By Stephenie Tatum/ParaglideFebruary 12, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - For most football fans, this year's Super Bowl XLIV was all about the battle on the gridiron between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts. But for the more than 400 football fans who came to the NFL Network Hang Time Super Bowl Party Sunday at Sports USA, the Carolina Panthers were the center of attention. There was no denying - Fort Bragg is Panther Country.
Carolina Panthers players Tyler Brayton, a defensive lineman and Jason Baker, a punter, as well as cheerleader, Leslie Holmes and Panthers' mascot, Sir Purr came to "the home of the airborne" to show their appreciation for the military and their Families thanks to the USO of North Carolina and the NFL.
Elena Samartino, 12, daughter of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Samartino was not shy about her reason for attending the party. For her, it was not at all about this year's big game being played in Miami.
"It's not about the game to me. My favorite teams are the Panthers and the Steelers. I came to hang out and see the Panthers team members. Instead of watching them on TV, it is great to see them in person," she said.
The Panthers signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans of all ages. They also presented a Carolina Panthers jersey with the number 82 for the post.
Before the party, the Panthers members also visited with Soldiers of the Warrior Transition Battalion. The party kicked off with a moment of silence for members of the military who serve the nation.
During the evening, partygoers enjoyed free hot dogs courtesy of Bar-S Foods, a free halftime buffet presented by the NFL Network as well a performance by an illusionist.
For Kimberly Seaman, a self-proclaimed Saints fan and Fort Bragg military Family member from St. Mary's, Ohio, Sunday's event was a great time to get out and enjoy some fun and Family time. As the only Saints fan in the Family, Seaman said her Family came to support her and her team as well as make mom happy.
"We are all Buckeyes fans, but can't help but divide on the NFL," she said.
Seaman said she was excited to attend the event with her Family and got an autograph from Brayton that she planned to give to a Soldier in her husband's unit, 3-4 Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
Seaman said she was not only happy with the support of her Family Sunday, but was overjoyed at the support being shown to the military at Fort Bragg.
"Its amazing! We just had the movie premiere for Dear John with the actors and now this. There are so many opportunities here for Soldiers and their Families. We hardly ever see this many celebrities where I am from. I think MWR and ACS are great for everything they do for us," said Seaman.
Jeanette Smith, spouse of Spc. Jeffrey Smith of Company B, Division Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division came to watch her favorite team, the Colts, but was also excited to meet the Panther players and get their autographs.
"I think it is wonderful to have events like this. I live close to here and think we need more things like this on post," said Smith.
The Panthers are no strangers to showing their support for the military. In August, troops from Fort Bragg and Cherry Point, N.C. were invited to visit the Panthers' training camp. Baker, a USO of N.C. ambassador has spent the past three Super Bowl Sundays visiting servicemembers across the globe.
"I think first and foremost it is not about the players and the NFL. It is important to let our military know they are valued on a day like today. I was honored when the USO asked me to be a part of this and to be able to come and spend the day with those who serve our country ... " said Baker.
When Baker is not in Panther Country, he calls Indianapolis home. As for who he was picking to win the game, it was no surprise he was quickly answered, "I have a hard time going against the Colts. If I don't, my house might get egged."