Cardinals defensive tackle Rodney Gunter gives a fist bump to a fan during Wednesday's meet-and-greet session at the Phoenix VA hospital.
Xavier Williams enjoys the rush of a raucous University of Phoenix Stadium, where legions of fans holler at the top of their lungs in support of the Cardinals on game day.
But the third-year defensive tackle also likes the quieter moments with the faithful, those times when he gets a better idea of who is out there rooting for him.
Williams joined defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, guard Kaleb Johnson and tackle Givens Price at a meet-and-greet at the Phoenix VA Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, posing for photos and signing autographs for veterans and their families.
“You see thousands of screaming fans, and it’s kind of one big blur,” Williams said. “When you get to meet them individually, it puts a face to it. It let’s you know, ‘This is who I go out for. This is who I help out to make happy. This is who comes to support me.’ It’s huge.”
The Cardinals partnered with USAA for the “Salute To Service” visit in order show their appreciation to those who have served in the armed forces. Cardinals mascot Big Red and the team’s cheerleaders added to the festivities.
The meeting struck a chord for Gunter, who had an uncle and a cousin serve in the military.
“Each time I see my family members that served my country, I truly appreciate what they did,” Gunter said. “Taking the time out of their life to give back to the United States of America, seeing the blood, sweat and tears that they put in, it makes me full of joy.”
The players enjoyed the experience, chatting with the fans that made their way through the line. Each guest was given a Cardinals pennant and a poster of the cheerleaders to get autographed.
Williams, whose dad was in the Army, said the military aspect of the event added to its importance.
“It’s always a good time when you can come out and give back to the community, but when you can do it with veterans, it makes it a little bit more special because they’ve given up so much for this country,” Williams said. “Any way you can help those guys out, it always means a lot.”