Donnie Edwards deserves a salute and for that we need to get in line.
Edwards, the former San Diego Chargers linebacker, was honored during Super Bowl weekend. While most will remember the festivities in Miami for the Kansas City Chiefs beating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54, we look to Edwards’ achievement as the one with the most significance.
Edwards, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, was named the Salute to Service award winner for 2019. The distinction goes to an NFL community member who goes the extra mile in supporting the military.
“It means so much to me to continue the legacy of my grandfather, Maximino, by honoring the ones who defended — and continue to defend — our freedom,” Edwards told the NFL Network.
Edwards has long been a military history buff and that was evident when he was with the Chargers. While always accessible and honest about a past or future game, he really became engaged when chatting about veterans and U.S. troops in harm’s way.
It was in 2002 that he started the Best Defense Foundation which supported our youth and military.
With childhood obesity becoming more prevalent, Edwards spoke on the importance of the nutrition and exercise. His foundation donated $40,000 to Chula Vista High School for a weight room where strong bodies could be formed, along with the camaraderie which comes from sports.
Chula Vista was where Edwards graduated from and his plan was to follow the marching orders that often found their way to his 10 siblings. Many of them went into the military, a longtime family tradition which dated to Maximino, a World War II veteran and a Pearl Harbor attack survivor.
But instead of going to college on the GI Bill, Edwards got there en route to the NFL. While he was set to attend San Diego State, at the last minute he got an offer from UCLA.
From there he spent 13 years in the pros after being a fourth-round pick by the Chiefs in 1996. His career saw him record at least 100 tackles in 11 of those seasons and it included a Pro Bowl selection.
Edwards came home to San Diego in 2002, starring on two AFC West title teams in his five years with the squad he cheered for as a youngster.
When the 6-foot-2, 227-pound Edwards retired he was a 20-20 guy and it had nothing to do with his exceptional vision which allowed him to start at a rugged position at less than the ideal height and weight. When he retired, he was among only eight NFL players with 20 interceptions and 20 sacks.
With Edwards, the Chargers’ defense seldom rested. He’s making sure that same energy is expended when helping the military.
Somewhere, Maximino is smiling upon his grandson’s attention to others.
“My grandfather was the inspiration to start the Best Defense Foundation,” Edwards, 46, said. “His service and sacrifice to our country has always pushed me to pay tribute and give gratitude to those who protect our way of life.
“He always used to tell me that I have a tremendous amount of opportunity and freedom by being born in this great nation. I now want to use my platform to serve and give back to our active military personnel and veterans.”
Edwards has participated in nine USO tours and on Armed Forces Entertainment Tour overseas and he’s spearheaded excursions for veterans. In almost 14 years he’s directed more than 33 programs in which he escorts World War II and Vietnam Veterans to former battlefields and significant outposts.
“From Berchtesgaden, Germany, to the beaches of Iwo Jima, and everywhere in between,” Edwards said.
Last year’s Super Bowl had Edwards rubbing shoulders with troops at a watch party in Okinawa. Later he would be at Normandy with 16 veterans and a nurse to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
This year we toast Edwards.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports