PHILADELPHIA (NNS) -- On Sunday evening, Jan. 21, Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Napierkowski found himself at Lincoln Financial Field for one of the biggest NFL home games in Philadelphia Eagles history.
Napierkowski was at Eagles stadium, attending the 2018 National Football Conference Championship football game between his hometown Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. The winner of this game would punch their ticket into Super Bowl LII.
But unlike many of the fanatic football fans around him who had spent hundreds of dollars on tickets to watch this once-in-a-lifetime game, Napierkowski hadn't spent a dime. And instead of Eagles gear, he proudly wore his naval officer, dress blues uniform. He was rooting for the Eagles, but at the same time, representing the Navy. He was a "Hometown Hero."
The Uniformed Services Organization (USO) had selected Napierkowski for its "Hero" program that honors a service member, chosen through a nomination process, at every Eagles home game. 2018 had 12 Eagles home games, so there were a dozen Hometown Heroes for the year. Napierkowski was the 12th and final hero for what turned out to be the most important home game of the year. The winner would go to the Super Bowl.
"Sunday was easily the best sports experience I've had in my life!" said Napierkowski, who was also able to bring his wife, Hope, and his two best friends from high-school. "We got to the stadium around 3 p.m., where the Eagles had us set up in VIP parking. We got to meet some people from NBC. Eagles fans throughout the parking lot were cheering and chanting USA. Everyone was so courteous, appreciative, and friendly."
Next, Napierkowski got involved in some memorable pre-game activities.
"Once we got inside the stadium, Eagles representatives met us and gave us our pregame field passes," he said.
"We went out onto the field for warm-ups and were out there for about 90 minutes. Once warmups were complete, reps escorted us through the tunnel and to the Eagles locker room doors. The rest of my party got to watch along the side as I held the door for the players coming out of the tunnel, shaking many of their hands as they went out to the field. Once the last person came out, I got to follow the team out of the tunnel and onto the field for the National Anthem."
After the anthem, Napierkowski watched the first quarter from the Eagles sidelines. During the third television timeout, the Hometown Hero announcement took place. People saw Napierkowski live on the stadium monitor. He waved and got the crowd fired up. Some fans thought his antics might've brought on some mojo.
"Once I was off the screen, we were getting ready to head up to our seats when the Eagles intercepted the Vikings quarterback and returned it for a touchdown," said Napierkowski. "Eagles fans everywhere started celebrating and giving me high fives, saying I helped cause the play. After about five to 10 minutes of pandemonium, we finally made it to our seats."
Napierkowski, who grew up in a row home in northeast Philadelphia, has accumulated 15 years of Naval service. He graduated from the Naval Academy and kicked off his career as a naval aviator, flying MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters and completing deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, Japan and as an Individual Augmentee to Afghanistan.
"I joined the Navy because I wanted the opportunity to explore the world while also gaining confidence in myself through leadership responsibilities," said Napierkowski. "I knew the Navy was my best option to grow and develop, so even though it took two attempts to be selected for the Naval Academy, that was the route I was taking."
At NRD Philadelphia, for the past 8 years, Napierkowski has taken charge of multiple positions such as reserve officer recruiter, medical officer recruiter and operations programs officer.
"Recruiting is difficult because we are competing against the other branches and top companies from around the world," said Napierkowski. "There are many parts of the process that the recruiter can't control, but it's our job to manage applicant expectations while also providing exceptional customer service."
Napierkowski said he was honored to be selected by the USO. He believes being a Hometown Hero allowed him to show people from Philadelphia that someone from their same background can join the Navy and have all the opportunities in the world available to them. He still doesn't know who nominated him, but thinks it might've been his mother or wife.
"My husband and I are die-hard Philly fans, especially for the Eagles," said Hope. "The game was surreal. Every time we thought that we couldn't possibly have a better experience, we were surprised with something else."
Like her husband, Hope is also from Philadelphia.
"Philadelphia and the surrounding area is a vibrant community to be a part of. The people here are loyal, hardworking and dedicated. Perhaps that's why Chris has those same characteristics."
Napierkowski worked to find the words to capture how thankful he was for this memorable experience.
"I'm eternally grateful because being a Hometown Hero was one of the best experiences of my military career," said Napierkowski. "It was an incredible feeling to be recognized. I've attended Eagles games since I was a little kid, but to be the Hometown Hero and get recognized in front of 70,000 fans was an experience I will keep with me for the rest of my life."
Later that evening, the Eagles would beat the Vikings with a dominating performance, 38-7, sending them to Super Bowl LII and making Napierkowski's experience all the better.
Two weeks later, as underdogs and with a backup quarterback, the Eagles beat the New England Patriots, 41-33. For the first time in franchise history, Napierkowski could now say that his Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions.