By Art Garcia, www.armedforcesbowl.com
Above all else, Brant Ringler views the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl as a tribute to those who make it possible for us to even enjoy sporting events.
"It's more than a bowl game," said Ringler, Executive Director of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl."A football game can only occur because of the freedoms we have, and who provided those freedom for us? The Armed Forces.
"We're not trying to take away from the football game at all. We want to pay our dear respects, as we need to. Fortunately, when we started this program, we were on the front end of what you see today. Everybody is thanking the military these days, which is great. It's our way of saying thanks."
Saturday morning's 10:45 a.m. kickoff between the Air Force Academy and Rice University at Amon G. Carter Stadium is a return to the roots of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. The game has spent the last two years on the campus of SMU atGerald J.Ford Stadium as a massive $164-million renovation took place atAmon G. Carter Stadium.
Coming back to the site of the first seven Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowls gives the 10th anniversary of the event a homecoming feel. It's just a much nicer home.
"It's a phenomenal stadium and it has a lot of new things we are able to enjoy, and the fans will be able to enjoy a lot of the amenities and the teams have already enjoyed that," Ringler said. "Thanks to TCU and Coach Gary Patterson for opening the stadium up this week, due to the weather conditions, teams changed their plans for practicing at certain high schools in the area, and they opened up their indoor facility for us and it was truly appreciated.
"TCU has been a great partner, and I want to say also thank you SMU for the last few years, which really helped us in preparing for this year. Going to another stadium and learning about another stadium; that's what we did this year. We came back. Fort Worth is our home."
More than 43,000 tickets have been distributed, setting the stage for a record turnout. Of that total, 12,000-13,000 tickets are provided free of charge to military families through the generosity of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl's corporate partners.
"The stands tomorrow should be more than half full with military families to be honored," Ringler said, "so we are really looked forward to that."
The fun gets started early Saturday with a host of activities outside and inside ofAmon G. Carter Stadium for the fans. The pregame concert includes a performance from the Rice Marching Owl Band, more affectionately known as "The MOB."
A dual jump team,the Wings of Blue and the Silver Wings of the Army, are jumping together, along with double‑amputee Dana Bowman. A 1,500 square foot American flag will cover the field for the National Anthem, which will be sung by Commander Hank Kim, Skipper of the Gold Crew USS Fort Worth.
At halftime, General Norton Schwartz will receive the Great American Patriot Award presented by Armed Forces Insurance. General Whistler from the Marine Corps will then induct over 125 recruits into the military before a special Wounded Warrior tribute. More than 300 family members with Wounded Warriors at the game will be hosted in the south end zone by the Air Power Foundation. More than 100 Wounded Warriors, going back to World War II, will be recognized on the field.
The day will end with either Air Force or Rice hauling a specially-designed trophy back to its campus. The origin of the trophy is as striking as the trophy itself.
"This is the third year, the trophy actually made out of materials from the battlefield in Iraq," Ringler said. "We have football as pieces of a tank shell melt down into that football. The logo on the front is the attack helicopter melted down into that, and so we can truly say the DNA of the battlefield is in our trophy.
"There is no other trophy like it in the world and it's something special for these teams to take home."