To kick off the NFL's Salute to Service initiative, the San Francisco 49ers hosted military families at the SAP Performance Facility. This behind-the-scenes practice visit experience, presented by U.S. Bank, was a special day dedicated to showing gratitude and support to those who have served and continue to serve in the armed forces.
The families in attendance on Saturday represented all five branches of the military and are partners with TAPS, a nonprofit that supports families that are grieving the loss of a fallen service member. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Filadelfo Rodriguez, a Purple Heart recipient welcomed by Freedom Alliance, Major Chun Park, commander of the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in San Francisco and Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Wallace, active-duty service members from Wine Country Marines also joined the families for the NFL experience.
The day began with a warm welcome in the 49ers café, where the families and active-duty service members were treated to breakfast. As a gesture of appreciation, they received customized gifts, including jerseys, hats, footballs and bags, all bearing the 49ers Salute to Service theme. 49ers president of football operations and general manager John Lynch joined the group to express his gratitude on behalf of the team, acknowledging the sacrifices made by both soldiers and their families.
"We're thrilled to have you here. We're all so appreciative for what you do," Lynch said. "I think it's really appropriate that we have you here right around Thanksgiving, because I think it's a time to really reflect on what you're grateful for. Every day as I kneel down and say my prayers, I always think about our military and their families because all the freedoms we get to enjoy, and that's because of you guys. The soldiers and the families, especially, because I know there's a great deal of sacrifice there. I know we have some families of some fallen soldiers with us today and that's extra special to us.
"We're very grateful to all you guys, this day is about you."
The families and active-duty members then made their way to the practice field, where they had the unique opportunity to witness the 49ers preparing for their upcoming game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From player workouts to coaches directing walk-throughs, the guests got an insider's look at the team's preparation.
After the practice session, each player took the time to personally meet and interact with the military families on the sideline as well as take photos and sign autographs.
General manager John Lynch and the entire 49ers roster welcomed active-duty Marines and military families to eat at the team's café, watch practice and interact one-on-one with the players presented by U.S. Bank.
"When we have a special experience like that, it just inspires my son to push himself and I really do love that," TAPS member Soo Kim said. "It feels like they absolutely care for you. They care about the cause and they care that his father passed away in the military. They really show their condolences, but also their encouragement, and it just means a lot to connect in that way."
As the players and military families bonded, they eagerly anticipated the upcoming gameday. The guests who had the unique opportunity to witness the behind-the-scenes of a 49ers practice will return to Levi's® Stadium on Sunday to be honored during the team's Salute to Service game.
"These people have allowed us to do the things that we love to do," tight end and 49ers Salute to Service Award nominee George Kittle said. "The sacrifices that they and their families make constantly, daily, around the world. For us to spend some time with them and just talk to them, it means a lot to both sides. It's just a wonderful day."