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Veterans go fishing with the Falcons
Atlanta Falcons tackle Todd Weiner watches as Pfc. Charles J. Smith of Fort Gordon, left, and teammate Tyson Clabo reel in a pair of stripers Wednesday on Lake Lanier. - photo by Jonathan Zopf l The Times


Falcons center Todd McClure talks about his day on Lake Lanier fishing with Purple Heart veterans.

BUFORD — Professional athletes are used to being idolized, but it’s not every day that they get to return the favor.

That all changed Wednesday afternoon, when members of the Atlanta Falcons and seven Purple Heart veterans boarded boats and took to Lake Lanier for a little striper fishing expedition.

"Knowing what these guys do for us and our country and to come out there and fish with them is a pretty neat deal," Atlanta Falcons center Todd McClure said.

The fishing trip was a part of the Falcons’ continued relationship with the armed forces, but marked the first time that the franchise has honored military personnel who have received the military’s recognition for combat-wounded veterans.

"It’s pretty humbling to hear what they went through and how close they were to death at times," said McClure, a longtime fisherman who fished alongside teammates Tyson Clabo, Todd Weiner and Pfc. Charles J. Smith from Fort Gordon.

While the Falcons’ players were privy to a first hand account of what members of the military went through at war, the veterans were treated to a day on the water with NFL players.

"Coming out and fishing with these guys made me see that they’re down-to-earth people," Staff Sgt. Calvin Wilson said. "This was amazing, fishing with some big-time boys in the NFL, which was one of my dreams, to be in the NFL."

Wilson, who fished with Falcons Tim Anderson, Doug Datish and Kevin Lovell, was injured when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive devise while traveling through Ramadi, a city in central Iraq.

"I got blew up," said Wilson, a M1A1 tank commander with the 1-77 Army Battalion. "I was wondering what was going on, everything was in slow motion.

"You never think something like that would happen," he added. "There’s a possibility that it could happen, but you never think it could happen to you."

It was Wilson’s story, along with that of Smith, Staff Sgt. Curtis Eric Winston Jr., Master Sgt. Marcus James Jefferson, Sgt. Adam Neville, Sgt. Maj. Isidoro Santiago and Staff Sgt. Craig Alexander Showers that afforded the men the opportunity to be a part of the fishing trip with the Falcons.

According to LaRhonda Jackson of the Falcons, each veteran was chosen after submitting an essay detailing their combat story and love of fishing.

That love of fishing is something that was on full display Wednesday, as the veterans and football players tried their best to catch more fish then the rest of the boats.

Many of the Falcons, including McClure, John Abraham, Chris Redman and Corey McIntyre, were fishing for striper for the first time.

"It’s a lot of sitting and waiting," McClure said of striper fishing, comparing it to the more up-tempo bass fishing he is used to. "But you catch bigger fish. We really had a good time."

Each player and veteran had their opportunity to reel in a catch with Clabo snagging the biggest striper of the day, which weighed in at 13 pounds.

But for the Falcons and veterans alike the day was not about who caught the biggest or the most fish. It was about recognizing the service the members of the armed forces do for the country.

"You might watch TV and hear about the war," McClure said. "But you don’t get to really hear the stories from up close what these guys went through. It’s very humbling."

While McClure left humbled, the veterans, specifically Wilson, left feeling like he had achieved a lifelong goal.

"I almost met my dream," he said. "For this, it feels like I am in the NFL for the day."

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