Football is a national passion. In fact, the 2015 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks set a new record, averaging 114.4 million viewers per minute, and becoming the most widely watched event in American TV history. A Heisman Trophy winner, a Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee, or a Super Bowl MVP recipient quickly becomes a cultural icon with our adoration going far beyond the field. This devotion for a player intensifies when they dedicate themselves to our country. Below are a few of the many men who dazzled us on the field and also served in the United States military. They are truly our heroes.
- Jack Lummas —Just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Giants lost the Eastern Division title to Chicago. One month later, Lack Lummas, the defensive end for the Giants, became an officer in the Marine Corps. He fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He continued to fight while injured during battle and helped his platoon eliminate fortified enemy positions. After stepping on a land mine, he was fatally wounded and while doctors were attempting to save him, he is famously quoted as saying “Well, doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today.”
- Maurice “Footsie” Britt—A Detroit Lion rookie during the 1941 season, Britt was commissioned through the Army ROTC program at the University of Arkansas. After the season ended, he began active duty, serving in North Africa and Sicily. While in Italy, he was badly wounded, leading to the loss of an arm, and the end of both his military and football careers. He received a Medal of Honor for his bravery.
View a list of NFL Veterans from WWII.
The Korean War
- Dick “Night Train” Lane—Given the nickname “Night Train” for the way he punished his opponents when tackling, Dick Lane was one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the position. He had 14 interceptions in his rookie season, a record that stood for over 60 years, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lane served in the Army prior to his football career.
- Eddie LeBaron—At just 5-foot-7 and 166 pounds, Eddie LeBaron was known as the “Littlest General.” Although his outstanding career earned him entry into the College Football Hall of Fame, he got this nickname after serving in the Korean War. LeBaron played two Washington Redskins preseason games and then entered the Korean War with the Marine Corps Reserves. He was wounded twice and decorated with a Purple Heart, and awarded the Bronze Star and the Letter of Commendation. Upon returning from Korea, he played seven seasons with the Redskins and another four with the Dallas Cowboys.
Learn about the 226 NFL veterans in the Korean War. All made it home safely.
- Rocky Bleier—After playing one season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bleier was drafted into the Army and deployed to Vietnam. While in the service, he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for a shrapnel injury to his leg. Although doctors told him he would never play football again, he returned to the Steelers and played on four Super Bowl-winning teams in 10 more NFL seasons. Bleier is known for his devotion to military veterans and wounded warriors.
- Roger Stauback—Roger Stauback is a graduate of the Naval Academy, a Heisman Trophy recipient, Vietnam veteran, Super Bowl winner, and a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. He also built and sold a million dollar company. Stauback was drafted by the Cowboys five years before he could start playing because of his military commitment. Gil Brandt of the Cowboys shipped footballs to Vietnam so this talented quarterback could keep throwing while he was off-duty.
- Pat Tillman— Inspired to join the military after the events of 9/11, Pat Tillman is the only player to give up a multi-million dollar contract to serve. His patriotism and devotion caused him to walk away from the Arizona Cardinals in the prime of his career to become an Army Ranger. Sadly, Tillman lost his life in Afghanistan.
- Chris Gizzi—A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Chris Gizzi, an Air Force Reservist and a linebacker on the Green Bay Packers in 2001, was chosen to carry the flag and sprint down the middle of Lambeau Field in the first Monday Night Football telecast after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Many members of the NFL community have provided exceptional support to U.S. service members, veterans and their families. The Salute to Service Award presented by the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) was created to acknowledge their outstanding efforts.