Los Angeles Chargers Legend Donnie Edwards is the recipient of the 2019 Salute to Service Award. The award acknowledges the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support members of the military community.

Edwards will be recognized at NFL Honors — a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 1, the night before Super Bowl LIV, at 8 p.m. (EST and PST) on FOX.

USAA and other organizations for U.S. military members, veterans and their families will contribute $25,000 in Edwards' honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL will match USAA's donation of $25,000, which will be donated to Edwards' military charity of choice.

"Inspired by his grandfather's service in WWII, Donnie has exhibited true appreciation for the sacrifices of WWII veterans and those currently serving overseas," said Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs. "In honor of his very admirable work with those in the greatest generation, USAA is proud to honor Donnie Edwards as the recipient of this year's 'Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.'"

In his five seasons with the Chargers, Edwards was a two-time All-Pro linebacker. He retired as one of only eight players in NFL history to record at least 20 career interceptions and 20 career sacks. Community involvement was a staple of Edwards' career. In 2002, he founded the Best Defense Foundation to help support youth outreach and military programs.

"I'm honored to be the recipient of the Salute of Service Award for my work with the military," Edwards said. "It means so much to me to continue the legacy of my grandfather, Maximino, by honoring the ones who defended — and continue to defend — freedom."

Edwards' foundation supported and funded programs that educated children on nutrition and fitness through organizations including, Boy Scouts of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Read Across America. The Best Defense Foundation made a $40,000 donation to construct a new weight room at his alma mater, Chula Vista High School.

His passionate support for the military was born out of family ties — Edwards' grandfather served in World War II and survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a military family fueled his interest in military history, taught him what sacrifices veterans, servicemembers and their families endure, and motivated him to educate others on paying respect to servicemembers and honoring those who gave their lives to fight for our freedom.

"My grandfather was the inspiration to start the Best Defense Foundation," Edwards said. "His service and sacrifice to our country has always pushed me to pay tribute and give gratitude to those who protect our way of life. He always used to tell me that I have a tremendous amount of opportunity and freedom by being born in this great nation. I now want to use my platform to serve and give back to our active military personnel and veterans."

Edwards participated in nine USO tours and one Armed Forces Entertainment Tour to boost morale for troops overseas. He joined the 101st Airborne 506 E-Company Paratroopers — a group of military historians who participate in combat reenactments in the United States and abroad — and has traveled extensively to Europe and Asia to tour WWII sites. The reenactments and travel pushed him to concentrate on the military component to his Foundation. Nearly 20 years later, the Best Defense Foundation now solely focuses on raising funds to take World War II and Vietnam Veterans back to their battlefields and memorials to help them make peace with their experiences and pay respect to fallen soldiers.

"It's been really rewarding for me. I've been taking back veterans for about 14 years and I've done over 33 programs around the world — from Berchtesgaden, Germany to the beaches of Iwo Jima, and everything in between," said Edwards.

In 2019, Edwards went to Japan on an NFL-USO Tour to watch the Super Bowl with the troops in Okinawa, took seven Iwo Jima survivors back to the islands, and commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day with 16 veterans and a nurse who served in World War II during a 10-day trip to the beaches of Normandy.

Edwards has worked with the Chargers organization to honor WWII veterans during special ceremonies at LA's annual Salute to Service game. The Chargers’ late owner Alex G. Spanos was a WWII veteran and made military support a cornerstone of the team's philanthropic efforts.

Edwards credits football for giving him the platform to do so much for those who served.

"There's nothing more rewarding than taking veterans back to where they left their blood, sweat and tears to preserve the freedoms we enjoy," Edwards said. "I do this to honor my grandfather and his legacy. Growing up, he took care of me, and now I'm taking care of the men like him who sacrificed so much for our country. There's a reason our motto is, 'Taking care of the ones who took care of us.'"

The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community. In October 2019, 32 NFL clubs nominated coaches, active and retired players, and team executives and personnel who best demonstrated support for the military community. These nominees were announced in November and the submissions were evaluated by a panel of judges, including last year's recipient, former Atlanta Falcons and current San Francisco 49ers guard Ben Garland. Nominees are evaluated on their positive effect on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of the program, and their level of commitment.

The judges, consisting of representatives from the military, the NFL and USAA, include:

  • Vice Admiral John Bird (Ret.), U.S. Navy veteran, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs
  • Chad Hennings, Air Force Academy graduate, three-time Super Bowl champion
  • Ben Garland, San Francisco 49ers guard and 2018 Salute to Service Award recipient
  • Jim Mora, Sr., U.S. Marine Corps veteran, former NFL head coach
  • Vincent Jackson, Former NFL player & 2015 Salute to Service Award recipient
  • Lenny Bandy, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and NFL Vice President of Security

Below is the list of previous Salute to Service Award recipients:





Ben Garland

Atlanta Falcons


Andre Roberts

Atlanta Falcons


Dan Quinn (Head Coach)

Atlanta Falcons


Vincent Jackson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Jared Allen

Chicago Bears


John Harbaugh (Head Coach)

Baltimore Ravens


Charles Tillman

Chicago Bears


K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr. (Late Owner)

Tennessee Titans


The Salute to Service Award presented by USAA is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community. To read about all 32 nominees, visit www.nfl.com/salute.