INDIANAPOLIS –Clyde Christensen is very serious about his work on and off the field.
One of the longest tenured coaches in Colts history, Christensen a few years back was involved in an event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that targeted service personnel getting assimilated into jobs once returning home.
Christensen met Admiral James Winnefeld, the ninth vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the event, and the meeting spawned a friendship. The pair got together again this summer when the Colts visited Washington in preseason.
"Admiral Winnefeld happens to be a huge Colts fan, and he and I have the same interest of getting employment opportunities for our returning service people," said Christensen. "I have always had a heart for that, so it was a like interest. We struck up a friendship and stayed in touch over the years. I pick his brain on leadership and developing men. Admiral Winnefeld has a great heart for men, his family and our country.
"When we went to Washington in preseason, we took our quarterbacks to his house, which happens to be General George Patton's former home. We sat on the back deck for three hours and talked about leadership, character and development. I told Coach Pagano we should have him speak to the team. Admiral Winnefeld shared his experiences, and it meant a great deal to our guys. Admiral Winnefeld brought four Wounded Warriors and their families to the game.
He brought his sons and four more vets to our playoff game in Baltimore. The visits were central to our relationship, 'What can we do for our vets and service people.' "
Admiral Winnefeld again has extended an invitation for Christensen that now is coming true. Christensen and former Colts Peyton Manning and Austin Collie will be Admiral Winnefeld's guests on a six-day tour overseas. The contingent left today.
"Admiral Winnefeld expressed he'd love for me to accompany him overseas to visit our troops. I wanted to, and this trip came about," said Christensen. "It worked into our schedule. We will visit the Walter Reed Medical Center, hopefully get a tour and lunch at the Pentagon, then we'll make our way over to bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will visit an aircraft carrier. We likely will wind up the trip in Germany on our way home. It should be one special trip!"
Christensen knows how service people react to the NFL. He feels an even deeper regard for military personnel.
"My goal for the trip will be to be around the admiral, support what he is doing, meeting service people and getting a better feel for the sacrifices they make for us," said Christensen. "The cost of freedom is high. In football, we're away from our families, but nothing that would compare to what soldiers are doing at a young age. There is a stress it puts on a family. I hope I come home a different man who has a deeper appreciation of what is going on.
"There is a good match of football and the service, but I would not put any true comparison into what we do with what they're doing. The NFL, for whatever reason, has such huge interest from service people. They get a great joy watching their favorite teams and players. It gives them an important recreational tie to home."
Christensen is attuned to the Colts' culture as well. He has been active in faith-based events during his days in Indianapolis, and he is one of the club's finest emissaries. He has a specific search when he is around service individuals.
"The Colts always have felt the responsibility and platform that comes from this league is huge," said Christensen. "It's a great opportunity to continue what this organization has been about – football is centerpiece, but it is bigger than the game.
"On visits, I look for Colts fans and people from Indiana. Usually, they look you up. I'm a Christian, so I enjoy looking for the chaplains and having a chance to visit with them and hear what's going on with our forces in the spiritual sense."
The visit came about quickly, and Christensen had to scramble to arrange the traveling party.
"I'm excited about Peyton and Austin getting to go. We invited others, but the schedule didn't fit," said Christensen. "Probably the most disappointed person not going is Coach Pagano. He was disappointed.
"I do see this happening again. I see us getting a Colts contingent and doing this again soon. We've always been about relationships outside of football. I'm excited about the time I will have with them. It's a special thing to do. Peyton and I have had many special times. I believe this will be up there with the best of them."