It was clear that the Pro Bowl players who toured a nuclear submarine and Navy cruiser Tuesday at the Pearl Harbor U.S. military base in Honolulu appreciate the effort that servicemen and women put into protecting their country. Still, it was even more evident that the feeling was mutual.
"What you guys do means a lot to us," said Captain Scott Anhalt of the USS Lake Erie naval cruiser as he addressed a group of seven NFL players who made the trip.
The sentiment was clear as officers of both the USS Lake Erie and the USS La Jolla nuclear submarine greeted and got autographs from Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, Ravens defensive end Peter Boulware, Packers guard Marco Rivera, Packers receiver Donald Driver, Jaguars punter Chris Hanson, Jaguars long snapper Joe Zalenka (Hanson's guest) and Bears quarterback Jim Miller (who is in Hawaii as a reward for nominating the NFL Teacher of the Year).
Especially at a time when the threat of war in Iraq is as real as ever, the visit was a welcomed diversion.
"We're always watching games on board during the season," said Capt. Anhalt. "It's a big deal to have these guys that we watch on TV here on board. It's an amazing morale boost. We've had guys looking forward to this for weeks."
Perhaps the greatest example of how excited the officers were to meet the NFL stars: After Boulware and Miller signed autographs aboard the USS La Jolla, two of the crewmen returned the favor by giving the two players their "Dolphins" -- a pin with the insignia of a submarine flanked by two dolphins, which is awarded to submariners as a sign of great accomplishment.
"This is going in my trophy case," said a humbled Miller.
The players were given a guided tour through both the submarine and the cruiser. In the sub, the crew shot off a water slug to simulate what it sounds like to fire a missile.
It's one thing to know that the U.S. military is prepared for any eventuality but, as Boulware pointed out, "being here gives you a totally different impression of what they do."
"These guys are awesome at what they do," added Boulware, "totally awesome. Without them and without their support, we can't do what we do freely."