1_NFL.jpg
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith is fitted with safety gear Friday before jumping off the Airborne School's 34-foot tower at Eubanks Field. He was among a small group that came here for a troop visit.

Lockout or no lockout, the NFL made an appearance on post last week.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, and ex-players Spencer Tillman, Randy Cross and Jim Miller visited Soldiers here as part of Ron Barr's Sports Byline USA tour. The nationally syndicated sports-talk radio host broadcast a two-hour show live Friday afternoon from the Sand Hill Recreation Center.

During its three-day visit, the group observed weapons and combatives training and took turns jumping off the Airborne School's 34-foot tower. The men signed autographs and posed for photos Friday evening at Benning Brew Pub, followed by another meet-and-greet session Saturday at Game Link in the Community Activity Center on Main Post.

"It's an honor to be here," said Billick, who guided Baltimore to a 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV and is now a game analyst on Fox telecasts. "In the short time we've been able to interact with the troops ... I can see we're in great shape as a country moving forward. All these Soldiers are bright-eyed, mission-driven and focused."

Collectively, the five NFL celebrities own seven Super Bowl rings. They each drew comparisons between sports and the military and spoke about the value of leadership.

"You've got to be accountable to the person on the left side and right side of you. That's why we've been successful in Atlanta," Smith told Airborne Soldiers at Eubanks Field. "It's just amazing what's happening at Fort Benning. The thing that's so impressive is the teamwork that goes on here. There's definitely a parallel between the military and football. It's something I can take back to my team."

Barr has taken his show to Afghanistan and Iraq six times. On the air Friday at Sand Hill, he and Cross reminisced about making it through a rocket attack while broadcasting from one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

"I didn't see any of the Soldiers running, so I figured we were OK," said Cross, a three-time Super Bowl-winning offensive lineman with the San Francisco 49ers and current CBS football analyst. "I can't say 'thank you' fast enough to you guys, and how much it means to us for all that you do."

Teams and athletes often use the analogy of "going to battle" before a big game and reference themselves as warriors, but "you're the men and women who actually live that," Barr told Soldiers at the show.

Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general, was Barr's first guest Friday. The two met in Germany when Brown was a colonel.

The post commander discussed the MCoE mission, training that takes place here and playing basketball for Mike Krzyzewski at Army. Building a championship team starts with loyalty, Brown said.

"Nowhere is that better demonstrated than here with the Infantry and Armor," he said. "These young people training at Fort Benning are superb. This will be known someday as the next greatest generation."

Tillman, an All-American running back at Oklahoma, led the Sooners to the 1985 national championship and also won a Super Bowl five years later with the San Francisco 49ers. He's now the lead studio analyst for CBS Sports' College Football Today.

At Eubanks Field on Friday morning, Tillman got the Airborne Soldiers fired up with a loud motivational cheer.
"These guys inspire me," he said. "When we come out here like this, I see a professional Army of excellence."
Tillman and Miller, a backup quarterback for the 2004 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, threw some passes to Soldiers in the shadow of the Airborne towers.

"You all protect the freedoms and niceties we have at home - thanks for what you do," said Miller, now a radio analyst on Chicago Bears and Michigan State games. "There's nothing better than being a world champion, and being part of a team that accomplishes that goal. It's no different than what you guys are doing in the Army. That's what it means to be a pro."

Billick is the brother-in-law of Smith and said he's occasionally asked about getting "inside information" from the Falcons coach for broadcasts.

"We operate under the premise of 'Don't ask, don't tell,'" Billick joked on Barr's show Friday. "It's understood I'm not gonna ask and he's not gonna tell."

Smith, meanwhile, said it's been a "funky offseason" with the ongoing labor strife between NFL owners and players.

"It's very different," he said. "One thing it has allowed us to do is really analyze what we want to get accomplished as an organization. We've tried to look at it as a positive and drill down even deeper into our scouting and what we want to do as a coaching staff."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16