As fans don their colors Sunday to show support for their teams during Super Bowl LI, the Defense Department will also show its support.
Since 1999, the department has supported the Super Bowl in a variety of ways, including flyovers, musical performances, air drops and distinguished guests for the coin toss.
Each year, a different service has the chance to highlight their mission. This year, it’s the 70th anniversary of the Air Force, so they will lead the way, said Christine S. Thompson, a sports outreach specialist in the office of the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs.
“The Air Force turns 70 this year, and what better way to celebrate our birthday than to have the Thunderbirds do the flyover for the Super Bowl?” said Katie Spencer, the sports outreach program manager for the Air Force. “Airmen have been breaking barriers since 1947 with blood, sweat, sacrifice and passion. We are overjoyed to be able to honor that legacy on such a large platform.”
She said the Thunderbirds will fly over NRG Stadium in Houston during the national anthem, and then will be recognized on the field during the game. The aircraft livery includes the Air Force’s 70th anniversary logo, Spencer said. The Thunderbirds are also featured in a Daytona 500 spot that will be aired as a Super Bowl commercial during the game. And on Saturday, she said, the team will take Matt Hasselbeck, ESPN NFL analyst and former quarterback, and Eric Dickerson, NFL Hall of Famer and former running back, on a demonstration flight.
Capt. Ryan Bodenheimer, Thunderbird pilot No. 2, said he’s proud to represent the Air Force.
“The Super Bowl is an American tradition, and we are thrilled to demonstrate the pride that Americans have in their military,” he said. “We are honored to represent the men and women who are serving around the globe protecting our freedom and enabling events like the Super Bowl.”
Service members will lead each team as they run onto the field, with a joint service color guard and Air Force Band drummers on the sides.
The Air Force flag runners said they are excited to participate and to represent their service branch.
“Over the last 20 years, the Air Force has helped shape me into the person I am today -- an American airman,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Dina Anderson, a flight chief from the 341st Recruiting Squadron in Houston. "I have had the opportunity to serve this great nation alongside some of America's finest men and women. With everything the Air Force has provided to my family and me, it gives me great joy to be able to pay it forward as an Air Force recruiter. I couldn't be more proud to represent my branch during an event such as this.”
”It's such an honor to even be considered to represent not only the Air Force and pararescue, but also wounded warriors, during one of the biggest sporting events of the year. I am truly thankful, blessed and excited to run our nation’s colors onto the field for Super Bowl 51,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. August O’Niell, a pararescueman with the 342nd Training Squadron, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. O’Neill lost his left leg in 2015 due to injuries caused by an insurgent attack in 2011 in Afghanistan.
Spencer said the Air Force will be celebrating its 70th anniversary all year with events around the world.
“The Air Force is always there providing the nation with unyielding security, whether in air, space or cyberspace,” she said.