Army-Navy game a brief respite for grieving family of Brian Bourgeois
(Tribune News Service) — For a grieving family, the Army-Navy football game brought a brief respite from a time of terrible tragedy.
The Naval Academy Athletic Association joined forces with the Navy Football Brotherhood and Navy SEAL Foundation to bring the family of fallen Navy Cmdr. Brian Bourgeois to the 122nd Army-Navy game.
Bourgeois, a 2001 Naval Academy graduate, died Dec. 7 from injuries suffered during a SEAL training accident. The Virginia Beach resident was 43 years old and left behind a wife and five children.
Bourgeois, commanding officer of Seal Team 8, was seriously injured four days prior during a fast-rope training evolution. The Louisiana native was a four-year member of the Navy football team and earned three varsity letters as a safety and special teams standout.
Members of the Navy Football Brotherhood coordinated flights that brought Bourgeois widow and four of her children to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. They were joined by Bourgeois' parents, David and Marlene, along with brother Brad and sister Sara.
The Bourgeois contingent met with Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo before kickoff then watched the game from a private suite provided by the Navy SEAL Foundation. Megan and the children were invited into the jubilant home locker room after Navy beat Army, 17-13.
Commander Brian Broadwater, Military Deputy of Athletics at the Naval Academy, said the various events of the day were uplifting for the family. Broadwater was a Navy football teammate, 2001 classmate and close friend of Bourgeois.
"The entire Navy football program opened its arms to include the Bourgeois family in the whole gameday experience," Broadwater said.
Niumatalolo asked Megan Bourgeois to address the Navy football team after the big win. She thanked the Midshipmen for delivering an emotional victory on a day there were several tributes to her late husband.
Senior wide receiver Michael Salisbury carried a Seal Team 8 flag when the team ran out of the tunnel onto the field. A No. 13 home blue jersey adorned with two SEAL Team 8 patches was draped over a chair placed prominently on the Navy sideline, while Salisbury and fellow wide receiver Jayden Umbarger wore SEAL Team 8 patches on their uniforms.
Those patches were given to Navy wide receivers coach Mick Yokitis, a 2006 Naval Academy graduate, by Bourgeois earlier this year. Senior inside linebacker and captain Diego Fagot told CBS afterward that the Midshipmen dedicated the game to Bourgeois.
"Megan mentioned that there were a few things that defined Brian as a person, a few things he truly loved, and Navy football was one of them," Broadwater said.
Navy football has a tradition of singing a special version of Anchors Aweigh to close out the locker room festivities after wins with one of the smaller players on the team being repeatedly tossed up into the air. On Saturday, Bourgeois' youngest son — 6-year-old Callem — was at the center of the celebration and being hoisted high by the Midshipmen.
It was back to reality for the family on Monday as a memorial service for Bourgeois was held at Joint Expeditionary Base in Little Creek, Va. Approximately 2,000 mourners squeezed into the base theater for the service, which was transmitted through video to overflow rooms filled with the many others who came to honor the highly decorated Navy special forces officer.
Capt. Donald G. Wetherbee, commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group 2, addressed the audience. Brad Bourgeois eulogized his brother, while Broadwater spoke on behalf of the Navy Football Brotherhood. Barrett Bourgeois, eldest of the five children, delivered a heartfelt tribute to his father.
A large contingent from the Naval Academy traveled from Annapolis to Little Creek by bus for the service. That included Niumatalolo and the entire Navy football coaching staff.
"Yesterday was tough," Niumatalolo told the media Tuesday. "We were able to go and celebrate the life of Brian Bourgeois. It was awesome to have so many brotherhood members there to pay respects to Brian."
Niumatalolo said former Navy football players came from across the country to attend the memorial service. He was impressed that people from different chapters of Bourgeois' life spoke about a man who was consistent across the board in his actions and beliefs.
"They mentioned that he would have loved to have been there because all the parts of his life and all the people he loved were present — his family, his Navy football teammates, the SEAL community," Niumatalolo said.
"It was a beautiful service, and I was very grateful we were able to go because it was a great experience."
Niumatalolo just completed his 24th season as a member of the Navy football staff, including 14th as head coach. Sadly, the 56-year-old has seen several former players die in the line of duty, including Ron Winchester and J.P. Blecksmith during combat.
Third-year defensive coordinator Brian Newberry is learning more and more every day what it means to coach at the Naval Academy. This marked the first time since Newberry arrived in Annapolis the program had to deal with the death of a former player.
"To see thousands of people at that service and to hear people get up and talk about the life [Bourgeois] lived and how important the brotherhood was to him... it was emotional for me to see the outpouring of love and respect," Newberry said. "That was really powerful and humbling. It puts things in a whole different perspective, that's for sure."
There will likely be another memorial service for Bourgeois held at the Naval Academy at a date to be announced.
Meanwhile, the non-profit Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced this week it will pay off the mortgage on the Bourgeois family home. The organization covers the home payments of first-responders and veterans who die in the line of duty.
"Of course it doesn't change the great loss, but it does take some financial burden off them," Tunnel to Towers Chairman and CEO Frank Siller told Fox & Friends on Tuesday.
Tunnels to Towers was founded in honor of New York City firefighter Stephen Siller, who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Stephen Siller, brother of Frank Siller, was finishing up a shift when he heard the call about the attack at the World Trade Center.
Siller drove to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it was already closed for security purposes. Determined to help at Ground Zero, the first-responder ran roughly two miles through the tunnel to the Twin Towers while carrying 60 pounds of gear.
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