As ESPN honors veterans from all around the country through its programming and compelling stories across all platforms, it also honored a Marine in quite a unique way: a bobblehead in his likeness featured on the set of Mike & Mike.
That’s one of the prizes Mike Jones, an active Marine who spearheads “The Red Lions” fantasy football league, received on Oct. 28 as one of the winners of Pizza Hut and ESPN’s Commissioner of the Week contest. The competition, now in its ninth week, is rewarding 16 outstanding ESPN Fantasy Football Commissioners throughout the season with unique prizes.
Jones’ bobblehead doppelgänger was toured around the ESPN campus, eventually arriving on the Mike and Mike set, where it took its space alongside other head-bobbing figurines. (See video below.)
In 2011, Jones founded “The Red Lions” fantasy league in a makeshift helicopter squadron ready room in the middle of Afghanistan. To this day, the league continues to be entirely comprised of Marine Corps officers of several ranks, all who have been reassigned to different units.
In nominating Jones for the honor, one of the Red Lions shared how the league became the group’s main sustainer of morale following a tragic helicopter crash that killed six Marines from their squadron, including league member Capt. Nathan McHone. This year, the league drafted from all four continental U.S. time zones as well as from Hawaii, Okinawa, Australia, Germany and from a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific Ocean.
Front Row spoke with Jones, a Norcross, Ga. native who now lives in Washington, D.C., to get his thoughts on the honor and asked him to share a Veterans Day message.
What was your family and friends’ reaction when they saw your bobblehead on Mike & Mike?
Well, here’s a couple excerpts from the guys [in the league]: “Nothing cooler than that, well deserved and can’t wait to share this with everyone that loves sport and the USMC”; “That is fantastic! That’s the coolest thing I’ve seen all week”; “Nice! You look good as a bobblehead. Yes, that’s a compliment.”
How did it feel to see yourself on the Mike & Mike desk and to hear your league’s story told on ESPN?
Honestly, it was pretty wild – I can’t say I saw this coming. I was touched by the kind words from [Mike & Mike co-hosts] Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic and was glad they honored the great Marines that I serve with.
Why do you think your league-mates nominated you?
Probably because of what the league has meant to us. It sounds a little strange being brought together by imaginary football teams – and obsessing like accountants over numbers, stats and figures – but the truth is in the end it brings us back together. The bond created through shared hardship in combat is difficult to articulate, and anything that keeps that fresh is a good thing.
What’s your message to our readers on this Veterans Day?
I would just take the time to remember all of our comrades in arms that have served, and are still serving all around the world. We won’t ever forget those that never made it home: Capt. Nathan McHone, Capt. Dan Bartle, MSgt. Travis Riddick, Cpl. Jesse Stites, Cpl. Joseph Logan and Cpl. Kevin Reinhard. What was a great tragedy has ultimately forged the bond that has kept us all together. Every year when we remember “The Red Lions,” it is in their honor.