NFL and USAA Announce Finalists for Salute to Service Award

Award Recipient to be Recognized at NFL Honors Night Before Super Bowl LIV

The NFL and USAA, an Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, announced Atlanta Falcons CEO STEVE CANNON, Detroit Lions Head Coach MATT PATRICIA, andLos Angeles Chargers Legend DONNIE EDWARDS as finalists for the ninth annual Salute to Service Awardpresented by USAA.

Cannon, Patricia, and Edwards were selected for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community. The Salute to Service Award recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 1, the eve of Super Bowl LIV, on FOX.

USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, will contribute $25,000 in the award recipient’s honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL will match USAA’s donation of $25,000, which will be donated to the award recipient’s military charity of choice. The award recipient will receive a specially designed military challenge coin, recognizing their commitment to the military. In what has become a long-standing tradition, challenge coins are presented to members of the military community to encourage excellence, boost morale or to recognize a fellow brother- or sister-in-arms.

“Each having different life experiences and connections to our military, all three finalists for the ‘Salute to Service Award presented by USAA’ are connected by a shared belief in honoring and showing appreciation to our nation’s service members and veterans,” said Vice Admiral (Ret.) JOHN BIRD, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs. “Steve, Coach Patricia, and Donnie are all worthy finalists and we salute them for their continued commitment to America’s military community.”

The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA’s year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community. In October 2019, 32 NFL clubs nominated coaches, active and retired players, and team executives and personnel, who best demonstrated support for the military community. These nominees were publicly announced in November and the submissions were evaluated by a panel of judges, including last year’s award recipient, former Atlanta Falcons and current San Francisco 49ers guard BEN GARLAND. Nominees’ credentials are evaluated based on the positive effect of the individual’s efforts on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of the program and level of commitment.

The panel of judges, consisting of representatives from the U.S. military, the NFL and USAA, includes:

  • VICE ADMIRAL JOHN BIRD (Ret.), U.S. Navy veteran, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs
  • CHAD HENNINGS, Air Force Academy graduate, three-time Super Bowl champion
  • BEN GARLAND, San Francisco 49ers guard and 2018 Salute to Service Award recipient
  • JIM MORA, SR., Marine Corps veteran, former NFL head coach
  • VINCENT JACKSON, Former NFL player & 2015 Salute to Service Award recipient
  • LENNY BANDY, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and NFL Vice President of Security

Since 2011, USAA has used its sponsorship to honor and appreciate active-duty military, veterans and their families by creating unique opportunities that bring the military community and the NFL closer together. Among numerous events this season, USAA hosted “NFL Boot Camps” during training camp with multiple teams and at military installations at home and abroad, where military members competed in drills similar to those used at the NFL Combine, Super Bowl ticket giveaways for military veterans and offering military members the chance to meet NFL players in small groups. Fans can join the NFL and USAA in honoring the military community by visiting

Below is the list of previous Salute to Service Award recipients.

2018Ben GarlandAtlanta Falcons
2017Andre RobertsAtlanta Falcons
2016Dan Quinn (Head Coach)Atlanta Falcons
2015Vincent JacksonTampa Bay Buccaneers
2014Jared AllenChicago Bears
2013John Harbaugh (Head Coach)Baltimore Ravens
2012Charles TillmanChicago Bears
2011K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr. (Late Owner)Tennessee Titans

Below is an overview on the three finalists. To learn more about all 32 team nominees, please visit

STEVE CANNON (CEO, Atlanta Falcons)

Steve Cannon, CEO of Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank’s family of businesses, is the personification of what the NFL’s Salute to Service Award was created to honor. His passion and drive to provide America’s military community meaningful recognition, unique engagement opportunities and enduring support they may not otherwise have is constant and central to his leadership ethic. Cannon’s commitment to the military and related causes began with his own personal commitment. Cannon, who graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986, was Airborne Ranger qualified and served as First Lieutenant in West Germany during the fall of the Iron Curtain. During his time in the Army he also served five years as an artillery officer. Through Cannon’s countless hours of service to multiple military non-profits over the years, his constant “military first” mindset and utilization of the NFL’s platform has provided active duty service members, veterans and military families with first class experiences and support.

