The NFL and USAA, the league's Official Military Appreciation Sponsor, announced Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva as the two finalists for the sixth annual Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.
Quinn and Villanueva were selected for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community. The Salute to Service Award recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special airing nationally on FOX on Saturday, Feb. 4, the night before Super Bowl LI in Houston.
USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, will contribute $25,000 in the winner's honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The award recipient will receive a specially designed military challenge coin, recognizing their commitment to the military. In what has become a long-standing tradition, challenge coins are presented to members of the military community to encourage excellence, boost morale or to recognize a fellow brother- or sister-in-arms.
"Since joining the NFL to launch Salute to Service in 2011, USAA has been proud to recognize leaders in the NFL community who honor the service and sacrifice of our nation's military," said Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA's senior vice president of military affairs. "With Alejandro Villanueva serving our country as an Army Ranger and continuing his military appreciation efforts today, and Dan Quinn dedicating his community service in the name of military appreciation and support, these individuals are extremely deserving finalists for this year's Salute to Service Award presented by USAA."
In October 2016, 32 NFL clubs nominated coaches, active and retired players, and team executives and personnel, who best demonstrated support for the military community. These nominees were publicly announced in November and the submissions were evaluated by a panel of judges, including last year's award recipient, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson Nominees' credentials are evaluated based on the positive effect of the individual's efforts on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of the program and level of commitment.
The panel of judges, consisting of representatives from the U.S. military, the NFL and USAA, includes:
- VICE ADMIRAL JOHN BIRD (Ret.), U.S. Navy veteran, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs
- ROCKY BLEIER, U.S. Army veteran, four-time Super Bowl champion
- CHAD HENNINGS, Air Force Academy graduate, three-time Super Bowl champion
- VINCENT JACKSON,Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver and 2015 Salute to Service Award recipient
- TOD LEIWEKE, NFL Chief Operating Officer
- JIM MORA, SR., Marine Corps veteran, former NFL head coach
- ROGER STAUBACH, Naval Academy graduate, NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl MVP
Below is the list of previous Salute to Service Award winners. The award* *is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
John Harbaugh (Head Coach)
K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr. (Late Owner)
Below is a brief overview on the two finalists. To learn more about all 32 team nominees, please visit www.nfl.com/salute.
ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Alejandro Villanueva grew up as a military child, living in United States and Europe where he played football at the American High School for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Villanueva played football as a cadet at West Point and was commissioned in the United States Army in 2010.
Promoted to captain in 2014, Villanueva earned the Ranger Tab and deployed three times. He served with distinction and honor, receiving the Bronze Star Medal and the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for heroism in combat. After receiving an Honorable discharge from the Army, Villanueva attended the NFL Scouting Combine in 2014 and eventually earned a spot on the Steelers practice squad. Today, Villanueva is the starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers and credits his military background with influencing his approach to football.
"Serving in the Army taught me valuable lessons about honor, sacrifice and commitment. I'm humbled to be considered for this award and to have the opportunity to continue to give back to the military family," said Villanueva.
During his time with the team, Villanueva has participated in several community events and appearances to honor fellow military personnel and veterans, including "Heroes at Heinz Field" where earlier this season, Villanueva and his teammates hosted a group of veterans to participate in football skills and drills. He visited VA Hospitals in Pittsburgh, spending time with patients and sharing experiences in the military. Villanueva credits his military experience for affording him an incredible life experience and shaping him into the man he is today.
COACH DAN QUINN (Atlanta Falcons)
Coach Quinn has always connected with the word "team" and has acknowledged that the military serves as the word's true definition. Since entering his second season with the Atlanta Falcons, Coach Quinn has wasted no time giving back to the military community in Georgia. During the spring of 2016, Coach Quinn hosted the 2nd Annual Rookie Club Olympics where he invited 100 military members from Fort Benning, Georgia to the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility to participate. Coach Quinn and his staff created the event to as a way for NFL players and the military community to unite and work together as a team.
"The military represents team on the highest level. It's an honor to be up for this award that recognizes the standard of excellence set by our nation's military and encourages our community to give back and support service members and their families who serve our nation," said Quinn.
Coach Quinn hosts "Military Day" at Training Camp and 20 military members at each Atlanta Falcons home game throughout the season. In an effort to continue to make his impact greater among the military community, Coach Quinn provided a special opportunity for families of fallen soldiers with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), hosting 63 families at the Atlanta Falcons Salute to Service game on November 27. All families were invited to attend a VIP visit to practice, and each family was provided a one-night hotel stay in Atlanta - all courtesy of Coach Quinn. Each player wore the initials of a fallen hero on their helmet during the game and during practice, and provided the families with a replica helmet of their player with a personalized note in honor of their hero.
Also, this past off-season Coach Quinn led four Atlanta Falcons players on a week-long USO Tour through the Pacific, including stops in Guam and Hawaii. Coach Quinn's appreciation for the military community is evident, and that is why he is one of two finalists for this year's 2016 Salute to Service Award.