Charities, Brooks is active in many programs aiding youth across the Tampa area. "I am truly honored to receive this award," he said. "I thank the committee for recognizing Derrick Brooks Charities for the work we do to affect the lives of people in the Tampa area. It is always nice to be honored for community service."
After a playoff appearance last season, the Redskins will turn to rookie head coach JIM ZORN to get them back this season. Zorn, who spent the past seven seasons as the quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks, takes over for Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE GIBBS. "I've always dreamed of being a head coach with a franchise rich in tradition like the Redskins," says Zorn. "As a player who had to fight Redskins teams at RFK Stadium as well as at our home field, I know about the history of this franchise as well as the passion of its fans. I won't let them down." Washington owner DAN SNYDER hopes that Zorn can bring the success he had in Seattle to D.C. "Jim's track record and reputation as a player, great teacher and as a coach makes us confident that they will translate to success for the Redskins," says Snyder.