While some people see the NFL’s Salute to Service as a PR stunt, paid for by the U.S. military (we know who you are; we read the comments), what you need to know is that no matter who’s paying for it, those players really mean it. It’s the individual that really takes on the mantle of showing affection for U.S. troops.
To see appreciation in action, look no further than the 49ers’ George Kittle.
The 49ers’ tight end was the top passing target for San Francisco during the Veterans Day game on Monday night. The former Iowa Hawkeye had nine receptions for 83 yard in the 49ers’ loss to the Giants, but it was the reception he gave before the game that has fans talking.
The Nov. 12th game was played on the evening the United States observed Veterans Day and, as a result, was attended by dozens of uniformed servicemen and women from every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The 49ers invited the troops to open the game.
At the end of the National Anthem and before the game’s kickoff, Kittle made his way to the sidelines to shake each of the visiting troops’ hands. The video of Kittle shaking hands went viral, but not because Kittle had a camera following him – there was no time for a photo op. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
Kittle and the 49ers led for much of Monday night’s game, outdone only in the last few minutes of the game, losing to the Eli Manning-led Giants 27-23.
“He’s got a good personality,” says 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “He acts like a WWE wrestler and I don’t think that’s an act; I think that’s who he is 24/7, which is fun to watch. But you’ve always got to watch out for him. He’s pretty rowdy all the time.”
Fellow players and staff describe Kittle as a “mild-mannered and respectful citizen” off the field. On the field, however, they call him a “scarlet-and-gold-clad superhero,” according to Bleacher Report.
This is not the 49ers’ first run-in with veterans this season. The team was one of a handful of teams who trained in the offseason with U.S. special operations veterans. San Francisco’s players, coaches, and scouts trained with a cadre of Navy SEAL veterans.
During the first phase of the offseason program, 49ers players, coaches and members of the scouting staff participated in a rigorous (albeit familiar-looking) workout led by veteran Navy SEALs.