The Green Bay Packers have nominated Strength & Conditioning Coordinator Chris Gizzi for the 11th annual NFL Salute to Service Award, which recognizes NFL players, coaches, staff and alumni with demonstrable commitment to honoring and supporting military and veteran communities.
Each club has nominated an individual and finalists are scheduled to be announced in January. The recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air nationally the week of Super Bowl LVI. The winner of the award will be honored with a $25,000 donation to a military or veterans charity of their choosing, as well as a $25,000 donation in their name to official aid societies representing all U.S. military branches.
Gizzi began his Packers career as a player in 2000, and he rejoined the team in 2013 as a strength and conditioning intern before being hired as a strength and conditioning assistant. He was promoted to his current position in 2019.
Prior to his NFL career, Gizzi attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs after one visit convinced him it was the perfect place to serve his country and continue his football career. In addition to his military training at the Academy, he left his mark on the football field. He earned back-to-back Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1996-97, becoming only the second player in the Academy's history to do so, and he led the WAC with 179 tackles as a senior.
Upon learning that his eyesight wouldn't enable him to become a pilot, Gizzi remained dedicated to serving his country in the Air Force in other ways, working in public relations to help the Air Force and military recruit others to serve their country. He began his professional football career with the Denver Broncos, spending the 1998 and 1999 seasons on the reserve/military list while he continued to honor his commitment to the Air Force. He came to Green Bay in 2000 and played in 11 games that season.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Gizzi was preparing to head into the Packers facility when he turned on the news to learn of the terrorist attacks. Suddenly, Gizzi's focus was no longer on football, but on how he could help his country. The NFL games that week were postponed, so the next Packers game was against Washington on Sept. 24 on Monday Night Football. That week, Gizzi was named special teams captain and then-Coach Mike Sherman asked Gizzi if he would be willing to lead the team out of the tunnel onto the field with the American flag. Though he was unsure of how the moment would come together, Gizzi was proud to accept the honor. When it was time to run out of the tunnel, his instincts took over and his cathartic display of patriotism struck a chord with people around the country.
"I was able to ride the wave of emotions that the fans created," he said. "What an amazing thing we have with sports in our country, especially in the NFL. I hit the ground and I had to run. The moment called for it. I felt it. I blew the doors off that run as fast as I could, keeping my knees as high as I could as the ground shook and I screamed at the top of my lungs. It was an exciting experience. It was a moment when you felt like you were really a part of something bigger than yourself."
Now in his role as the Packers strength and conditioning coordinator, Gizzi continues to do everything he can to give back to the U.S. military and honor those who have served. He continues to regularly speak to anyone who is interested in joining the military and serving their country. For many high school students, he serves as a mentor and shares his experiences while in the Air Force.
Gizzi also finds countless ways to give back to veterans. He works with local military nonprofit groups to spend time with other veterans and thank them for their service and speak at their events. In 2019, he hosted the Packers Huddle for Heroes in Green Bay. This event partnered current Packers players with several groups of local veterans to spend time together, show appreciation for the veterans' service, listen to stories of their service and write letters to active-duty military members. Gizzi's ongoing work shows how important it is to take the time to listen to those who have served and demonstrate appreciation for their sacrifices.
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military and veteran community. Each year, the NFL and its 32 teams come together to honor, empower, and connect with members of the military as part of the NFL's Salute to Service initiative. The league's military appreciation efforts culminate in November with NFL Salute to Service games and other special events honoring and thanking veterans, active-duty service members and their families.