Chicago Sun-Times

Bears fans find a real hero

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta braved blizzard conditions and a rotten performance by the Bears to receive a hero's welcome at Soldier Field on Sunday. He's been through worse.

Giunta, who received the Medal of Honor -- the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an individual in the United States -- for his heroic actions in the war in Afghanistan, was an honored guest at the Bears-Patriots game.

What was left of a crowd of 62,347 gave him a standing ovation as he came out of the southwest tunnel near the end of the third quarter when the Bears acknowledged his service to his country and the Medal of Honor award.

Giunta, who grew up rooting for the Bears in Hiawatha, Iowa, didn't just bask in the moment. Even with the Bears trailing 36-7, he enthusiastically raised both arms in acknowledgment of the crowd and yelled, ''Go Bears'' and ''No. 1,'' as the crowd saluted him.

He then greeted fans in the first row of the lower sections of the stands near the tunnel, reaching up to shake hands with several fans.

''Phenomenal,'' said one of them, Jason Woodall, 31, a Bears fan from North Carolina's Outer Banks. ''I admire him for doing it. He could have just done his thing and walked back, but he came over and met the fans and said, ''Go Bears.'' He was pretty cool. I have a lot of respect for him.''

Giunta has appeared on The David Letterman Show and The Colbert Report among other talk shows since receiving the Medal of Honor from President Obama last month. But Soldier Field, built in the 1920s as a memorial to fallen American soldiers, was an apt venue for the latest tribute to Giunta.

As he walked into the stadium with stadium personnel and other soldiers, Giunta by the large Medal of Honor plaque along the outside concourse on the Southeast side of Soldier Field.

He was honored by the Bears as their ''4th Phase Captain,'' a home-game tribute to their fans. As the Bears came out of the tunnel just before kickoff, Bears center Olin Kreutz carried a ''4th Phase'' flag that he handed to Giunta, who immediately waved it to the rest of the 4th Phase in the stands.

As bad as Bears' 36-7 loss to the Patriots was, honoring Giunta helped keep things in perspective.

''You've got to admire him because he's so brave to give up everything,'' said Chris Woodall, 24, of Estero, Fla., who was in town with his father and
brothers to watch the Bears in person. ''You've got family, friends, everything at home. You give up your freedom so all of us can have our freedom. I guarantee you that 95 percent of us are too cowardly to do that. What they do is crazy.''

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Too bad the Bears could not put him in football uniform and play him both on offense and defense. Perhaps that would have inspired them to play like a professional team.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on December 12, 2010 9:30 PM.

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