When you tune into an NFL game this month, don't be surprised if you find yourself doing a double-take or reaching for the remote to check your TV's color settings. But neither your eyes nor your flat screen are deceiving you. Those players gathered at the line of scrimmage, some of the fiercest athletes on the planet, really are wearing pink.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and through its third annual national breast cancer screening-reminder and fundraising campaign, "A Crucial Catch," the league is collaborating with the American Cancer Society (ACS) to remind women aged 40 and older about the importance of having an annual mammogram.
The NFL's awareness mission kicked off this weekend, as 15 teams across the league held their breast cancer awareness games Sunday. An emotional day was capped by the "Sunday Night Football" matchup between the Jets and Ravens. The city of Baltimore "painted the town pink," as City Hall and other prominent areas of the city were illuminated in pink. Before kickoff, renowned country singer Martina McBride, surrounded by 50 breast cancer survivors, performed the national anthem. McBride's most recent hit, "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," is an anthem for cancer survivors and their supporters.
Throughout the month, breast cancer awareness games will feature game balls with pink ribbon decals used for every down.
The players will be decked out in pink cleats, wristbands, gloves, sideline caps, helmet decals, captains' patches, chin straps, shoe laces, skull caps, sideline towels, eye shield decals and quarterback towels.
And when the players reach the end zone, they will be greeted by pink goalpost padding.
In addition, a pink coin will be used for the coin toss.
Even the officials are joining in to support the cause. The zebras will use pink caps, wristbands, whistles and pins during the breast cancer awareness games they officiate.
And once the final seconds tick off the clock, the game-worn pink merchandise and footballs will be autographed and auctioned off at NFL Auction. Last year the NFL donated more than $1 million to the American Cancer Society, with pink NFL Auction items generating most of the proceeds.
In addition, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board and the Buffalo Bills will partner together in honor of the Billieve Breast Cancer Awareness program to illuminate the Falls in pink Oct. 7. Bills players will be on hand for the lighting.
The NFL is also taking its mission off the field -- and into the grocery store. Pepsi has partnered with Kroger and the NFL to sell special products throughout October, which will feature Kroger employees who have survived breast cancer pictured next to Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez.
Plenty of NFL names are putting their personal support behind the cause. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald; Tanya Snyder, wife of Redskins owner Dan Snyder; and Susie Spanos, wife of Chargers president Dean Spanos will serve as national spokespeople for A Crucial Catch. Breast cancer hits close to home for all three individuals: Fitzgerald's mother died of the disease, and both Snyder and Spanos are breast cancer survivors.
Andy Reid, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, sent a note to youth and high school football programs across the country offering suggestions for how teams can "go pink" in collaboration with the NFL and the ACS to show their support for the cause. Reid's late mother-in-law, Virginia Garrett, had breast cancer, while his late mother, Elizabeth, was a radiologist who treated many breast cancer patients.
Here is a breakdown of how the rest of the teams in the league plan to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
The Falcons will host a Dazzle & Dine event Oct. 4, treating breast cancer survivors to a day of pampering and a night of fine dining with Falcons players. During the Falcons' breast cancer awareness game Oct. 9, the cheerleaders and Freddie Falcon will dress in pink uniforms, Dazzle & Dine winners will be honored in a pregame ceremony and the national anthem will be performed by "Shades of Pink," a choir comprised of breast cancer survivors. A large pink ribbon will be held by breast cancer survivors during the anthem and the Falcons flag used for player introductions will be unfurled by breast cancer survivors. Halftime will feature a performance by Falcons cheerleaders, former Falcons cheerleaders and breast cancer survivors -- all dressed in pink. Shortly thereafter, there will be a BMX stunt show with pink ramps and riders dressed in pink. The show will conclude with a Ford-sponsored distribution of pink T-shirts attached to pink parachutes.
At the Oct. 9 game, 180 Buffalo Jills cheerleaders and alumni will perform dressed in pink. Pink-themed skydivers will jump onto the field during the pregame. In addition, 50 survivors will form Stampede Row, and 50,000 pink pompoms will be distributed by Time Warner Cable. Dessert Deli Billieve cookies and pink Billieve merchandise from Delaware North Sportservice will be sold, with a portion of the proceeds going to the WNY Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
On Oct. 9, the Panthers will host a pregame presentation recognizing the American Cancer Society's efforts in battling breast cancer. Halftime will feature a musical performance by Tim Halperin, during which he will pay tribute to families impacted by the disease. Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who is captaining the "Williams Warriors" Komen for the Cure race team for the third consecutive year, pioneered the idea of pink cleats in 2009 and will again lead the Panthers onto the field with a new version of the pink cleats.
