By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - More than 150 military children jump-started their Super Bowl Sunday by participating in an NFL-affiliated football mini clinic at Fort Hood's Smith Middle School.
Boys and girls between 8 and 18 ran drills and competed in a flag football game under the watchful eyes of former Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots defensive end Rodney Bailey and Reggie Howard, former cornerback for the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers.
The two players competed against each other during Super Bowl XXXVIII, Patriots versus Panthers, in Houston in 2004.
Bailey sported his winning ring as he talked about camaraderie before the clinic.
"It's all about working hard as a team," he told participants before asking who they would root for during the Super Bowl.
The crowd erupted, shouting preferences.
"I like the way that it's pretty much even, all the way across," Bailey said, laughing.
Howard told the kids to "dream big."
"Just give it 110 percent, whatever it is that you want to do," he said, adding that at times he was told he'd never play in the NFL.
The Elijah Alexander NFL Youth Leadership Symposium and Mini Clinic was sponsored by the I Am Not a HERO Foundation, which connects entertainers and athletes with veterans and their families.
Elijah Alexander was a founding advisory board member of the NFL-affiliated organization. He died last year after a five-year battle with a rare form of cancer. The Fort Worth native was an NFL linebacker for 10 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders.
C.J. Jordan co-founded the foundation and attended the event.
The Fort Hood clinic is the beginning a major NFL push to recognize the sacrifices of military families, she said, adding that 1,200 veterans have played, coached or held administrative roles in the league over the years. In past years, she said, I Am Not a HERO brought military and other children to the Super Bowl. By coming to Killeen this year, she said, the league was able to reach more children.
"It's an honor and privilege for us," Jordan said.
For Sgt. 1st Class John Smith, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, the clinic was an opportunity to spend time with his daughter, Shannon, 12.
Shannon and John, a New York native, are devoted Giants fans.
Football has been a way for them to stay in touch and bond over the course of John's deployments, he said.
Shannon gave him updates on the Giants' performance when he couldn't access the Internet or television from more remote locations, he said, which may have helped keep her mind off the difficult aspects of the separation.
"Sports, it's like anything," John said. "If you bring it into the family and start doing things together, it unites you and builds a stronger bond."
Between drills on the field, Shannon said she was happy she could share football with her dad.
"It's important because we can't go out a lot because my dad's always busy, and we can spend time together, rooting for the same team."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.