Craig Steichen of Bartlett describes it as a bucket list he and son Matt conceived when Matt was just 14: Visit all 32 NFL stadiums in their lifetime.
But somewhere along the line, the father and son team got the notion that they could turn this into a mission that would benefit someone else. In the course of planning it out, they compressed the timeframe: Visit all 32 NFL stadiums in one 17-week pro-football season, and at each stop, treat two wounded veterans to a day out, including a game, as a way of saying thanks for the sacrifices they have made in serving this country.
On Monday night, Oct. 22, 2012, they hit the halfway mark, watching the Bears win in Chicago.
If Craig, 58, and Matt, now 28, of St. Charles, simply were doing this on their own, some might be inclined to wave it off as a couple of zealous football fans, perhaps leaning a bit toward the fanatical, particularly since they each have a separate, 40-hour commitment each week that allows them to bring home a paycheck.
But, as Craig points out, it’s not all about them.
Focus on Wounded Warriors
They founded All32in17 Ultimate Football Journey for Wounded Warriors, partnering with the Wounded Warriors Project and St. Charles Toyota, 2651 E. Main St., among other benefactors, to get two different wounded American veterans in to see an NFL game from the sidelines, where they also could meet the players. And, oh yes, the cheerleaders.
“We got a list of wounded warriors in every city” with an NFL stadium, Craig said Wednesday afternoon. “The Wounded Warriors Project nominates two … and we try to provide them with an ultimate experience to reward them for the service to this country.”
For far-away games, the Steichens fly, but for regional games, St. Charles Toyota provides Craig and Matt with the use of a green van, shrink-wrapped in vinyl to look like a football field with the image of a football as well.
The pace can be frantic, but if Craig and Matt are fanatics, it’s more about doing something for someone else in their endeavor than just about their passion for football.
On Oct. 22, they honored two Chicago-area veterans — Marine Sgt. David Jelinek and Army Sgt. Joshua Hays, who got to watch from the sidelines as the Bears beat Detroit 13-7 in a hard-fought game at Soldier Field. That represented the 16th stadium experience they’ve provided to a pair of wounded veterans since the start of this year’s football season.
“We go to a game with different Wounded Warriors in each town — we chose Wounded Warriors to specifically honor them … the sacrifices they’ve made for this country,” Craig says. “Wounded Warriors Project refers two names to us, then we spend the whole day with them, get them on the field to watch the game from the sideline, and we try to get them out to meet the players.”
It’s not all about football and tailgate parties, either. They occasionally take field trips — including a visit to Wrigley Field before the Bears game at Soldier Field. The Cubs presented Jelinek and Hays with their own Cubs jerseys during the visit.
With the NFL playing Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, some weeks can be busy. “Thursday games we can go to — drive and come back for work,” he says. “You get three hours of sleep a night sometimes, driving there and back ...”
When they started, Craig says, they were preparing to do it on our own. They put together a schedule, a budget and originally figured they were going to spend about $25,000. But they’ve received help along the way, including the use of the van from St. Charles Toyota, and help from a host of other sponsors they’ve picked up along the way: Westin Hotel and Resorts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Whole Foods Market, Elway’s Downtown, Bud Light, Dave and Buster’s, Signs Now in South Elgin and MLB FanCave.
The father/son team also has drawn media attention, Craig says, with local television stations typically devoting some coverage to their project when they show up for a game. On Oct. 22, they came under the eyes of Chicago’s ABC7 and Fox News crews.
But along the way, ESPN also took an interest in their venture.
The weekend before the Bears game, the Steichens visited New England and New York to take two sets of Warriors to the Patriots and Jets games, respectively. Craig says that after a live interview on Fox 25 Boston on Monday morning, they got a surprise when they stopped at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., between games: the network’s Chris Berman gave them a personal tour of ESPN headquarters. Berman later talked about All32in17 For Wounded Warriors during Monday Night Countdown.
Since then, ESPN has been filming some of their trips for a feature planned to air later in the season, Craig says. During the week of the Bears game, they met five of ESPN’s cameramen and two producers.
“Honestly, we knew this was cool, but we did not really expect all the attention,” Craig says. “It’s being followed in every city locally, but now it’s getting national attention.”
Is it worth it?
“In San Diego, one guy we took had no legs,” Craig says, adding that the veteran had spent a long time in hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation. “Afterward, he told my son, ‘This was the best day of my life.’ Just like that.”
Yeah, that sounds like it’s worth it.
Let Patch save you time. Get more local stories like these delivered right to your inbox or smartphone with our free newsletter. Fast signup here.