A celebration of survivors is planned for halftime of the Oct. 9 game. All the survivors will be part of a special choreographed show led by the Broncos cheerleaders. Additionally, game-day sponsor U.S. Bank will be giving fans special breast cancer awareness clings. The Broncos will host a special VIP survivor breakfast at the stadium before the game for all guests being recognized during the halftime show.
Pink "Curable Towels" will be given out to the first 50,000 fans entering the stadium at the Lions breast cancer awareness game during "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 10. During pregame warm-ups, 40 breast cancer survivors will form a fan tunnel, through which players will run as they enter the field.
At the Oct. 9 game, 100 survivors will be recognized on-field during the pregame festivities. In addition, the game-day program cover will be pink, fans will be given pink cards to hold up at kickoff, and the Colts Women's Organization will sell limited-edition pink hats, with all proceeds benefiting the IU Simon Cancer Center. The national anthem singer will be a breast cancer survivor.
Jeanette Sparano will join members of the Dolphins Women's Organization and the team's cheerleaders in participating in a local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Sparano also will speak at a luncheon for breast cancer survivors. The Dolphins Women's Organization will participate in breast cancer awareness outreach at the Oct. 23 breast cancer awareness game, and the Miami Dolphins Foundation will continue to provide a scholarship to a child whose parents have been affected by the disease.
Jenni Greenway and members of the Vikings Women's Organization will partner with Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and pass out pink ribbons to fans before the Oct. 9 game. On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Vikings organization will partner with the American Cancer Society to host a luncheon to recognize caregivers of 11 breast cancer survivors. Players, cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking will be in attendance.
New England Patriots
During the Oct. 16 game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Patriots will honor breast cancer survivors, who will line up on the field with Patriots cheerleaders for player introductions. Fans can also learn more about breast cancer awareness and screenings at tables throughout Gillette Stadium and through announcements made during the game.
New Orleans Saints
Saints owner/executive vice-president Rita Benson LeBlanc will participate and serve as honorary chair in the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. At the Saints breast cancer awareness game Oct. 23, partner Ochsner Health System will recognize breast cancer survivors during a presentation as part of their Ochsner Heroes program. Pink spirit swirlers will also be provided to each fan who enters the Superdome.
New York Giants
At the Giants breast cancer awareness game Oct. 9, survivors will be on the field, forming a gantlet for player introductions. In addition, breast cancer survivors and wives of Giants players will form the shape of a pink football while the national anthem is sung.
New York Jets
The Atlantic Health Jets Women's Organization (AHJWO) will partner with the American Cancer Society for their Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk Oct. 16 in Parsippany, N.J. AHJWO members will form a team, solicit friends and family for financial support and participate in the walk. The Jets will recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month during their Oct. 17 game.
On Oct. 4, Steelers players will visit Magee-Women's Hospital to offer a nutritional cooking class to breast cancer survivors and patients. Twenty-five survivors will also be honored in a pregame ceremony during the Oct. 9 game. They will be on the sidelines for the national anthem and on the 45-yard line for the coin toss. Fans entering the stadium for that game will receive pink rally towels. The GameDay magazine cover will be dedicated to breast cancer awareness, and an NFL breast cancer awareness ad will also appear in the program.
San Francisco 49ers
At the 49ers' Oct. 30 game, the team will honor 49 breast cancer survivors in a halftime ceremony during which team alumni will present each survivor with a commemorative breast cancer awareness scarf. Before the ceremony, a public service announcement featuring 49ers players and coaches whose families have been touched by breast cancer will air on the videoboard with a message about the importance of early detection. Additionally, 49ers front office staff and coaches will don commemorative pins. Materials related to breast cancer will also be distributed to fans before kickoff.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers' breast cancer awareness game will be held during "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 3. The team-introduction flag runners will include children with parents battling breast cancer. The coin toss will be performed by Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats and his wife, Cat, who is battling the disease. All Buccaneers staff will wear pink ribbons during the game. The flags on the Pirate Ship in Buccaneer Cove will be pink, and the cheerleaders will wear custom breast cancer awareness uniforms and use pink pompoms for the game.
The Titans will recognize 12 breast cancer survivors on the field before kickoff Oct. 23. In addition, the team's partner hospital will have a breast cancer awareness bus on-site during the game. Titans players and cheerleaders will wear breast cancer awareness gear, and the cheerleaders will have a special performance during the game in honor of breast cancer awareness.
Fans attending the Redskins' Oct. 16 game will be welcomed by Tanya Snyder. In partnership with The George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, the GW Mammovan will be on site before kickoff and through the first quarter to provide educational materials, as well as tours of the Mammovan for interested fans. On Oct. 11, Chris and Christy Cooley, in partnership with the Washington Redskins, Mrs. Snyder and the American Cancer Society, will host the fourth annual All-Star Survivors Celebration for area women currently battling breast cancer. The breast cancer survivors attending the event will be pampered and supported by a host of players, coaches and their wives.