Photos of New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham on the NFL's Middle East USO Tour in March of 2014. USO photos by Dave Gatley.
New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham has been nominated for the fourth annual Salute to Service Award, the NFL and USAA announced Wednesday.
Teams nominated players, coaches, personnel and alumni who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community. A list of the 2014 Salute to Service Award nominees is below.
Graham's parents both served in the military for 15 years and his guardian Becky Vinson served in the United States Navy. He lived on Fort Bragg, North Carolina for seven years as a child.
Graham was one of three NFL players to travel on a weeklong tour throughout the Middle East to visit U.S. troops at military bases last March.
Graham, Miami Dolphins kicker Brandon Fields and Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon participated in the NFL's USO offseason traveling program to visit service members.
"It was an eye-opening experience," said Graham. "I developed many relationships on that trip that I still keep in touch with. It made me proud as an American to see it up close. To see everything they have done it makes you appreciate the little things you have so much more."
Graham stayed in the troops quarters, ate meals, played sports and shared stories with the American heroes.
One night during his trip, Graham walked out of his living quarters to go to the bathroom in another building. It was 3 a.m. and helicopters were flying over his head and troops were walking by in full gear ready for duty. He met a solider that just returned from a 10-hour shift ready for bed – the solider was 19 years old.
"Seeing that was something I won't forget and don't want to forget because of how much I appreciate what they do," said Graham. "The moments I shared with the them, the stories that I heard and smiles that I saw from the troops is something that I will never forget."
Graham and other Saints players participated in a Pro vs. G.I. Joe event at the team's training facility last week. The Saints players visited with troops, signed autographs and played "Call of th Duty" with the group.
Finalists for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA will be announced in January, and the winner will be recognized at the "4th Annual NFL Honors" awards show in Arizona on NBC on Saturday, Jan. 31, the night before Super Bowl XLIX.
Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was last year's award winner. USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, contributed $25,000 in his honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches.
Harbaugh will serve on the award panel and vote for this year's winner. Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was the 2012 winner, and the inaugural winner in 2011 was Tennessee Titans late owner K.S. "Bud" Adams, a World War II veteran.
Fans everywhere can join USAA in honoring military by visiting SaluteToService.com.
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-long commitment to recognize and honor the military community. Culminating in November with the NFL's Salute to Service campaign, for every point scored during the NFL's 32 designated Salute to Service games, the league donates $100 to each of its three core, military non-profit partners – the Pat Tillman Foundation, USO and Wounded Warrior Project® – for a total of $300 per point.
To find out more about the NFL's Salute to Service campaign or to read teams' Salute to Service award nominations, visit www.nfl.com/salute.
2014 SALUTE TO SERVICE TEAM NOMINEES
Arizona Cardinals - Larry Fitzgerald Jr. (WR)
Atlanta Falcons - Joe Hawley (C)
Baltimore Ravens - Morgan Cox (LS)
Buffalo Bills - Doug Marrone (Head Coach)
Carolina Panthers - Ron Rivera (Head Coach)
Chicago Bears - Jared Allen (DE)
Cincinnati Bengals - John Sawyer (VP/Board Member)
Cleveland Browns - Alex Mack (C)
Dallas Cowboys - Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
Denver Broncos - Ben Garland (G)
Green Bay Packers - Tom Bakken (Assistant Equipment Manager)
Houston Texans - J.J. Watt (DE)
Indianapolis Colts - Pat McAfee (P)
Jacksonville Jaguars - Roy Miller (DT)
Kansas City Chiefs - Derrick Johnson (LB)
Miami Dolphins - Lousaka Polite (Former FB)
Minnesota Vikings - Jeff Locke (P)
New Orleans Saints - Jimmy Graham (TE)
New York Giants - Tom Coughlin (Head Coach)
New York Jets - Robert Wood Johnson IV (Owner)
Oakland Raiders - Oakland Raiders Foundation
Philadelphia Eagles - Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders
Pittsburgh Steelers - Troy Polamalu (S)
St. Louis Rams - Jeff Fisher (Head Coach)
San Diego Chargers - Nick Hardwick (C)
Seattle Seahawks - Dan Quinn (Defensive Coordinator)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Vincent Jackson (WR)
Washington Redskins - Darrel Young (FB)