The Spirit of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Coach Graham holds up the No. 3. Three meals are given out for each ticket sold to the bowl game. - Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE

For the players at Arizona State and the Naval Academy, the trip to San Francisco was about much more than a postseason football game. Each team had the opportunity to give back and serve meals on Christmas morning, and the experience is one the players will remember for the rest of their lives.

One in eight people go to bed hungry every night.

One in six children go to bed hungry every night.

While most postseason games celebrate the achievements of two successful teams, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl goes above and beyond the mission of an average bowl.

For the past three seasons, the organizers of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl have made their game count, and not just for the overall records of the participants. For every ticket sold to the bowl game, three meals are donated to three different organizations that ensure that a hungry person receives nourishment.

"It's just eye opening to realize that there are that many people that don't know where they are going to get their next meal. Coach Graham and I are compensated well to do what we do, and it makes me think sometimes, I'm just a football coach. Normal Americans are just trying to survive," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

Often times, it's easy to lose sight of problems like hunger when college football consumes people. The players live to play, the coaches live to coach, and the fans spend every waking moment following their alma maters of favorite teams.

The highlight of a college football season is playing in a bowl game, but something about the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl makes the experience more special for the athletes at the Naval Academy and Arizona State.

Beginning three years ago, executive director Gary Cavalli and his fellow bowl organizers decided to tie the annual game played in San Francisco to a specific cause. The communities of San Francisco are vibrant, but like any big city environment, poverty is still evident. When the bowl organizers contemplated different ways to help people in need, they found their match in fighting hunger.

This season marks the third consecutive time the bowl in San Francisco will champion the cause of ending hunger. Over the past three years, the bowl has helped raise enough money to donate 47 million meals to people in need. The meals are spread out among local organizations that include the Glide Foundation, St. Anthony's Foundation and the San Francisco Food Bank.

Every year, the bowl game participants get involved and help spearhead the cause, and the Sun Devils and Midshipmen are no different.

On Christmas morning, the Arizona State players served holiday meals at the Glide Foundation while the Midshipmen handed out meals at St. Anthony's.

"I've never done anything like that. It can be easy to take things for granted, but it was a real humbling experience and great to give back," Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall said.

The St. Anthony's Foundation serves over 3,000 meals per day while the Glide Foundation passes out over 2,560 meals each day as well. Together, the two organizations do much more than provide free meals to those in need, but their long-standing commitment to the people of San Francisco is founded in their dining rooms.

The Christmas morning experience touched Arizona State Coach Todd Graham, who emphasizes to his players the importance of giving back.

"One of the things we spend a lot of time talking about is being givers. Sitting in that room and watching our players serve helps us know how blessed we are. I have not had any experience at a bowl game that would even come close to comparing to that experience of serving," Graham said.

Both the Sun Devils and the Midshipmen pride themselves on character and discipline, and the players from both sides enjoyed the opportunity to provide such a meaningful service.

"I am truly blessed to do what I do, and to go and help the people that are less fortunate is one of the big things we do at Arizona State. Coach Graham preaches giving back, so it was a great time," Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly said.

Though the Sun Devils desperately want to finish the season with a victory, the players can return to Tempe with their heads held high because of the difference they helped make during their time in San Francisco. Ticket sales help meal distribution, and the Sun Devils have inspired their faithful who are responsible for many of the 32,000 tickets already sold for the game.

While the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl certainly accomplishes an important goal during the holiday season, the trip to San Francisco is filled with memorable experiences as well.

The players enjoyed a Bay cruise including a trip to Alcatraz, took part in a team bowling event, stayed in a Union Square hotel, and will play their game in the home of the World Series Champion, the San Francisco Giants.

The game will also celebrate the military traditions of the Naval Academy and Arizona State. Midshipmen students will march onto the field in formation prior to the game, and the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award will be presented to Sun Devil defensive tackle Will Sutton. A 100-yard flag will be unfurled for the national anthem, and a flyover will take place before the game begins.

When all is said and done, the Sun Devils will have much to be proud of from their time in San Francisco. The impact the players made on Christmas day will not go unnoticed.

For college football players, a bowl game represents the experience of a lifetime. For the communities who came face to face with the bowl participants, the experience is one they will always cherish.

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