Patriotic Day For Cowboys and Ducks

SAN DIEGO - For the first time the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Oregon Ducks really came face to face. The bands and the cheerleaders started it on the dock beside the U.S. Navy WASP-class amphibious assault ship, the USS Bonhamme Richard, a carrier for helicopters and Harrier attack planes. Those aircraft and amphibious landing craft can be launched to put Marines on the shore where needed.

The ship is 844-feet long and 106-feet wide with a square area of 2.2 acres. The full load displacement of the ship is 40,500 tons and top speed of 20-plus knots. The ship is staffed by 104 officers and 1,100 enlisted men and women. The troop carrying capacity is 1,800 Marines.

The Cowboys and Ducks were hosted by the Holiday Bowl committee and Captain Neil Parrott, commanding officer of the USS Bonhamme Richard also known as "The Revolutionary Gator." The players dined on pasta salad, chili, barbeque beef brisket, and lemon and chocolate cake. They heard from the Captain, a Vice Admiral, and Marine Brigadier General Angela Salinas, real fired up speaker.

"Please do me a favor, I want you to look around the room, take a good look at the young men and women that are in uniform," said the Brigadier General Salinas. "Take a good look at them, football players and the band, these are your peers. They come from across the country, from New York to California and from Alaska to Texas. They come from the small towns and they come from the big cities.

"They are athletes, we've got quarterbacks and tailbacks. We have all of them right here. They too pledged to a fraternity and the words that they pledged when they first started went like this, ‘I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.' They stand up with their hands or their headwear over their hearts when their team song plays and it starts, ‘Oh say can you see…'"

The crowd was getting into it, and the whole experience from the interaction with the sailors and Marines to the tour of the ship was impressive to all, even the oldest of the Cowboy players.

"Not many people can say they have been a part of this or been on an aircraft carrier, even seen one except in the movies," said reserve quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is the oldest player on the team. "It is basically history and it is neat to be a part of."

There was no taking for granted the military today even from a player that sacrificed two years of his life for his religion, offensive tackle Andrew Mitchell, who is Mormon and served his mission to the LDS church.

"You hear about them every day but when you are on a carrier and you are around the men and the women serving it makes it a little more serious and you think about it a lot more," said Mitchell, the second oldest player on the team. "This is their life and they are protecting our way of life while we play football and do the other things college students do."

There was one major faux pas during the luncheon and it came when Mike Gundy was introduced.

"You obviously didn't watch the Oregon-Oregon State game and you made me nervous with that reference to Oregon State," laughed Mike Gundy when the master of ceremonies and local newscaster John Weisbarth introduced Gundy as the head coach of Oregon State.

"It's been great to come back out here and our team has had a great time and San Diego is a great place to be. The hospitality from Capt. Parrott allowing us to come on the USS Bonhomme Richard. Our players are very excited to be on the ship and just the opportunity to come on board and see the things that you guys do. I'll follow everybody else by saying the respect we have for the armed services and what you do for our country. That is what it is all about right now."

Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti also addressed the crowd. "I would like to take a second to say this to the sailors and the troops, General Salinas, and Captain Parrott," started Bellotti. "What you do is really the score that counts and we will give you a great game that you deserve, so you can count on that."

One other important not from the visit to the USS Bonhamme Richard was the awarding of the Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp Trophy. This award goes to each team in the game each year to a person that is an unsung contributor. It can be a coach, player, or staff member and the award for the Cowboys went to longtime administrative assistant in the football office Sandra Swank, who was totally overwhelmed by the gesture.

Sundays practice at the University of San Diego was the usual Thursday practice during the season with a focus on execution on both sides of the ball and lots of special teams work. The players now see the fun start to taper off and the focus on the game heightens. They have had a good time.

"It's nice out here. It's different," said tight end Brandon Pettigrew. "I could definitely get used to this."

When asked if he was communicating with the San Diego Chargers down the road, Pettigrew, a senior with huge NFL potential, kind of grinned. "I'm just talking about the weather and the festivities," added Pettigrew with a hint of laughter at the suggestion. "It's nice out here."

He thinks the practices and effort to get ready for the game have kept up with the other side of going to the bowl, having the fun.

"We are just taking it as having fun and I'm looking around checking out everybody else's swag and we're just having fun," explained the 6-6, 255-pound standout. "That is why it feels like nobody is pressured. Everybody is having fun and getting things done at the same time."

Oregon had his attention well before he saw many of their players face to face on the USS Bonhamme Richard for lunch on Sunday.

"I think we are going to have to strap it up and be ready to play," said Pettigrew. "They have a lot of good players. I've been doing a lot of film work and they are pretty good. They just have really good defensive ends and that is a challenge to me that I've got to get it done. They have really good players all over the defense."

Pettigrew's last go-round in orange, or in this case white as the Cowboys are the road team, is now less than 48 hours away.

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