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Carolina Panthers

Players marvel at heroes in uniform

Football players are fearless. Without regard for their physical well-being, they put it all on the line each Sunday for the good of their team.

But do football players think of themselves as fearless?

They reserve that language for another group.

"It takes a special kind of person to do that," running back Cameron Artis-Payne said.

"A lot of people can't or won't do that," defensive tackle Dontari Poe said.

"That" is military service, something that Panthers players and coaches, and the organization as a whole, will celebrate Sunday as a part of the team's annual Salute to Service game.

No, football players don't back down from the unique form of danger they face on the field, but tight end Chris Manhertz isn't afraid to say that it doesn't really rank.

"To be honest, I was kind of scared about doing that. That's serious stuff," Manhertz said when asked if he ever considered following in the footsteps of his brother, Jason, a retired Naval officer. "That's a testament to them and how courageous and selfless they are."

There seems to a certain kinship between NFL players and military personnel, a shared feeling that they're both on teams that share a unique bond.

The two groups' lexicons even overlap. Aerial attacks directed by field generals. Battles in the trenches. Bombs unleashed.

But, of course, it's not the same. Artis-Payne's best friend literally put his life on the line in the Army. Poe's wife did the same serving in the Air Force.

"Much respect for her," Poe said. "She knew what she had do to."

The list of Panthers who have relatives that are serving or did serve in the military is simply too long include in total. Taylor Moton's father recently retired after 30-plus years in the Army National Guard. Graham Gano and Kyle Love were born overseas as a result of their fathers' military service. Head coach Ron Rivera lived all over the country – and outside of it – because of his father's service.

Those examples only scratch the surface.

The gestures of gratitude that will be on display Sunday at Bank of America Stadium as well as at other stadiums around the league are great to see. They're heartfelt. And they're no doubt appreciated by those being honored.

But around the world, many military personnel will be too busy to notice, too busy doing things that assure that the games will go on, that our lives will go on.

That's worth remembering on Salute to Service day. On Veteran's Day later this month.

And every day.

"A lot of people have sacrificed their time, their energy – their lives – to allow us to go about and do the things we want to every day," Manhertz said. "It's not something you should take for granted. I've seen what veterans go through firsthand. It's eye-opening to see people making those sacrifices for all of us.

"Hats off. Always."

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