The Super Bowl is the biggest annual sporting event in the United States. Many football fans not attending the game - this year in Indianapolis, Indiana - gather at parties in homes and bars across the country to watch the event on television. At the center of this annual tradition is party food, including pizza. One organization brings that traditional touch of home to U.S. forces serving overseas.
In the heart of Chicago, in the back of an old restaurant that looks much the same as it did when it opened in 1943, workers are busy keeping a 70-year-old tradition alive.
“Pizzeria Uno is the birthplace of deep dish pizza. The recipe and the first deep dish pizza was created right here in our kitchen,” said Uno's General Manager April McRaven. He says the various sized of thick and layered pizza pies that pass throught their ovens are well known globally.
“It's growing and growing. It’s all over the country, in several different countries, and people from all over the world come here to enjoy our pizza,” McRaven said.
But what about reversing that flow, sending the pizzas - fresh - to destinations around the world?
It was a question retired Air Force Master Sergeant Mark Evans’s teenage son Kent asked one night at the height of the Iraq War.
“We were eating Chicago deep dish pizza, and the war was on in the other room, and he said, 'Hey Dad, do they have pizza like this there where the guys are in the conflict area?,'” Evans said.
The answer was no.
“He said, 'Could we ship some?' And I said, 'Well yes, we could do that.' and you always want to tell your kid they can do anyting in the world. So they should always aim high. And with that said, we came up with an idea,” he said.
The idea became Pizza 4 Patriots, a non-profit organization providing pizzas to U.S. service members stationed in conflict areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since its founding in 2008, Pizza 4 Patriots has delivered more than 70,000 deep-dish pizzas to the U.S. military overseas.
To fund the massive effort, Evans relies on monetary and logistical support from several corporate sponsors, as well as smaller donations from the general public.
"We have a lady twice a year, sends us $7 - her check - she says that’s all I can afford. So, America backs this project,” Evans said.
With that backing, Evans is planning his biggest pizza blitz to date.
“This year for Super Bowl, our goal is 10,000 pizzas, Chicago Uno’s deep dish pizza, some of the finest pizza in the world, Chicago, come on!,” Evans said.
Pizzeria Uno’s April McRaven said the Super Bowl is a great connection for her company’s prized product.
“Football and pizza just go together so we’ll take the biggest stage, and we’ll make sure they get the best pizza in the world. Hopefully their team is playing and it'll be a really wonderful experience they can share,” she said.
The destination for the 10,000 pizzas this Super Bowl Sunday is Afghanistan. There, more than 40,000 U.S. service members will have a chance to have some of that deep dish pizza while watching the big game - broadcast live on the American Forces Network military channel.