The drive to honor U.S. military veterans shared by an area youth and an NFL star has made for a lasting connection one Columbus dad never could have dreamed of.
Green Bay, Wisconsin, is not your typical pro sports city. It has roughly one-eighth the population of Indianapolis and a little more than twice as many people as Columbus.
The NFL’s Green Bay Packers, as a result, are not your typical pro sports team. They’re the only fan-owned club among the four major American pro leagues, and there are generally more opportunities for those fans to interact with the players than most other teams offer.
Quinn Saevre knows all about it. He grew up in Green Bay and had a chance to get up close and personal with the players when he was younger.
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Five years ago, Saevre (pronounced like “savory”) relocated to Columbus, and he was worried that his children wouldn’t be able to enjoy that same fan experience.
His 9-year-old son, Evan, managed to get an even better one.
At the beginning of April, Evan decided to take part in a push-up challenge started by Texas nonprofit “22 Kill,” a group aimed at increasing awareness of U.S. military veteran suicide.
22 Kill’s name comes from the 22 veterans who, on average, commit suicide every day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As part of the push-up challenge, participants are asked to perform 22 pushups a day for 22 days to honor those lives.
“(Evan) saw all these guys doing push-ups and asked me, ‘Dad, what are they doing it for?'” said Quinn, a former U.S. Marine. “So we kind of looked into it a little bit more.”
On the fourth day, Evan did his push-ups in his football practice gear — and he happened to be wearing a Packers jersey with the No. 21. So his father decided to post the video on Twitter and tag that player, Green Bay safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
“I just, out of the blue, decided, ‘Well, let’s see if we get just a retweet or something,'” Quinn said. “I didn’t expect anything out of it, and then the next thing you know he’s talking back to us.”
Clinton-Dix saw Evan’s video and replied on Twitter within hours: “You are a true hero not only to me but to a lot of veterans,” he posted. “Thank you Evan. Show up to OTA’s (organized team activities) I will do 22 with you.”
So that’s what Evan and his father did. After 21 days of push-ups, Evan took a few weeks off so that he could do his 22nd day in Green Bay. Once the Packers finished up their training May 24, Clinton-Dix came over and joined Evan on the sideline.
The two were filmed doing 22 push-ups together — though, as Evan admitted, it took more than one take.
“When we took our first video, I kept messing up because I was so nervous,” he said. “Ha Ha said to stop the video. He said ‘it’s OK’ and made me take deep breaths, and we started again.”
The side of the field was lined with fans, so the pair had a cheering section urging them on and counting along.
Afterward, Evan Saevre gave Clinton-Dix his Columbus Colts jersey and told him it was so that “when I become a Packer player, you’re going to be the first one to have one of my jerseys.”
Clinton-Dix was “kind of” Evan’s favorite player before his recent trip to Green Bay. There’s no “kind of” anymore.
But the Saevres weren’t the only ones inspired by the trip to Green Bay. Clinton-Dix said that he’s looking to become more of a leader as he enters his third NFL season, and he said Evan made an impression on him — particularly when Evan was able to get his youth team in Columbus to do push-ups with him one day after practice.
“When I saw him doing that, it kind of opened my eyes,” Clinton-Dix said. “For a kid at that age to recognize something that’s going on the U.S. with our veterans at that young of an age is unbelievable.”
In the summer and fall, Evan plays for the Bartholomew County Bears — a bit of a sore spot for a diehard Packers fan.
“That’s the thing I don’t like,” he said with a smile.
Regardless of what team he’s playing for in Columbus, it’s going to be pretty tough for anyone to dispute Evan’s love for the Packers now.