Sports’ most heartwarming military homecomings of 2013

There are few things more steeped in patriotism than sports are. From singing The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America, to publicly recognizing those who serve our country, the world of sports offers a unique chance for people of all races, religions and political affiliations to salute the same flag.

It’€™s only right to recognize families that make the ultimate sacrifice when they say goodbye to a loved one who is serving in the military. They go months without seeing each other in person, and very rarely get to spend birthdays, anniversaries and holidays together –€” that’€™s what makes surprise military reunions so special.

More and more professional and college teams are orchestrating these surprise homecomings, and it’s rare that one comes along and doesn’t elicit tears. Seeing the look of pure shock and joy on the families’€™ faces makes it all worth it. Just in time for the holidays, we’€™ve compiled the year’€™s best surprise homecomings, in case you needed a reason to cry today.

Benny the Bull reunites a Navy pilot and his mother

Sandy Miller hadn’t seen her son, a Navy pilot, in a year and a half when Bulls mascot Benny the Bull reunited the two at the United Center in March.

Arizona Wildcats play host for special reunion

The University of Arizona Department of Intercollegiate Athletics hosted a surprise welcome celebration for Master Sergeant Chris Campbell of Davis Monthan Air Force Base and his family.

Dad dresses as opponent to surprise son

Master Sgt. Joseph Martel returned early from a tour in Afghanistan in September and devised a clever plan to surprise his son at a football game.

Navy Sailor surprises family at Charlotte Checkers game

Stationed in Naples, Italy, Hull Maintenance Technician Josh Adams from the U.S. Navy hadn’t been home for Christmas in three years. Earlier this month he surprised his family at a Charlotte Checkers game.

Dad returns early to surprise kids at A’s Triple-A affiliate

Jim Hereth surprised his two children with an early homecoming from Afghanistan at a Sacramento River Cats game.

Dad catches first pitch, surprises daughter when he takes off mask

Alayna Adams threw out the first pitch before a Rays-Red Sox game in May, only to be surprised by her father, Lt. Col. Will Adams, who was the one behind the catcher’s mask.

Soldier surprises family when he steps out of life-size G.I. Joe box

The Philadelphia Flyers helped surprise one military family when the team presented the family’s soldier in a life-size G.I. Joe box. The perfect gift just in time for Christmas.

Gamecocks set up a surprise reunion for a soldier and his family

With the help of the South Carolina athletic department, Sergeant First Class David Jones surprised his family on the field during a Gamecocks football game.