In addition to empowering and giving back to the military community, Cannon has played a large role in bringing awareness to the general population on the importance of honoring and recognizing our Nation’s Heroes. Through Cannon’s military and professional career, he has consistently found ways to implement programs in service to our military, active duty specifically. Upon his entrance into the Atlanta Falcons organization, he realized the impact of the NFL platform and challenged the Club to be “best in class” and to “become the benchmark franchise in all of professional sports” in terms of our military outreach and appreciation. The Atlanta Falcons became the first ever NFL team to conduct their own USO Tour. Another challenge that Cannon put on the team was to make every single Atlanta Falcons home game a “Salute to Service” game; and to not just celebrate our current service members and veterans once in November. Additionally, the Falcons host and honor through video tribute, a family from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) at every single home game. The Falcons have raised more than $250,000 to help homeless veterans across the state of Georgia.

On January 1, 2014, Cannon’s life was changed forever when his brother, also a West Point graduate, took his own life due to post traumatic stress disorder. Cannon, through his heartbreak, also found a light. Seeing what his family was going through, he wanted to make sure that any other family that experiences the unbearable pain of losing a loved one, feels cared for, is nurtured and has opportunities in their time of most need. Cannon serves on the Board of Directors of three organizations whose values are built around providing opportunities for military and their families. Since 2014, he has served on the Board of Directors for Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund and Children of Fallen Patriots; while also serving on the TAPS Board of Directors since 2017. Cannon co-founded the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund in 2014, a nonprofit organization that honors military service and sacrifice by providing scholarships and educational programs to veterans and military family members, especially to children of our nation’s fallen or disabled. Since 2014, Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund has helped over 1,500 military children with scholarships totaling $12 million; the Fund will award an additional $4 million+ in scholarships in 2019. A member of the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund Executive Committee and Board of Directors, Cannon has been instrumental in their fundraising efforts. They have raised $20 million since 2014.

Cannon always has the United States military on the forefront of what we do, and their families, and the Atlanta Falcons are honored to have a such a special leader push the organization to excellence and make sure they take care of those who fight for our freedom every day. “There is a debt we owe to those who make the ultimate sacrifice and we will pay that debt by taking care of the families left behind,” says Cannon.

MATT PATRICIA (Head Coach, Detroit Lions)

Entering in his 17th season as an NFL coach and third as the head coach of the Lions, Matt Patricia’s support of the United States Armed Forces dates back to his days as an aeronautical engineering major at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where his “first love” was airplanes. With several close friends currently serving in the military, specifically the Navy, Patricia grows his beard every season to honor his loved ones overseas – most of whom typically sport full beards. “I’m not shaving until you get back. When you see us on TV, or see me on TV, you’ll know I’ll be thinking about you,” Patricia said during his press conference at Super Bowl LII. In 2018, his first year as head coach, the Lions partnered with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). Through Patricia’s work with Lions players on the launch of the team’s social justice initiative, Detroit Lions Inspire Change, the Lions became the first NFL team to fund scholarship opportunities for TAPS families.

During the team’s Salute to Service game against the Carolina Panthers in 2018, Patricia hosted Michigan-based TAPS families and, alongside several players, honored the families’ lost loved ones with personalized buttons and helmet decals on game day. Lions players also conducted a ticket drive that invited hundreds of military members to the Panthers game. This past year, Patricia and the Lions honored 25 TAPS families when Detroit took on the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 17. As part of the last two My Cause My Cleats initiatives, Patricia showcased the Word of Honor Fund, which provides a continuum of support that facilitates milestone events for the surviving children of Navy SEALs and Special Operations personnel who lost their lives while assigned to select Naval Special Operations Groups. Last June, he donated 325 backpacks to the organization’s Annual Summertime Gathering in Willow Creek, Idaho. Over the last two years, Patricia and the Lions have hosted and helped fund the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Maltz Challenge, an annual worldwide cross-fit event held in memory of DEA Special Agent and United States Airforce Pararescue man Mike Maltz that honors service men and women lost in the line of duty. This past March, more than 150 participants gathered at the team’s Allen Park practice facility to compete in the event, where Patricia greeted participants and helped organize a gift presentation to the family of Private First Class Tarryl Hill, a Southfield, Mich. native who died while serving in the Iraq War.

