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thedrifter
11-18-06, 10:07 AM
Marines perform at Monday Night Football game
Cpl. Drew Barker

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Marine Corps Color Guard from Camp Lejeune, made the 290-mile trip to Bank of America Stadium to take part in ceremonies during the NFL’s Monday Night Football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The four-Marine color guard unit, which was escorted by Col. David Leppelmeier, commanding officer, Headquarters and Support Bn., Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, presented the American and Marine Corps flags during the singing of the National Anthem at the beginning of the contest. The color guard was also involved in the ‘Veterans Day Tribute’ halftime show. Both presentations included members from all five branches of military service.

“We only have a few minutes of each halftime show that we control,” said Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers. “Tonight it’s all about veterans, because America wouldn’t be what it is without them.”

The home team kicked off to begin the game and the struggling Buccaneers (2-7) were quick to put points on the board with a six-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to Ike Hilliard. The remainder of the first half consisted of clumsy turnovers and a slew of punts by both teams as they took to their respective locker rooms with Tampa Bay ahead by a score of 7-0.

As the players made their way off the field, members from all branches of America’s armed services, as well as local firefighters and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets, prepared to perform in ceremonial fashion to honor the recent Veterans Day holiday.

“The Panthers organization has always had a strong appreciation for all that our service members do,” said Mark Dutton, assistant to the Carolina Panther’s entertainment producer. “Tonight is a great opportunity to continue that trend. Our military is the reason we have the freedoms to enjoy an event like this, so it’s only right that we take some time and honor all of our veterans.”

The ‘Veterans Day Tribute’ included the singing of the National Anthem, an invocation by Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Shackleford, a moment of silence to recognize POWs and MIAs and flag holders representing all 50 states. The ceremonies also included color guard units from all branches of the armed forces and a reading of the poem “I am Old Glory” by retired Air Force Col. Quincy Collins.

“The Carolina players are all very in tune with tonight’s ceremonies,” said Richard Williamson, Carolina’s wide-receiver coach. “They don’t get to see the halftime show, but they’re all very supportive of it. We’ve got the easy job of playing football; it’s our service members who have the toughest job of all; defending our country.”

The Carolina Panthers organization has a number of individuals on staff with direct military ties. The “Veterans Day Tribute” was especially moving to them.

Erin Caskey, a second-year Panthers cheerleader out of Columbus, S.C., was brought to tears during the performance as she thought of her personal hero; her brother. Her brother is 1stLt. Micah Caskey, 25, Engineer Company commander, Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. The lieutenant returned from his second deployment to Iraq in September.

The Panther’s starting center also commented on the patriotic display and his family.

“It means a lot to have people who have done so much for this country be here to watch and enjoy one of our games,” said Geoff Hangartner, whose brother serves in the U.S. Army special forces. “It’s an honor to have them here.”

After the halftime ceremony, the Marines made their way to their VIP seats as the players returned to begin the second half.

Sparked by three consecutively successful offensive drives, including a touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Delhomme to Keyshawn Johnson and a seven-yard touchdown rush by Brad Hoover, the Panthers pulled ahead by 10 points and ended the third quarter on top.

With Julius Peppers’ tenacious defensive effort — totaling three sacks and a fumble recovery — coupled with a pair of second-half interceptions for Carolina, the Panthers were able to secure the game in the fourth quarter. Delhomme sealed the deal when he found Steve Smith, Carolina’s No. 1 receiver, with blown coverage for a 36-yard touchdown. Smith’s fourth touchdown of the season brought the evening’s tally to 24-10, where it would remain for the final minutes of the game.

“I never get to see the halftime show, but I certainly appreciate what tonight’s represents,” said Smith, who caught eight balls for 146 yards and a touchdown despite being violently ill throughout the game. “Service members are my heroes. They allow me to do what I do and keep my family safe, so anything they’re doing I support.”