TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 4: FILE PHOTO Safety Pat Tillman #40 of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during a game against the Oakland Raiders at the Sun Devil Stadium October 4 1998 in Tempe, Arizona. Tillman, a U.S. Army Ranger and former Arizona Cardinals strong safety was reportly killed in Afganstan while serving as an Army Ranger. Tillman, 27, enlisted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, choosing to walk away from a 3-year, $3.6 million contract extension with the Cardinals.
Sports luminaries who served
We honor those who served our country, including athletes such as Pat Tillman. The former NFL player was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004. Here's a look at more athletes and coaches who have served our country.
Staubach was a football star at the Naval Academy, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1963 as a junior. But he had to put his pro dreams on hold to serve the mandatory four years, including a stint in Vietnam. In 1969, Staubach began his Hall of Fame pro career with the Dallas Cowboys. He won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys and was MVP of Super Bowl VI.
Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to '56. After he was drafted in 1942, Robinson was sent to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kan. He finished Officer Candidate School, then was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1943. He was not assigned to combat.
Bleier was drafted by the US Army after playing his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968. Bleier fulfilled his military commitment serving as an infantryman in Vietnam. He sustained serious injuries to his legs resulting from rifle fire and grenade blasts. Bleier's injuries were so severe, his return to football was jeopardized. After fighting through three surgeries, Bleier joined the Steelers in 1972, eventually starting on all four of the Steelers' Super Bowl-winning teams of the Steel Curtain era.
The Say Hey Kid's career with the New York/San Francisco Giants (1951-72) was interrupted during the Korean War when he was drafted by the United States Army. He missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season, but did not see combat duty. He was an army baseball instructor/player at Fort Eustis, Va. Mays, who finished his baseball career with the New York Mets in 1973 after a two-year stint, ranks high on several career lists: fourth in homers (660), 11th in RBI (1,903), seventh in runs (2,062) and 11th in hits (3,283).
Ralph Wilson Jr.
Wilson enlisted in the Navy during World War II. As the founder of the Buffalo Bills, Wilson has a lasting legacy as a visionary in the AFL. Wilson, a central piece in the NFL/AFL merger, earned a spot in the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Hammerin' Hank, one of the first star Jewish athletes, played for the Detroit Tigers (1930-46) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (1947). Greenberg volunteered to serve in the United States Army Air Forces. Following his graduation from Officer Candidate School and receiving his commission, then-first lieutenant Greenberg scouted locations for B-29 bomber bases overseas.
"The Admiral" is known as one of the best NBA centers of all time and a genuinely great guy. No doubt that clean cut exterior is due to his background at Navy. Before joining the San Antonio Spurs, who selected him with the first pick in 1987, Robinson served two years as a civil engineering officer in the Navy. Robinson would win two NBA championships and the 1995 MVP. He was a 10-time All-Star and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
"The Splendid Splinter" played 19 seasons with the Boston Red Sox. Williams' service as a pilot required him to leave the Red Sox twice during that span. From 1942-46, Williams served in World War II. He left the Red Sox again to serve in the Korean War from 1952-53. "Teddy Ballgame" was the last major leaguer to bat over .400 — .406 in 1941 — and holds the highest career batting average of anyone with 500 or more homers. He finished his career batting .344 with 521 homers, 2,654 hits and 1,839 RBI.
Well before becoming the legendary Dallas Cowboys, Landry enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was a B-17 co-pilot. From 1944-'45, he completed a combat tour of 30 missions, and survived a crash landing in Belgium after his bomber ran out of fuel. Landry's Hall of Fame status came during his tenure coaching the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1988, earning two Super Bowl titles and five NFC championships and having 20 consecutive winning seasons. Landry died in 2000 at age 75.
"The Yankee Clipper" missed three seasons of his career with the Yankees (1936-51) while he served in the United States Army Air Forces from 1943-45. He rose to the rank of sergeant and spent time stationed in California, Hawaii and New Jersey. While DiMaggio never saw combat duty, he served as a physical education instructor. He was a three-time MVP and a 13-time All-Star during his baseball career ... plus, there's the record 56-game hitting streak he set in 1941.
Hall spent four years in the Marines and earned the rank of Sergeant while deployed in Afghanistan. Thanks to the GI Bill, Hall had the chance to attend college. Used to hard work and perseverance, Hall rose from a walk-on to become the starting fullback for the 2005 national champion Texas Longhorns squad. A year later, Hall made it to the NFL, signing with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent.