Patricia’s commitment to supporting the service men and women of our country is also rooted in a passion for preserving and honoring American history. In June 2018, Patricia led a private trip of the entire team and coaching staff to Arlington National Cemetery, where the team together remembered fallen heroes before embarking on the upcoming season. During this trip, Patricia and the team’s player leadership council also visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This past August, while participating in joint training camp practices with the Houston Texans, Patricia also coordinated a team trip to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, NASA’s headquarters for human spaceflight training. Lions players and staff were given an exclusive opportunity to hear NASA astronaut and United States Navy SEAL Chris Cassidy present on his distinguished career path, as well as the many parallels between the training regimens of professional football players and astronauts. Throughout the football season, Patricia consistently hosts military friends at both home and road games and also allows them to take part in team meetings and view practice. Over the last two seasons, he has also brought in retired Three-Star United States Navy Admiral John “Boomer” Stufflebeem to speak to the team on topics ranging from media training to culture building. A former Lions punter and close friend of Patricia, Stufflebeem served 39 years in the Navy and is well-known for his role as the primary media liaison for the Pentagon following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

DONNIE EDWARDS (Los Angeles Chargers Legend)

During Donnie Edwards’ five seasons with the Chargers, he was twice voted as an All-Pro linebacker and at the time of his retirement, Edwards was one of only eight players in the history of the NFL to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks over a career. While he was heavily involved with bettering the community and actively supporting the military during his playing days, Edwards continues his efforts currently by taking full advantage of his connections off the field to support the world around him, especially military veterans. It was Edwards’ long-standing family ties to the military which moved him to lend his support to our troops overseas, including participating in seven tours with the USO proudly working to help boost morale for members of our military.

“My family has been in the military since my grandpa, who is a Pearl Harbor survivor with the 25th infantry division,” Edwards said. “His service and sacrifice to this country has always pushed me to support our military and so I’m a life-long supporter of our military.”

Edwards’ passion has now taken a very special direction as he has founded the Best Defense Foundation that takes World War II veterans and Vietnam Veterans back to their battlefields and memorials so they can make peace and pay respect to their fallen soldiers who never got a chance to live a full life.

“It’s been really rewarding for me. I’ve been taking back veterans for about 14 years and I’ve done over 33 programs around the world, from Berchtesgaden, Germany to the beaches of Iwo Jima, and all in-between,” said Edwards.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Edwards had a goal to return as many veterans as he could to Normandy. His goal was achieved earlier this offseason, as Edwards and his Best Defense Foundation took 16 veterans and a nurse who served in World War II on a 10-day trip to the shores of northern France.

Edwards has participated in nine USO tours. In February 2019, Edwards along with another NFL Legend went to Japan on an NFL-USO Tour to watch the Super Bowl with the troops in Okinawa. Like Normandy, he took seven Iwo Jima survivors back to the islands earlier this year. He credits the game of football for giving him the platform to do so much for those who served.

His dedication to giving back comes from his family. His grandfather, Sergeant Maximino Razo, was a Pearl Harbor survivor, a father-figure for Edwards growing up. “I do it in his honor and his legacy,” he said. “Growing up, he took care of me when I was young, and now I’m taking care of the guys. Our motto is, ‘Taking care of the ones who took care of us.'” His desire in his post-football career is to help those who fought for our freedoms on countless battlefields heal their old wounds and say goodbye to long lost friends makes him special.

#   #   #

ABOUT USAA: The USAA family of companies provides insurance, banking, investments, retirement products and advice to more than 13 million current and former members of the U.S. military and their families. Known for its legendary commitment to its members, USAA is consistently recognized for outstanding service, employee well-being and financial strength. USAA membership is open to all who are serving our nation in the U.S. military or have received a discharge type of Honorable – and their eligible family members. Founded in 1922, USAA is headquartered in San Antonio. For more information about USAA, follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@USAA), or visit

Media Contact:

Jordyn White, NFL

Roy Kessel

Roy Kessel

Roy Kessel is the Founder of the Sports Philanthropy Network. Roy has worked in the sports business world for over 20 years including serving as an instructor in Northwestern University's graduate Sports Management Program. Having served as a sports lawyer representing athletes, entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, Roy has extensive experience helping organizations improve their strategy, marketing, communications and leadership development.
Sports Philanthropy Network

Featured Posts

Recent Posts

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email