Heap to visit troops in Germany

Ravens tight end joins Brooking of Falcons, Tagliabue on USO trip

Pro Football

April 27, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Ravens tight end Todd Heap will visit U.S. troops next week in Frankfurt, Germany, on a United Service Organizations (USO) trip that will include NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking.

The trip took on additional significance for Heap because it was announced just four days after fellow Arizona State alum Pat Tillman had died in combat.

"You take for granted all the troops and all the people over there fighting for us both in Afghanistan and Iraq until it hits home like that," said the two-time Pro Bowl performer, who will visit barracks and talk to soldiers May 6 to 9.

"This last week I really had a chance to sit back and reflect on all the freedoms and the luxuries we're afforded in the United States. I'm just looking forward to going over there and meeting all the people that have been putting their lives on the line for me and for all of us."

Heap never played with Tillman but said he got to know the former Arizona Cardinals safety while in school. The Cardinals play at Sun Devil Stadium on Arizona State's campus.

Tillman made an unprecedented move in May 2002 when he turned down a $3.6 million contract to join the Army Rangers with his brother.

"He was a guy you loved to be around," Heap said. "You could tell his mind-set. He did what he wanted to do and didn't care what anybody thought about it. That's kind of how he lived his life. It was great to see a guy that has that much passion about what he was doing. He really had his priorities and morals and put those ahead of football and things that probably don't matter as much."

Entering his fourth NFL season, Heap quickly has built a reputation as the Ravens' top receiver and good-will ambassador.

Last April, he was among a select group of Ravens players who went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and visited soldiers injured in Iraq. Then, five months ago, he helped promote Operation Live Connections, a program that allows families and friends to talk and play Xbox games with soldiers as far away as Germany and Korea.

"He's such a great example of what we want the NFL and our players to be," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's a natural for us."

NOTE: The Ravens don't intend on pursuing quarterback Kerry Collins, who said yesterday that he expects to be released this week from the New York Giants after refusing to restructure his contract. Some believed the Ravens could have been one possibility for Collins because Jim Fassel, the Giants coach during Collins' tenure in New York, is a senior consultant with the Ravens.

The Ravens' current quarterbacks are Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright and recently drafted Josh Harris. The team also will sign an undrafted rookie this week to compete with Harris for the third spot.

"We have not dismissed bringing in a veteran but I'm very pleased with what our quarterback situation is," Billick said. "Kerry Collins is a starter in this league and I would imagine would be looking for a place where he had a more viable opportunity to come in and at least compete."

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