Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, here listening to the national anthem before a game, will visit U.S. military troops later this summer on the NFL-USO tour.
Ken Whisenhunt’s father served in the Air Force, his brother was a fighter pilot and his father-in-law flew in the Korean War.
The Cardinals’ coach never considered going into the military himself – “I was more wrapped up in football,” Whisenhunt said – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel strongly about those who do.
When the NFL asked him to take part in the 2011 NFL-USO Coaches Tour later this month to U.S. military spots around the Persian Gulf, Whisenhunt said “it was a pretty easy decision.”
“Everyone knows my feelings on the troops and our men and women and how they serve our country and what it means to us and our way of life,” Whisenhunt said Wednesday.
The exact dates and places for Whisenhunt’s trip are under wraps for now. He will be joined by Texans coach Gary Kubiak and two former NFL head coaches – the father and son duo of Jim Mora and Jim Mora.
It’s the third time the NFL has put together a coaches’ tour, with past participants including the Giants’ Tom Coughlin, the Titans’ Jeff Fisher, the Ravens’ John Harbaugh, the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis and the Eagles’ Andy Reid. Whisenhunt said he talked to some of the coaches to get a feel for what the trip will be like.
Whisenhunt was asked to go previously, but scheduling prevented it. That changed this past season and he committed back in January. Unfortunately, he never had a chance to discuss the trip with wide receiver
“When we get an opportunity to meet the people, meet the troops, it’s a lot of fun,” Fitzgerald said back in 2009. “I have family that’s in the military, so it kind of hits close to home with me. I just want to come over and show the troops my support and give them my appreciation for the sacrifices they make for us.”
The NFL has been helping put together USO trips all the way back to 1966, when four future Hall of Fame players – Willie Davis, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and Johnny Unitas – went to Vietnam. The following year, a players’ trip to Vietnam featured future Cardinals Hall of Famer Larry Wilson (as well as Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith).
One other Cardinal – Pro Bowl defensive end Chuck Walker, Vietnam, 1970 – has taken part in a USO trip.
Whisenhunt acknowledged that while he has wanted to go, he did commit to the trip prior to the recent events taking out Osama bin Laden and said there is some “unknown” with the region. Nevertheless, he said he has no trepidation.
“It’s something that is important,” Whisenhunt said. “I’ve talked to a few coaches who have gone there and they have all spoken highly of their experience and that was never really a concern for me. I am more excited to see the troops, see the conditions they live and work in and be able to support them as best as I can.”
Fitzgerald has a memorable moment during his Middle East visit. He ran into a cousin of his at a military base, a relative he had not seen since he was a kid.
Whisenhunt doesn’t expect to have that same kind of meeting, although that doesn’t change the journey’s deep personal meaning.
“I think about it every Sunday we play a game, how fortunate we are,” Whisenhunt said. “You look around (the stadium) and see all the fans screaming and how they are excited and just the whole atmosphere, and I am thankful we live in America and we have the ability to do this. I think about the men and women over there in some of these areas that allow us to do that.”