Fans at Raymond James Stadium will have even more heroes to cheer on this fall.
On Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers initiated a new tradition to honor community members who have sacrificed and served for their fellow citizens. Following the national anthem and coin flip, the Buccaneers announced Tampa Bay's military "Hero of the Game." At every Buccaneers home game for the remainder of the season, a selected member of the military will be welcomed to the pirate ship in Buccaneer Cove to ring the bell and ready the team for battle.
Before their preseason opener against Baltimore, the Buccaneers honored Vietnam War veteran Ralph Morgan.
"It's an incredible honor," said Morgan. "It's very exciting to be here. I've always been a huge football fan, and I played in high school and college, so I just love the sport. And to be invited here – it's one of the highlights of my life, for sure."
A member of the 5th Special Forces group, Sergeant Morgan is a recipient of the Silver Star, the military's third-highest decoration. He was honored for his valiant service while ensuring his platoon's safety during enemy fire from the North Vietnamese Army in 1971.
On Thursday night, he helped prepare the Buccaneers for the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens by rallying fans to their feet and ringing the large bell aboard the Buccaneers' ship to kick off the preseason contest.
The Buccaneers "Hero of the Game" adds to the long list of ways that the team shows its respect and admiration for the military throughout the year. In addition to hosting a "Salute to Service" game each fall, the Buccaneers also coordinate annual Military Mother's Day Makeover and make visits to military bases both locally and abroad. In 2012, the Buccaneers organized the inaugural Military Resource Fair at Raymond James Stadium, which provided servicemen and servicewomen with information on career building, accessing benefits and healthcare for over 1,000 members of the military and their guests. And for the fifth consecutive year, wounded warriors from James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital were invited to the team's popular Night Practice during training camp, where they enjoyed VIP treatment from the sidelines all night.
For Sergeant Morgan, remembering the sacrifices of our nation's dedicated service members is greatly appreciated.
"Our boys and girls are out there risking their lives for us to try to protect democracy around the globe," said Morgan. "For the Bucs family to honor us in any way, or even just to bring us into their world for a minute, does us a great honor and also pays tribute to the fact that people are out there every day risking their lives for the freedoms we enjoy here."