PHOTO GALLERY: Heroes At Heinz Field
SALUTE TO SERVICE: Steelers to honor Military Veterans
Former Steelers offensive lineman Craig Wolfley knows what it's like to be in the trenches, having played 12 seasons in the NFL. He knows that's where some of the fiercest battles on the field are waged, where the scratching and clawing are at their worst.
But no matter how physical a game got, no matter how many times he walked to the sideline bloody, he said it doesn't even come close to what his son, Captain Kyle Jacob Wolfley, and others like him face in the military.
"We played a game," said Wolfley. "There are rules. You can't do certain things. There are fines. The military, this is life and death we are talking about for our men and women who serve. The sacrifice they make for us, with awesome courage, fortitude and ability is amazing.
"You can talk about the toughest guy in the NFL. You are talking about another league, another world when you are talking about our men and women in the fighting fields across the world."
This Sunday when the Steelers take on the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field they will celebrate the NFL's Salute to Service, honoring the men and women of the Armed Forces as a part of Veterans Day observance, recognizing a veteran from various wars as a part of it.
"When I shake the hand of a man or woman who serves their country, I am humbled as a man," said Wolfley. "When I shake the hand of a man or woman who has served in combat, I am diminished as a man."
Wolfley doesn't have to go far to experience that humbling feeling, as his son, who is now with the United States Army 82nd Airborne, served in Afghanistan.
"I am incredibly proud of him and the men he led when he was there in Afghanistan," said Wolfley, who led the Terrible Towel Twirl with his son at a game at Heinz Field in 2010. "You look at the men and women who serve and it's a sacrifice. It's a physical toll and a personal toll because they leave behind their loved ones. What I learned is the incredible personal burden the families bear at home while the loved ones are overseas bearing all of the potential risk of physical harm. It's an incredible dynamic that made it the longest year of my life ever."
The Steelers have held events that have brought players and the military together, including Heroes at Heinz Field, and Wolfley said it's those types of things that form a bond between the two.
"Many of our military were athletes before they got into the service," said Wolfley. "So many athletes look at the military and see the discipline, courage, bravery and honor of serving your country and go wow. There is a mutual admiration society that goes between.
"Tunch (Ilkin) and I have had some of our veterans call in to the radio show and talk to us because they stayed up to watch Steelers games, sometimes until three in morning in another country. There's a great deal of our soldiers that are buoyed by the game. It gives them a reference point, something to bring to another land."
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will present the 13th annual Salute to Veterans, as a tribute to veterans and members of the active military on Saturday, November 9. As a part of the day-long recognition, any veteran, member of Gold Star Families or Blue Star Mothers, as well as members of the armed forces, and a guest, will be admitted free of charge to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and receive a 10% discount in the Hall of Fame Store. A special program is scheduled at 10:00 a.m. in the Hall of Fame's Event Center, featuring Wolfley taking about the military, his admiration for them and the pride he has in his son Kyle.