The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The Super Bowl is coming to College of San Mateo. No, not THE Super Bowl, which will be held just down Highway 101 at Levi’s Stadium. No, this is another football game held during the Super Bowl Week festivities, when the Wounded Warriors Amputee Football Team play a team of NFL alumni.
For members of the WWAFT, every game they play is their Super Bowl.
For Chris Visser, co-founder of the event and older brother of longtime print and television journalist Lesley Visser, this will be the fifth consecutive year the WWAFT will play an exhibition game the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday. In this case, Feb. 6.
And the whole event is done with the family in mind, which means low ticket prices. Adults are 10 bucks, kids are free and there are discounts available for students, seniors and veterans.
Visser first came up with the idea as he helped produce a 10-year 9/11 anniversary tribute in Massachusetts. Visser said he visited a number of wounded soldiers, many who signed up for military service following the attacks. During his visits, he was so impressed with their dedication to life that he invited a few to the tribute.
That got him to thinking how to give back more to these military members who literally gave of themselves for their country.
He said he was moved to act based on something his mother told he and his sister growing up.
“You cannot think respect. You need to show respect,” Visser said. “Most of these guys were high school athletes. They wanted to show they can still remain active. [The WWAFT] is to visibly demonstrate … the loss of a limb doesn’t mean an end to an active life.”
For CSM, it’s another feather in its athletics’ cap. The school has hosted some of the biggest events in the California Community College athletics sphere over the last several years, from the state track and field championships, to the water polo championships at its state-of-the-art aquatics center. The football and softball teams are among the best programs in the state.
“We’ve hosted the state championship for track and a softball playoff regional at the same time,” said CSM athletic director Andreas Wolf. “We’re very honored and proud to be part of this event.”
Visser said his organization goes to the local community of where the Super Bowl will be held each year to find a venue to host his game. He chose San Mateo because of its proximity between San Francisco and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara — right smack in the middle of all the NFL functions going on in the city and the game in the South Bay.
And then when he saw the views from CSM’s College Heights Stadium, he stopped looking for a venue.
“We’ve never had a more spectacular and fitting venue for one of our games, ever,” said Visser, who said the games have drawn upwards of 10,000 fans in the past.
“I can’t think there is a more fitting place than CSM.”
Visser pointed out that the WWAFT is not affiliated with the NFL, but he said in addition to honoring wounded veterans, he wanted to provide an opportunity for people of the local communities a chance to experience an NFL-sized celebration that most will not get an opportunity to see or attend firsthand. Only the rich and well-connected produce and get invited to the big NFL shindigs in the host city, while many of the community are stuck on the outside looking in.
“There is a lot going on during Super Bowl Week. But there isn’t a whole lot for the general population,” Visser said. “For most of the people in this area, hopefully this will be the best Super Bowl experience they have.”
Given the roster of expected and potential NFL alumni expected to take part in the game, there is a chance you might not find more NFL alumni assembled in one spot the entire week leading up to the Super Bowl.
“We’ll have about 50 alumni at this game,” Visser said, which includes a who’s who of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former Dallas Cowboys great and Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, quarterbacks the WWAFT. Staubach won the Heisman Trophy while playing for the Naval Academy before honoring his four-year commitment to the service, including a tour of Vietnam.
“Over 400 alumni have participated (in this event over the years). To a man, they respect our wounded warrior amputees,” Visser said. “There won’t be a place in San Francisco (during Super Bowl Week) with more alumni (than the WWAFT game).”
In addition, rap legend Snoop Dogg will play, as will longtime television personality Montel Williams, who served in both the Navy and Marines before embarking on a television career. ESPN personality Kenny Mayne has also become a regular at WWAFT games.
And the fans will get a chance to get up close and personal with both the NFL legends, as well as the WWAFT players. Because all the veterans have had amputations, the game is a modified version of football. The field is only 80 yards long and play is confined to the space between the sideline and the hash marks closest to the sideline.
The good news is, that will allow plenty of seating to be placed directly on the field, on the track surrounding the fields and the stands at CSM.
“[Seating] was my initial apprehension,” Wolf said. “(But) we believe we can accommodate all the spectators.”
Added Visser: “I can’t think of a more fitting place than CSM (to host this game). I do hope this community will come out and show respect (to our wounded veterans).”
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team, go to www.wwaptt.org.