Photo by Tony Gonzales
Raiders.com had the opportunity to follow up with Army Sergeant Michael Eaton, who was reunited with his family at halftime of a Raiders game as part of the Lifetime series Coming Home.
Raiders.com: What did you think of your reunion after watching the show?
Sgt. Eaton: It was still a little hard to believe that it was really us. It was all surreal. We were there, we lived it, we did it, but to see yourself on TV and the experience all together, it's like it's somebody else. It's hard to explain.
Raiders.com: Do you think it will ever feel real?
Sgt. Eaton: Yeah, I'm sure in time after we tell stories back and forth, I'm sure at some point it'll be just like, 'yeah, we really did that. That was really us.' But at this point, it's strange to be on the other side of the looking-glass if you want to call it that.
Raiders.com: What has been the reaction of your fellow soldiers?
Sgt. Eaton: Incredible, actually. I've had a lot of people that I haven't talked to in years find me, locate me, email me, call me, just to catch up and say, 'hey, I saw you on TV.' The really interesting part is that around here, complete strangers have begun to recognize us and it's really strange.
Raiders.com: What's it been like seeing the reaction of Raiders fans to the episode?
Sgt. Eaton: It was awesome. It was totally awesome. Me and my wife sat down the next morning and we saw that the Raiders had put it up and we just read…when we first looked at it, there were over 100 replies in just the short time that it was up. We read several of them and it was like, 'wow, people really saw us and paid attention and shared in that moment with all of us.' It was incredible. It was just awesome.
Raiders.com: Although we heard a bit about it in the episode, can sum up what it was like to put on the Raiders uniform and then get to surprise your kids?
Sgt. Eaton: The only real way to sum it up is that, you hear people say it all the time and it's kind of cliché, but that was literally a high school dream come true. I was wearing the football uniform of my favorite team. My mentors when I was a high school football player – I loved Howie Long, I loved the Raiders team all together. I modeled myself after him. I was a defensive end in high school. He was my idol. To stand on the same field, to wear the same uniform as him, was just one of those achievements that only happens once in a lifetime. I would never have imagined being able to do that in my life with the path that I have taken in the military and so on. I felt that my football career was at an end, but to put that capstone and then to share in it with my family, all four of my kids and my wife and my mother being on the sidelines, I can't put it into words. There's no measure to it. It's just one of those things that you know it's one of those events that you could never top. There's nothing that can go beyond that.
Raiders.com: That one moment of reuniting with your kids was so emotional and everyone felt it in the stadium. A lot of fans said that even though they weren't in the first row, they felt like they were experiencing it with you before they even saw it on TV. Could you even hear the crowd, did it even register in that moment where you were?
Sgt. Eaton: Honestly, believe it or not, when Matt [Rogers] was getting ready to say the cue words for me to pull my helmet off and turn around, I couldn't hear anything but the crowd. The crowd was already in such a roar that I couldn't hear anything going on behind me. Thank goodness the jumbotron was there because I knew that when he did the cue words, he was going to stick his hand out forward pointing at me. I could see that out of the corner of my eye and that was the only way I knew to take the helmet off and turn around because I could not hear a thing for the crowd. They were so loud and so into it and so chanting and cheering for me and my family and the whole miracle to happen right there on the field. It was mind-blowing.
Raiders.com: Do you have a special message for Raider Nation?
Sgt. Eaton: I grew up in Silver and Black and my high school colors were black and gold, ironically, and the Raider Nation is the most tight-knit, family-oriented fan base that I have ever seen. My wife, she was just amazed. Just to see it in person, I was amazed. To look up and see the Black Hole and everybody there – the Raider Nation is one of a kind. It is incredible and an honor that I was able to share this moment with my family with the Raider Nation. It was my honor and it was an incredible thing to do and I loved every moment.