Soldier establishes unique bond with NFL team
December 5, 2011
BALTIMORE (Dec. 5, 2011) -- On Thanksgiving Day, the American public watched as brothers, John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens head coach, and Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers head coach, competed against each other, pinning two head coach siblings together for the first time in National Football League History.
What the American public did not see was a different brotherhood taking place on the sidelines, one between Sgt. Dontae Skywalker and the 49ers.
Skywalker currently serves in the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) as a Tomb Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument dedicated to American servicemen who have died without their remains being identified. Sentinels remain vigilant 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as they walk the sacred memorial site of the Unknown Soldiers despite all weather conditions.
Last month, the 49ers visited the Tomb where they met Skywalker for the first time.
"I was immediately impressed meeting him at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers," said Harbaugh. "What I witnessed was a commitment to excellence. That's something we know about in terms of football."
John Feuerborn, recalling his brother-n-law's reaction, admitted Harbaugh was definitely touched.
"That day I remember Jim saying I've got to name a play after him," said Feuerborn.
The "Skywalker" pass play made its debut appearance against the New York Giants, Nov. 13, earning the 49ers 16 yards in the third quarter. Reflecting on that monumental moment, 49ers wide receiver, Ted Gin Jr., said he felt privileged.
"It was great to have that name on it, knowing what it meant when I caught that ball," said Ginn Jr. "Skywalker really had an impact on us when we met him. In the 20 minutes he spoke to us, I learned a lot about the Army. We don't lay our lives on the line like these guys do."
Four days after the game, Jeff Rodriguez, 49ers security coordinator, lost his dear friend, Jim Capoot. Capoot, a Vallejo, Ca. police officer, was killed, Nov. 17, during a foot pursuit of bank robbery suspects. Capoot also served as a U.S. Marine.
"Because of Skywalker, I was able to lay a wreath at the Tomb for my friend," said Rodriguez.
Laying a wreath in honor of the Unknowns is one of the most honorable ways to pay tribute to a fallen comrade.
Because of Skywalker's growing relationship with the 49ers, he was invited to attend the Thanksgiving game.
"It's an honor to have Skywalker with us," said 49ers offensive tackle, Alex Boone, remembering his own brother's service as a former Marine in Iraq, in 2005. "[Skywalker] is like family to us," Boone said, prior to the start of the game.
"It felt great spending my Thanksgiving with the team and being intimately involved with them on the sidelines. They don't treat me like I'm a visitor, but like I'm really one of them," said Skywalker.
In a little over three weeks, there's no denying Skywalker has found an unbreakable bond with the 49ers team and staff.
"In a very short time, he's somebody who we know cares about us and we care about him as a person and what he does for our country," said Harbaugh. "He's somebody that we look up to. It's been an honor for us to share our sideline with him."