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The Caw: The Harbaughs' Story of a Special American Flag

Posted Nov 22, 2017

Head Coach John Harbaugh and wife Ingrid bid on an American flag designed by Baltimore native and New York City firefighter Mark Russo. The Harbaughs then gave it to Brad Snyder, who lost his eyesight in Afghanistan, and has since become a gold-medal Paralympic swimmer.

Here’s an example of Head Coach John Harbaugh’s commitment to the military and first responders, and another reason why he’s the team’s nominee for the 2017 Salute to Service Award.

John and Ingrid Harbaugh were attending an inspiring fundraising event to benefit the COMMIT Foundation last May when they saw a very unique American flag up for auction.

The flag was designed and built by Baltimore native Mark Russo, a firefighter based in New York City. The stars and strips are made of damaged firehose used by the New York Fire Department during their heroic work during 9/11.

Touched by the event and foundation’s work, which is to help exceptional American Servicemembers and Veterans into successful roles and careers post-service, the Harbaughs decided they would bid on the flag to donate to the cause and remember it themselves.

What they didn’t realize, however, was there was another bidder.

Brad Snyder and his wife, who were sitting with the Harbaughs, also wanted the flag. Snyder was the event’s keynote speaker. A Naval Academy graduate, Snyder lost his eyesight in 2011 when an IED exploded while he was serving in Afghanistan.

Since then, he has gone on to become a world record-holding swimmer who won two gold medals and one Silver silver during the 2012 Paralympics in London and a silver at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Among fully blind swimmers, he holds the world record in the 100-meter freestyle.

It was a live auction, and the Harbaughs and Snyders were both tossing out their bids, one-upping each other at the same table.

“We started bidding on it, and we were like, ‘Oh man, this is terrible!’” Harbaugh said.

The Harbaughs quickly devised the plan to outbid the Snyders, then give it to Brad as a gift to thank him for his service. After the auction concluded with the Harbaughs as the winners, Ingrid told Brad.

“He was very emotional about it and very fired up,” John said. “It was a great opportunity to get to know Brad and his wife. Just one of those great nights.”

Once Russo heard what the Harbaughs did, he insisted on making them another flag. At that point, the one auctioned off was the only and original.

That’s what Russo did, but when he went to deliver it to the Harbaughs in the back of the truck early this season, it got rained on and the colors bled. The Harbaughs didn’t mind. John said it looked great and “real.” But Russo wouldn’t take that for an answer, so he made a third flag, and brought that to the Harbaughs several weeks ago. It’s now proudly displayed at the Harbaugh home.

“It’s special because it’s a connection to the people involved in those things in a small way,” John said. “It’s a connection to Brad and the sacrifice he made and what he’s doing with his life right now. It’s a connection to Mark and the New York Fire Dept. and Firehouse 1. The fact that it’s 9/11 and made from those materials, to me it’s just a way to remember the sacrifices made.”

“It was a very emotional night, and we were honored to be a part of it,” Ingrid said. “Bidding on the flag and presenting it to Brad was a memorable moment for us. He’s a special person. We were also proud to support the COMMIT Foundation, which John and I have been involved with through General [Raymond] Odierno’s daughter, Katie.”

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