Jeff Reed said he was almost in tears listening to a young woman tell of fighting for her country in Iraq, being captured and made a prisoner of war before she was rescued.
Hers was one of many stories that Reed heard Tuesday, as the Steelers and VA Healthcare hosted the first Heroes at Heinz event at Heinz Field.
Standing on the same field on which they are accustomed to hearing a cheering crowd, Reed and eight of his teammates listened to tales of wounded veterans at Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
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Including that of Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
"I just can't believe I met her," said Reed, who set up tees at the kicking station and offered pointers to about 130 veterans and their families. "As athletes, we get too much credit for being heroes. We're doing something that God has blessed us with and in a lot of people's eyes, a game-winner makes you a hero. But (the soldiers) are fighting for the country. They're the true heroes."
The soldiers got to kick, punt and throw a football as well as mingle, get autographs and take photographs with Reed, Chris Hoke, Daniel Sepulveda, Aaron Smith, Matt Spaeth, Mewelde Moore, Greg Warren, Patrick Bailey, Roy Lewis and Dezmond Sherrod.
Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq, missed his first few attempts throwing the ball through a target downfield, but Lewis and Moore refused to give up on him. Put a little more arc on it, they'd say after one toss. Like that, but a little harder this time, they'd say after the next.
"I'm the blind guy, so they were just trying to help me," said Feldbusch, who lost his right eye and sight in his left after a piece of shrapnel entered and lodged in his skull April 3, 2003, when his 3rd Ranger Batallion came under fire.
Feldbusch, who was accompanied by his parents, said it was exciting to be on the field with the players.
"It's nice to meet some of the guys," said Feldbusch, who joked that he plays golf a lot better than he throws a football. "It's great for the invite. For the veterans and wounded service members, it's just nice to be part of it."
Mike Clark, 32, of the North Hills, brought his wife, Kelly, and their 1-year-old daughter, Emily. All three were wearing Steelers jerseys. When Clark was with the Army stationed near Jalalabad and Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2005-06, he carried a Terrible Towel.
"I used to get pictures with it everywhere," said Clark, who returned home after suffering a stress fracture and needing surgery in his left foot from carrying 160 pounds up and down the mountains. "Being invited down here is so great. I'm really glad they did this."
Hoke chatted and took pictures with Sgt. Rob Bush and his son, Jacob, saying that he also had a son about Jacob's age. When another veteran asked for a photo, Hoke enthusiastically replied, "Yeah! Let's do it, man!" before asking the man's name and where he lives.
"This is really cool," Hoke said later. "These are the people who fight for us to have our freedom and be who we are as Americans. To come out here and spend a couple hours with them and hear their stories is unbelievable. There's nothing better than this."
Lynch said it was an honor to be on the field and meet the Steelers players.
"The main thing is that (the veterans) are honored, that people actually care that we were over there and we were injured," said Lynch, 25, of Parkersburg, W.Va. "It's nice to be able to come home and do events like this where we are appreciated."