Yogi Berra played for the New York Yankees from 1946-1963 and assumed the role of player-coach for the New York Mets in 1965. Prior to his major league career, Berra was in the US Navy during World War II. During the D-Day invasion, Berra served as a Gunner's Mate. While with the Yankees, he won 13 World Series, was an 18-time All-Star and won three AL MVPs.
The late George Halas was the founder of what became the Chicago Bears in 1920 and was critical to the formation of the NFL. "Papa Bear" also coached the team for 40 seasons, winning six NFL titles. Before all that, he served in the Navy during World War I. He also stepped away from coaching to serve in the Navy from 1942-1945. When Halas left coaching in spring 1968, he retired with a then-record 324 wins.
"The Georgia Peach" spent his career playing for the Detroit Tigers (1905-26) and the Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28). In October 1918, Cobb enlisted in the Chemical Corps branch of the United States Army and served as a captain as World War I came to a close. Cobb, who was credited with setting 90 major league records during his career, still holds the mark for the highest career batting average (.366). He held the all-time hits mark with 4,189 until Pete Rose passed him in 1985. He also is second in runs with 2,246 — Rickey Henderson has 2,295.
Mike Anderson served four years in the Marine Corps immediately after graduating from high school before beginning his career as a running back for the Denver Broncos. While in the Marines, he played football for the 11th Marines contact team at Camp Pendleton. In 2000, he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing more than 1,487 yards in a single season. A series of injuries forced Anderson to end his NFL career in 2008 after seven seasons.
Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane
Before launching what would become a Hall of Fame football career, "Night Train" served four years in the Army during World War II and the Korean War. When his service was completed, the cornerback joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1952 as a free agent. His 14 interceptions in his rookie season is still an NFL single-season record. Lane, who also played for the Chicago Cardinals (1954-'59) and the Detroit Lions (1960-'65), earned first- or second-team All-NFL honors from 1954 to '63. He finished his career with an astounding 68 interceptions.
"Mr. Cub" played for the Chicago Cubs from 1953-71. In 1950, Banks was signed by the Kansas City Monarchs, a famous Negro League team. After a lone season with the Monarchs, Banks enlisted in the US Army and served for two years. After his discharge, he was signed by the Chicago Cubs where he became a fixture at shortstop. Banks finished his Hall of Fame career with 512 homers.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Chad Hall delayed his NFL career to fulfill his military duties as a lieutenant in the US Air Force where he performed maintenance on F-16s. His spent his college years playing for the Air Force Academy, leading his team in rushing and receiving during his senior year. After completing his military service, Hall signed with the Eagles in 2010.
Chuck Bednarik's military service is just as impressive as his nearly 13-year NFL career — if not more so. The former Philadelphia Eagles player and Hall of Famer enlisted in the US Army Air Corps after high school, serving as a B-24 waist-gunner in World War II. After completing his service, for which he was awarded the Air Medal, Bednarik attended the University of Pennsylvania where he was a three-time All-American. He was signed to the Eagles in 1949 as both a linebacker and center and remained an integral part of the team until his retirement in 1962. While in the NFL, Bednarik led the Eagles to two NFL Championships and was a Pro Bowl selection eight times. In recognition of his on-field prowess, the Chuck Bednarik Award is presented annually to the best defensive collegiate player in the United States.
Current Green Bay Packers linebackers coach Kevin Greene’s military involvement began when he participated in Auburn’s ROTC program. Throughout the span of his 15 season NFL career, Greene registered 160 sacks and was voted into the Pro Bowl five times — all while continuing his military service during the offseason as a member of the Army Reserves. He played for the Los Angeles Rams (1985-92), the Pittsburgh Steelers (1993-95), the Carolina Panthers (1996, 1998-99) and the San Francisco 49ers (1997).
Bob Feller (right), missed four seasons of his 20-year career with the Cleveland Indians (1936-56), while he served in World War II. The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller made the decision to enlist in the Navy. He played on the Great Lakes Naval Base baseball team with Mickey Cochrane (also pictured). Feller finished his service and returned to Major League Baseball.
Legendary outfielder and first baseman Stan Musial, known for his 22 career with the St. Louis Cardinals, briefly left the MLB to serve in noncombat duty for the US Navy after World War II. During his military service, Musial participated in the naval base baseball league at Pearl Harbor. Musial returned to the Cardinals in March of 1946 after receiving an honorable discharge and remained with the team until retiring in 1963. "Stan the Man" was a record 24-time All-Star selection and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 — his first year of eligibility. Most recently, Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011.