PEEKSKILL, NY—As part of a longstanding tradition in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell laid a wreath Friday in an official ceremony at the National Football League Cemetery.
The somber 40-minute memorial service, which was held in the hazy morning hours before a gathering that included NFL officials, members of the press, and several dozen active Pro Bowlers, paid tribute to the thousands of football players laid to rest in the league’s sprawling 500-acre cemetery.
“As we continue to celebrate this week’s festivities leading up to Super Bowl LI, it is important that we take the time to reflect on all of the brave young Americans who have given their lives to this great game,” said Goodell in a stoic address, speaking against the backdrop of the hundreds of rows of perfectly aligned silver headstones that crisscross the expansive cemetery. “These men, some of them as young as 21 or 22 years old, sacrificed their bodies, and ultimately their lives, in the name of the National Football League. When they were drafted—no matter where they were sent or which round they were selected—they stood tall and fearlessly risked life and limb for their franchise.”
“We must never forget that the games we all enjoy as a country every Sunday do not come without a cost,” Goodell continued. “And these courageous men paid the ultimate price out there on the football field.”
Following his remarks, the commissioner offered his individual thanks to several of the young wives and children of recently deceased players in attendance, before bowing his head for a moment of silence. The ceremony reportedly concluded with a lone bugler playing a slow, somber rendition of the Monday Night Football theme song.
According to sources, Goodell then quietly toured the burial grounds with his wife for several hours, occasionally kneeling before a gravestone to read the name and position of a deceased player and quietly say a prayer. The commissioner was later seen fighting back tears as he walked through the rolling hills of Section 10, the zone reserved for the league’s many fallen quarterbacks.
Afterwards, Goodell reportedly made his way to the far western corner of the grounds to view an untouched plot of land that the league recently acquired, which will allow for a much-needed expansion of the increasingly overcrowded cemetery.
“As we honor those who gave their own lives, we must also remember those who, though still with us today, bear the many scars from their years of service,” Goodell told reporters while walking along the path leading to the marble mausoleum reserved for fallen members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. “Many of these men returned from their stints around the league suffering from debilitating injuries and unimaginable trauma—some, tragically, could never walk again. People often fail to appreciate how difficult it can be for these men to lead normal lives once their days in uniform are over.”
“Of course, it is sometimes the psychological scars, though invisible, that can be the most painful,” added Goodell. “However, their incredible bravery and resilience is an inspiration to us all.”
The day marked Goodell’s 11th visit to the hallowed grounds, a tradition that former commissioner Pete Rozelle began in 1970 after the NFL-AFL merger, when the remains of dozens of former players were exhumed, transported, and consecrated at the newly constructed National Football League Cemetery. Despite having paid his respects every year since his appointment as commissioner in 2006, Goodell told reporters that the day’s events were equally as powerful and moving to him as they were during his very first visit the week of Super Bowl XLI.
“For those families who these husbands, fathers, and sons have left behind, we know that the void can never truly be filled,” said Goodell. “But we also know that their legacies live on with each and every week of the NFL season.”
“For without their sacrifice, we would not be the $13 billion organization that we are today,” Goodell added.