By Terry Bernal Daily Journal
Well, the NFL Alumni nearly took out Snoop Dogg.
The celebrity headliner at the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team vs. NFL Alumni game Saturday at the College of San Mateo, Snoop Dogg — playing wide receiver for the WWAFT — opened the game going deep, but was met by NFL Alumni safety Ron Collins, who streaked across the field to defend the play only to send Snoop Dogg crashing into a temporary barrier near the corner of the end zone.
"Who knew [Snoop Dogg] had that kind of athletic ability?" Collins said. "But no way he was going to make that play. And he wasn't about to let me stop him. That was fun. That made it competitive."
As a collective gasp came over the approximately 7,500 fans in attendance at College Heights Stadium, Snoop Dogg hopped to his feet with a congenial smile. And after tangling in one of the most physical exchanges of the day, the legendary rap artist proved ever the showman, bouncing back two plays later to make the game's first touchdown reception on a pass from WWAFT quarterback, and famed ESPN personality, Kenny Mayne.
The day belonged to the Wounded Warriors, though, and just not on the scoreboard. Sure, the WWAFT won 49-35, as they have all five years the charity game has been played in the host area of the Super Bowl. As was the objective of the WWAFT co-founder and CEO Chris Visser, the game is meant to showcase the athletic abilities of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen injured while serving their country.
The event was received as a rousing success, as fans packed around the sidelines and end lines for a rare up-close perspective of some headline names. Along with the 26 players representing the WWAFT, the NFL Alumni team included an array of former pro greats, including ex-49ers Dan Bunz, Dana Stubblefield and CSM alumnus Bill Ring.
A 10-man referee crew — with crew chief and Big 12 ref Dan Romero, and former San Mateo County ref Kenny Ray — brought a depth of entertainment to the game, with all 10 yellow flags being thrown on the same play near the end of the first half to favor the WWAFT. And in-house play-by-play was brought to life by "95.7 The Game" sports radio personality Dan Dibley, bringing keeping fans engaged with a natural flow of charm and humor.
Beyond the celebrity showing, however, the WWAFT turned in an unrivaled performance.
One of the co-captains of the WWAFT, BJ Ganem, was playing in his third annual game. He has also plays regularly in the annual charity games the team plays every year on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and 9/11.
A former prep linebacker Benedictine Prep College in Savannah, Georgia, Ganem has scored approximately eight career touchdowns for the WWAFT, two of which he scored Saturday. And he spoke with a glimmer in his eye about being asked to play for the team three years ago.
"They asked me if I wanted to play with former NFL alumni and I said 'hell yeah,'" Ganem said.
Ganem lost his left leg after his U.S. Marine platoon was attacked in Iraq on Thanksgiving eve of 2004. Three weeks later, he was stateside, and while still bedridden was photographed during his visit with President George W. Bush, in what has become on iconic image in the WWAFT game programs.
"He's a really, really stand-up man," Ganem said of Mr. Bush. "And he's really doing a lot for the injured veterans."
Former U.S. Air Force airman Kevin Patton scored another of the WWAFT's touchdowns, and perhaps the most notable on the day. This year marks the 30th year Patton has been refined to a wheelchair after losing the use of his legs as an airman. A native of Cincinnati, where he played prep football at Mount Healthy High School, Patton now resides in the Bay Area and is serving as president of the Bay Area and Western Paralyzed Veterans of America headquartered in Palo Alto.
Playing in his first game with the WWAFT, Patton also scored a touchdown with a long rush on a power sweep right. The former high school standout lined up in the backfield in his wheelchair, tucked a handoff securely under his left arm and got a hearty push across the line of scrimmage before steering himself into the end zone by outrunning a trio of defenders in pursuit.
"They just cleared a lane," Patton said, as he signed autographs for young fans who made their way onto the field following the game. "The line opened it up and made it easy for me."
A halftime show by 16-year-old Marlisa Punzalan — the 2014 winner of XFactor Australia — gave a spirited performance, accompanied by the CSM cheer squad. Although, the end of her set was distracted by the departure of Snoop Dogg, as he bowed out of the day's events after the first half, with a flood of autograph seekers surrounding him as we exited across the field.
Plenty of fans filled their collectable footballs and keepsake books with autographs though, as the WWAFT and NFL Alumni remained on the field following the game to oblige the many fans that stuck around afterwards.
"This is great," Patton said. "The crowd is showing up, the weather was great. … You couldn't ask for a better atmosphere."