Richardson and his Browns teammates -- fullback
“It meant a lot just to be out here and having fun with these guys overseas,” Richardson said. “These guys are the real heroes. Kids look at us as their football heroes and stuff, but these are the guys we look up to every day. They’re out there fighting every day for us, putting their lives on the line for us, protecting this country that we’ve got. These guys are doing their jobs and they’re big heroes of mine and everybody else in the facility.
“It’s an honor. Those guys go through a lot. I’ve got a cousin, Kim, that’s fixing to go back over there and she’ll be over there for two years. She’s been doing that for years, so it’s always been a struggle for us to see her go. I know what it feels like to have a family member over there and not knowing if they’re going to be able to come back or not. It’s tough. It’s a war out there for her, every day.”
Bob Hope, the board president of the USO of Northern Ohio and nephew of the late entertainer who dedicated more than 50 years of his life to serving those in the military during overseas visits, said Tuesday was a special day for the military.
“Anytime you can team up with the Cleveland Browns, it’s great,” Hope said. “I think we brought in 10 servicemen and they were just buzzing, waiting to come in. We appreciate the Browns coming in and being a part of this. We know that when they get back, they’ll tell all their comrades what a day it was and even coming in to see this facility, it’s a treat. I’m sure they’ll be talking about this for years.”
Wade grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot and said he could be any character from Top Gun, a 1980s movie about fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy. Spending time with the troops on Tuesday was an opportunity in which he jumped at taking.
“They’re the guys behind the scenes doing the real work,” Wade said. “Even though we’re football players and in the NFL, we’re still entertainers and they’re out there doing the dirty work for the country. I’m appreciative to be here with them.
“During the offseason in Arizona, I used to go up to the Air National Guard and hang out with the fighter pilots and it was cool for me. I wanted to be a fighter pilot growing up. Just being close to them and seeing what they have to go through every day is fun for me.”
U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Herbert Littlejohn, a recruiter out of Maple Heights, said he spent 11 years away from Cleveland and served in Okinawa, Japan, Germany and Turkey, among other players. Getting to compete against the Browns in the video competition “means everything” to him.
“I grew up watching this team,” Littlejohn said. “This is my childhood team, so it feels good to actually come in and see the facility and have them play Call of Duty with us. We look at these guys on TV and we idolize them and it feels good to see them in person and know that they’re just like one of us. It goes both ways.
“They look at us because we defend our country and we look at them because they pretty much provide us that safe haven as far as when stuff is going bad, we look at sports to get away from all the stuff that’s going on in different countries.”
Pro vs. G.I. Joe is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that sets up video game competitions between professional athletes and celebrities with the military stationed overseas. Through online gaming and webcam chats and a partnership with the USO, Pro vs. G.I. Joe has united troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Dubai, Korea, Japan, Germany and Cuba with athletes from the NFL, NBA, mixed martial arts, WNBA, PGA, NASCAR and the IndyCar (IRL).
“This is a different type of event where we can thank our military service men and women for the freedoms that we have,” said Renee Harvey, vice president of community outreach for the Browns. “It allows our players to play video games against troops that are located overseas. To give something to them to look forward to, some interaction and a way for them to feel like they’re back home with the team that they love is a great way for us to thank them.”