SAN DIEGO, Calif -- Every Nov. 11th, Americans take the time to honor veterans that have served this country. Veteran’s Day is celebrated to pay tribute to those who are currently serving in the United States armed forces and to those who have served in the past. This year, ESPN honored veterans in a very unique way.
On Nov. 10th, Marines and sailors with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and sailors stationed at Naval Base San Diego, gathered on the flight deck of the USS San Diego, home ported at Naval Base San Diego, to be part of ESPN’s fourth annual “America’s Heroes: A Salute to Our Veterans” College Gameday broadcast to honor former and current service members.
“This means a lot,” said Maj. Anthonol Neely, the executive officer of the 11th MEU and 38-year-old Nashville, Tenn., native. “There are people still engaged [in combat], so without a doubt this means a lot, especially on the Marine Corps Birthday.”
ESPN’s College Gameday is an entertainment sports show that analyzes the premiere matchups for the day between college football teams. It is a two-hour show that has been around since 1987. On this day, Marines and sailors, along with their families, made up Gameday’s live audience.
The day started off with Marines and sailors gathered on the flight deck anticipating the thought of being on live national television. During the show, Gameday’s hosts talked about the top games of the day and aired numerous segments enlightening its audience on aspects of the ship as well as giving recognition to specific service members who have faced adversity.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Shipley, the 11th MEU maintenance chief, was more focused on the appreciation and less so on the sports.
“I’m a huge college football fan, but to me the best part of today was the amount of appreciation displayed,” said Shipley, a 29-year-old Albany, Ga., native. “To me, this showed that ESPN appreciates its service members and today we got to represent the Marine Corps as a whole on national TV. It doesn’t get much better than that, right?”
The program went back and forth between military appreciation, which consisted of multiple motivational stories featuring current and former service members, and actual sports analysis. At the waning moments of the program, Gameday’s hosts provide predictions for the most anticipated matchups of the day.
Typically there are four predictors, which include three hosts and a guest, which is usually a celebrity, professional athlete, or radio personality associated with one of the featured schools playing. This time it was Lt. j.g. Curtis Sharp, the Navigator of the USS San Diego, and former wide receiver at the Naval Academy. At the end of the segment, Lee Corso, one of the primary commentators with Gameday, made his prediction that Navy would beat Troy and put on the mascot’s headgear the Navy’s Goat, which got one last cheer from the audience.
After Gameday finished airing, Marines formed up to honor the Marine Corps birthday with the traditional cake-cutting.
The guest of honor received the first slice of cake and then the youngest and oldest Marines present were given the next slice of cake by Maj. Michael N. Estes, the commanding officer of the 11th MEU.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Estes. “Today is an honorable day and I’m pleased to be here on behalf of the 11th MEU.”
After Estes’ remarks was the guest of honor, Navy Capt. William Grotewold, the commanding officer of the USS San Diego.
“We are a Navy Marine Corps team and we all have to work together,” said Grotewold to the Marines in attendance. “When we deploy, you guys are my primary battery. The United States knows that we are serious when we use Marines and I’m looking forward to working with you on this next deployment. I appreciate you guys being here today.”
Before they were released for the day, Marines and their families all received a slice of the Marine Corps birthday cake to complete the tradition.