Falcons tight end Jacob Tamme has special connection with Iraq veteran

The most devastating injury Atlanta Falcons tight end Jacob Tamme ever suffered in football was breaking his femur in high school. Such seems insignificant when you consider someone losing both legs in war.

Tamme encountered such an individual six years ago when he crossed paths with Chase Matthews, a double amputee who had served in the Army National Guard since 2001. Matthews was serving in Iraq on March 19, 2007, when the Humvee his unit from the 34th Infantry Division was using was struck by an improvised explosive device. He lost his left leg above the knee and right leg below the knee, along with taking significant damage to his left arm.

"For a guy to go over to Iraq or Afghanistan, or wherever, and lose both his legs and come back home and not be able to operate as a father or a husband in his own home is unacceptable to me," Tamme said. "So every year, we're going to help somebody be able to be a father and a husband in their own home again: be able to cook, be able to take a shower by themselves."

Heroes such as Matthews are the reason Tamme and his wife, Allison, have partnered with the Boston-based charity, Homes For Our Troops, which specializes in building accessible homes for disabled veterans.

Tamme's contribution includes an annual golf tournament in his home state of Kentucky called the Swing for Soldiers Classic. So far, Tamme has raised $500,000 to help build the homes. Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb, 1999 first overall pick quarterback Tim Couch and Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson, the guy who picked off a tipped pass to Tamme in the end zone during Week 7, have all participated.

"Politically, whether right, wrong or whatever, the bottom line is we've got people who have gone a lot of bad places and done a lot of good things for our country," Tamme said. "I feel like we owe them our service when they get back."

Tamme didn't know how much work went into a charity event until he finished hosting the first golf tourney. By the end, he had some doubts about being able to pull it off again. That was until he met Matthews, who already had his Kentucky home built by the charity. He had come to the tournament as a spectator.

"We're walking out to the car. Chase had both of his prosthetic legs on, and he didn't golf at the time," Tamme said. "Then Chase looked at me and said, 'Hey next year, I'm going to play.' I got in my car and was like, 'Boom, we're coming back. We're doing this again.' And every year, we've gotten to know more and more of the families."

And every year since, Matthews has participated in the golf event, as promised.

"I've never even been into golf my whole life," Matthews said. "When I first went there and met [Tamme] and his family, they were some of the nicest people you could ever meet. I guess that golf tournament got me into golfing. ... Jacob's just an amazing young man."

Tamme's desire to aid such families had little to do with his own background, although his grandfather was in the Navy. Tamme considered joining the military during his college days at Kentucky.

"I didn't grow up my whole life thinking I was going to play NFL football," he said. "There was time when I was in college when I was researching the Marine Officer Candidate School; probably my freshman or sophomore year. I did think about it. I have a great deal of respect for what they do, and I think it's an important part of our country.

"I'm not saying I would have had whatever it takes, but there definitely was a time I thought about it, for sure. And I have the ultimate amount of respect for it."

Tamme showed appreciation in a different manner a few weeks ago when he treated 70 military families to a movie preview in Atlanta the day after a narrow 10-7 win over Tennessee. The gesture earned league-wide recognition as Tamme was named the NFLPA's weekly community MVP.

"Most of those [veterans], they certainly don't want anyone's sympathy," Tamme said. "And it's hard enough for them to take the appreciation because they felt like it was their duty. That's why I say we owe them our service."

Earlier in the season, Tamme hosted the Matthews family for a game, the Falcons' 48-21 win over the Houston Texans.

"He was with Indianapolis when we first started going, and our daughter loves him to death," Matthews said of Tamme. "We followed him to Denver, and now we've followed him to Atlanta. He didn't get to play when we came there, but we still enjoyed it.

"What Jacob does is big. We have little things happen for us, too. When you're out eating and the waitress comes up and pays for our food, things like that show you that people do appreciate you."

That's something for everyone to ponder this Veterans Day.