Essex sailors score big with NFL prizes
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — When Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Mahan joined about 900 shipmates in Nimitz Park for the USS Essex picnic Friday afternoon, he wasn’t expecting to leave with one of seven prize packages to the NFL’s American Bowl.
“I’ve never even been to an NFL game,” he said. “There just aren’t any NFL teams around Bellevue, Neb.; when I watch on television, I usually pull for Kansas City or Denver.”
Now Mahan, 24, must choose to cheer for the Atlanta Falcons or Indianapolis Colts at the Aug. 6 matchup at the Tokyo Dome. The prize package includes a ticket to the game, transportation and hotel costs for a stay in Tokyo Aug. 3-7.
On top of that, the NFL agreed to create opportunities for servicemembers to visit with players during their stay, said Dennis Lebling with Sasebo’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation department.
“My goal is to get them on the practice field with the players the Thursday before the game and at the pre-game party at the Tokyo Dome,” he said.
The six other winners from the Essex drawing, most not at the picnic, could not be identified by press time, organizers said, because they were not sure of the winners’ complete names.
The American Bowl preseason game traditionally has a Super Bowl-like atmosphere, with a week of events and player appearances leading up to the game, said Lt. Cmdr. Ed Lucas, aircraft maintenance officer and collateral-duty MWR representative for the Essex.
“These guys really deserve something like this,” he said. “These sailors spent eight months deployed to protect the interests of Iraq, then responded to the humanitarian disaster created by tsunamis in Southeast Asia.”
U.S. Forces Japan obtained tickets to the game from the NFL, said USFJ spokeswoman Capt. Richelle Dowdell. A specific number of tickets — she was unsure how many — were allocated to each service branch in Japan. The branches were making separate plans on how to distribute their tickets.
“As a tribute to our military servicemembers throughout Japan, not only will many receive the tickets, but they’ll also participate in halftime activities,” she said.