The Washington Redskins and USAA kicked off the month by honoring veterans and active members of the military during “Redskins Salute Week”.
The event offered military members a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their favorite sports team in a different light. And luckily, one of the members of our Full Press Coverage family, Steven Johnson, had the opportunity to experience this first hand. He was the Grand Prize winner of the Helmet for Helmet promotion and was treated to a VIP experience from the team.
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) November 10, 2018
If Steve looks familiar, it’s because he is the host of the Let’s Talk Redskins Podcast, along with his best friend Chris Washington. Together, they had the opportunity to experience an on-field ceremony for Steve during the Falcons Game, a tour of the Redskins Practice Facility, and an open lunch session with defensive lineman Jonathan Allen.
Considering my access to Steve, and the fact that we talk almost daily, I thought it would be interesting for Redskins fans to get a behind-the-scenes perspective of the event. Below you will find his first-hand experience. I hope you enjoy.
Q & A Session
Q: So what is your official title and what branch of the military do you belong to?
My title is SGT Steven Johnson. HR NCO. I am in the United States Army.
Q: How long have you been in the military? And what motivated you to join?
Six years. I wanted purpose in my life where I didn’t have much at that time and I was jumping from job to job. I had some family members and mentors who had served in the military and that made me realize that the military was a great choice for me. There were plenty of benefits to joining the military.
Q: How did you hear about the Redskins Salute to Service program?
Being a die-hard Redskins fan I am constantly searching for news and updates about my team. I saw that they had a military program to give military members the ultimate fan experience. I started applying this year for different opportunities and I’ve been blessed to win a couple this year.
This program is awesome for Redskins fans and gives them the opportunity to get to close to all the action and to get opportunities of a lifetime. At the same time, the Redskins do a great job recognizing all the hard work the military members do.
Q: How were you selected for this experience?
I was on the Redskins website a couple of weeks ago and I saw that there was a sweepstakes for the “Helmet to Helmet Sweepstakes” sponsored by Frito Lays. My brother nominated me, and I made the top 25!
Q: That’s awesome. What happened next?
The top 25 winners received a small gift, then we had the opportunity for something bigger. My brother had to write a brief essay of why my love for the Washington Redskins inspires him. We found out the week before the game that we had won the Grand Prize!
Q: What did the Grand Prize Entail?
It was a two-part grand prize. A game-day experience for the Atlanta Falcons game, and then an organized lunch at Redskins Park with Jonathan Allen.
Q: Wow. We definitely want to hear about both of those experiences. Let’s start with Game Day.
On game day, the winning service member got to be a part of the 100 yard flag unfurling, the ability to invite members of their current unit, and could bring their nominator to a personalized ceremony.
Because I am a part of the Active Guard Reserve Program my unit was at Battle Assembly and had to work that weekend. I brought two Soldiers in my unit and their spouse/child, my spouse, my brother who nominated me and his spouse, Chris and his spouse. I was contacted by Alexandra Cruz who is a part of the Redskins Marketing Team. She actually had told me that the fact that we had a show/podcast is why they had picked me to win. They wanted the ultimate experience for a die-hard Redskins fan. They loved the idea that I had my own show to talk about the Redskins. She had also allowed me to bring my other brother and spouse who are season ticket holders onto the field.
Q: What a great experience. How did it feel to be on the field?
It was surreal. I was escorted onto the field, with my brother and the two Service Members that came to the event with me. The Redskins then proceeded with a personal ceremony for me and they read my military service and brief description of me on the loudspeakers at the stadium. They even gave me an award.
After the presentation, they let the non-service members go to their seats while the service-men were part of the Flag Unfurling. We were then released to go change and enjoy the game!
Q: So that was the game day experience. You also had the opportunity to tour Redskins Park. Most fans would kill for that. How did that go?
As part of my prize, I got to go on a tour of the Redskins Practice Facility in Ashburn, VA. Typically this isn’t open to the public, so it definitely felt special.
Tuesday is a day off for players so they were coming in only to work-out. The first player we were greeted by was Josh Norman coming into the building. He was very willing to take pictures and talk to us.
Once Jonathan Allen came upstairs we all greeted him and talked for a bit before starting the tour. The tour started in the player and staff lunch area, where we were offered five full-course meals to choose from. As we sat down and ate lunch we all chatted with Allen.
Q: How was it talking to Jon? Seems like a pretty serious dude.
The experience with Jonathan was amazing. To get the opportunity to sit down with a player and talk about anything was awesome. It was cool just seeing that these professional athletes are just normal people outside of football. Half of the time we talked about football, and the other half we talked about just family and the military. After we ate, we walked with Jon on a tour of the lunch area, the player locker room, the player weight-room and the practice field bubble. During the tour of Jon had mentioned he kept every game jersey. My wife Ashley then asked him if he would mind giving one away.
Unfortunately he didn’t have one there in the locker room, but he gave me a game worn sweatshirt and then signed it. Very awesome! The experience was one of the best days of my life!
Q: Yeah, I bet. Who did you meet altogether?
I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of the players and staff. Besides Allen and Norman, I got to meet Matt Ioannidis, Tony Bergstrom, Cam Sims, Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Shaun Dion-Hamilton, Jamison Crowder, Deshazor Everett, Alex Smith, Mason Foster, Doug Williams, Larry Michaels and Perry Mattern.
Q: I saw that you met Alex Smith. Was he pretty approachable?
Very Approachable! The event coordinator, Alexandra Cruz actually knew that Chris and I did our own podcast and show, so she surprised us by bringing us on the Alex Smith Report. He was so excited to see us. I happened to have my daughter with me and he was so down to earth. Immediately he introduced himself and asked my daughter’s name. While on the show he continued to show his gratitude for what the military does and for us being on air to talk to him. Alex seemed genuinely excited to talk to us as people. Very down to earth player. He seemed very interested in my life and my family, rather than just asking “generic” military questions. In fact, if you listen to the The Alex Smith Report: Episode 10 you can listen to our encounter.
Q: Overall, did you feel that the Redskins did a good job with this program?
Absolutely they did an amazing job. This was one of the best experiences of my life! The ability to go on the field and have my own ceremony in front of the best fans in the NFL and on my favorite team’s home field was amazing. The cheering, the flag unfurling, the personal interactions with the players was amazing. The entire experience was that I will never forget. I want to thank all of my friends and family that joined me, Alexandra Cruz, Redskins Salute and the Redskins Organization.
Q: Did this strengthen your relationship with the team? I bet you’re a fan for life now.
Absolutely! I was already a die-hard, super-fan but now it’s even stronger. It also made me have a greater appreciation for the organization and the players. It reminded me that these professional athletes are normal people, trying to live normal lives. I now have a different love for the Redskins and what they do. It was especially impressive seeing Shawn Lauvao in the weight room and in the building two days after tearing his ACL to get better.
Q: Thanks for the input, Steve!
No problem, Brother.