The football-Constitution connection: It’s about courage and determination

With the “big game,” aka Notre Dame vs. Alabama, just hours away and the NFL playoffs gluing many of us to our couches, I figured I’d share a story that links one of America’s favorite pastimes with one of America’s favorite documents.

Daniel Rodriguez. Source: Clemson University.

I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have met some truly special people. But I must tell you, the most recent person to fall into this category isn’t just special, he’s a hero.

For die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, heading to the final home game this season wasn’t automatic. But after 14 years with Andy Reid at the helm, my friend Kathi and I felt it was very important to be there to pay homage to a great leader.

No, I’m not about to tell you that I got to shake Andy’s hand in his last home game as coach of the Birds. Instead, I will tell you that I got to meet a humble 24-year-old and despite the fact that he wore a Washington Redskins jersey that day, he became my latest “special person.”

Daniel Rodriguez was a senior at a suburban Washington, D.C., high school when his father died of a sudden heart attack. Devastated, he joined the Army–telling no one before enlisting. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his dad who had served in the military. What happens next probably comes as no surprise. Daniel serves multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He watches close friends die. He returns home, drinks too much, and doesn’t sleep well.

But like our Founding Fathers, Daniel is not a quitter. Exemplifying the determination of the men who created the very document he swore to defend, Daniel recognizes others are counting on him. He makes the decision to battle back, displaying the courage that is at the foundation of our Constitution.

He starts taking classes at a local community college. With a much-improved attitude, he decides to follow through on a promise he had made to one of his Army friends–a friend who never made it home. He had promised to walk onto a college football program.

With the help of a YouTube video and Twitter, Daniel got noticed and ultimately ended up at Clemson University, where he didn’t just walk on–he made the team and is playing.

His teammates will tell you that they thrive off of his energy and that he is an important reminder: Life is so much more than football–take everything you do seriously.

So how did I learn all of this? Let’s head back to that last Eagles home game.

As I took my seat to watch yet another tough loss, this time to the Redskins and RGIII, I decided to show this kid sitting next to me that not all Philadelphia fans are, well, let’s just say “unkind.” I welcomed him, asked him about the Skins jersey, and learned that he was a guest of one of the Redskins players (Jarvis Jenkins, who also went to Clemson).

We talked college football in general and chatted a bit about the Alabama/Notre Dame match-up. He mentioned how excited he was to have the chance to go to the national championship. I asked him how the heck he scored the tickets. He humbly replied, “Actually I am being honored during the game.”

It wasn’t until the subway ride home that my friend and I truly understood. We Googled Daniel and had tears in our eyes as we read his story. We looked at each other and agreed: We met a hero today.

So tonight, whether you cheer for the Fightin’ Irish or the Crimson Tide, keep an eye out for a young man who committed to support and defend our Constitution, who traded his camouflage for Clemson orange, and whose courage on and off the field would make our Founding Fathers very proud.

Read more about Daniel Rodriguez here.

Margaret Cronan is the National Constitution Center’s Chief Communications Officer and inherited her love for football and the Philadelphia Eagles from her father Charlie, a World War II veteran.

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