Wilson enlisted in the Navy and was in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during World War II. He went on to found the Buffalo Bills and was an influential AFL owner. Wilson was a key figure in the merger between the AFL and the NFL, and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Football has had a long history with the armed forces with more than 1,000 NFL personnel during American wars. We take a look at a few of the brave men who have contributed to football and dedicated themselves to their country too.
Kettani, who was on the practice squad for the New England Patriots, was recalled to active duty for the United States Navy.
Anderson performed his military service right after high school. He spent four years in the Marine Corps. When he reached the NFL after college, he had immediate success. In his rookie season with the Denver Broncos, he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, rushing for more than 1,487 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. Injuries hampered his career, but he did play in seven seasons.
Before becoming one of football’s greatest two-way players, Bednarik served in World War II as a member of the Army Air Corps. He flew 30 missions and earned an Air Medal for his efforts. Bednarik was drafted No. 1 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles where the Hall of Famer played center and linebacker; the latter is the position that helped make him a legend.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted the running back in 1968, but Bleier first had to fight in Vietnam as an infantryman. Rifle fire and grenade blasts severely injured his legs the next year. Doctors told Bleier he’d never play football again. Three surgeries later, he made the Steelers roster in 1972. He became a starter in 1974 and was a starter on all four of the Steelers' Super Bowl-winning teams of that era.
Campbell graduated from West Point in 2008 and was drafted in the seventh round by the Detroit Lions the same year. However, the linebacker’s NFL dreams were put on hold. Campbell had to serve two additional years for the Army. The lieutenant’s patience paid off as he finally played in the NFL this past season after the Lions signed him as a free agent.
Greene’s military commitment started when he was at Auburn as a member of the ROTC. He served 16 years in the Army Reserves, performing his service in the offseason. He had a long career on the football field, too. During his 15-season career, the linebacker registered 160 sacks and made the Pro Bowl five times while playing for four teams. He is now linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers.
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.
Hall served in the Marines for four years, serving in Kosovo (1999) and Afghanistan (2002). The GI Bill helped provide him with an opportunity to go to college. He went from a walk-on to the starting fullback for Texas’ national title team (2005 season). The Tennessee Titans signed him as a 26-year-old undrafted free agent in 2006 and he’s still with the team. Another interesting note: Hall’s wife also served in the Marines.
After starring at the Air Force Academy as a wide receiver, returner and running back, Hall had to wait before joining the NFL. The lieutenant served two years helping to oversee the maintenance of 28 F-16s. He was signed by the Eagles as a wide receiver in 2010 and caught a touchdown. He also saw time at running back and as a returner too.
Well before becoming the legendary Dallas Cowboys, a 19-year-old Landry enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was a B-17 co-pilot and flew 30 missions. He survived a crash in Belgium after a bombing run. After the war, Landry played defensive back for two teams from 1949-1955. He achieved his Hall of Fame status coaching the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1988, earning two Super Bowl titles and having 20 straight winning seasons. Landry died in 2000 at age 75.
Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane
Before embarking on a Hall of Fame football career, the late Dick Lane served four years in the Army during World War II and the Korean War. When his service was done, the cornerback joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1952 as a free agent. His career took off after he was traded to the Chicago Cardinals for the 1954 season. He earned first- or second-team All-NFL honors from 1954 to 1963. He finished his Hall of Fame career with an astounding 68 interceptions.
The "Littlest General" earned this nickname on the battlefield. He accepted a commission in 1950 with the Marines. He was in the battle at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea and had taken charge of a platoon which lost its commander. For his efforts, LeBaron who was 5-foot-7, earned the Bronze Star. He served nine months in Korea and was wounded twice. In 1952, he was named NFL Rookie of the Year and during his 11-season career, he was a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
The late New York Giants owner (and son of the team’s founder) began working for the club in 1937. A few years later, however, he left the team to serve in the Navy for more than three years during World War II on aircraft carriers in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, finishing as a lieutenant commander. When Mara returned to the Giants, he was a hands-on executive, helping engineer trades to bring the team various titles. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
The former Detroit Lions coach and current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator fought in Vietnam. He served as an infantryman in 1969 in the middle of attending college.
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.
After playing four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman turned down the team’s three-year, $3.6 million contract offer, choosing instead to join the Army in 2002. The NFL safety and newlywed wanted to serve his country following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.