The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The College of San Mateo expects one of the biggest turnouts for a sporting event in the community college’s 53 years on the hilltop this Saturday for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team vs. NFL Alumni game.
Kicking off at noon at College Heights Stadium, the charity event will serve as a warm-up to the Super Bowl for the fifth consecutive year. A celebrity team headlined by hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg and featuring an array of retired 49ers greats, and other ex-NFL players, will take on the WWAFT in a game of flag football.
“I think we’re going to get national attention from the celebrities and professional athletes that participate in the game; the real stars of the game are the veterans,” said San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals. “These are veterans that have made huge sacrifices. Each of them has earned a place on the team through their service to their country.”
CSM athletic director Andreas Wolf said he expects upwards of 8,000 people to attend the event. The bleachers overlooking the expanse of San Mateo County at College Heights Stadium — a view that drew WWAFT founder and CEO Chris Visser to the site — can seat just short of 5,000 people. So, seating will be added at field level to accommodate the expected draw. A standing-room-only section will also be available, where fans are encouraged to view the game field side.
Visser — a native of Springfield, Massachusetts, who started the WWAFT to honor a family from his hometown who lost a loved one on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — began scouting San Mateo in the days following last year’s Super Bowl. He originally was interested in procuring Brady Family Stadium at Serra High School, but needed a larger facility.
“I thought that would be kind of a fun place to look first,” Visser said. “It’s a terrific field but it’s just not big enough. Again we drew almost 10,000 people to our game at Scottsdale.”
Upon being referred to CSM, Visser’s imagination was captured by the view.
“As soon as I walked out on the field, I said — if they’ll have us, we’re not going to look for any other place,” Visser said.
Two weeks following last year’s Super Bowl, Visser reached an agreement with CSM President Michael Claire to procure the stadium. In terms of a rental price of the facility, Visser said: “CSM has been very, very cooperative.”
In addition to Snoop Dogg, the celebrity team will feature former 49ers Derrick Deese, William Floyd, Bill Romanowski, Dana Stubblefield, Spencer Tillman and the man responsible for one of the greatest single defensive plays in Niners history, from the infamous goal-line stand in Super Bowl XVI, former linebacker Dan Bunz.
Other NFL alumni include Pro Football Hall of Famer linemen Jack Youngblood and Jackie Slater, former Heisman Trophy winner and Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams and former Raiders defensive tackle Bob Golic. ESPN on-air personality Kenny Mayne and former Stanford and NFL linebacker Chris Draft will play alongside the 26 military veteran amputees with the WWAFT.
The WWAFT will be playing its 15th overall game since the team’s inception in 2012. In addition to playing prior to the last four Super Bowls, it plays every year on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and 9/11.
The team’s co-captain is BJ Ganem, a veteran of the U.S. Marines and double amputee, who appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” two years ago in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Seven players from the Bay Area will also be making their debut with the WWAFT, including Dan Berschenski, a double amputee currently doing graduate work at Stanford University. Other Bay Area players include Brian Jengens, Konstantinos Xigacos, Michael Kambic, Kevin Patton, Stephen Estrada and David Christopher.
“Most of these guys played high school football … so for them to have the chance to go out and play against professional football players … it’s just an experience of a lifetime,” Visser said. “And it’s the experience of a lifetime for both teams.”
Some of the largest events ever hosted at College Heights Stadium were in the late 1990s, when CSM used to host state track meets. However, many of the people counted in attendance for those events were the athletes themselves. Saturday’s event is estimated to be the largest fan draw ever, according to Wolf.
And organizing the event has been a citywide effort as well, Wolf said.
“Particularly with the city of San Mateo, the San Mateo Chamber of Commerce and the College of San Mateo … it’s a lot of partners working together,” Wolf said. “It’s not just CSM. We’re very excited to be hosting this event but we’re all working together to make this successful.”
General admission is $10 for adults, and free for children 12 and under, students and military veterans. The game is from noon to 3 p.m. Visit woundedwarrioramputeefootballteam.org to purchase tickets or for more information.