Thank a vet today. The sacrifice made by these people allow us to spend our time watching and discussing a simple sport to the degree we do. That being said, the line between the military and the NFL has often been crossed. Below is a sampling of players that have served as well as made an impact in the NFL. This is just a few of the many great men that have fought (and died) for this country as well as played professional football. Check out some of their stories and be thankful for what we have.
Lummus was a defensive end for the New York Giants. He also became an officer in the Marine Corps. He fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II and received the Medal of Honor for his service. Lummus was injured in battle and continued fighting. He was key in helping his platoon eliminate some well fortified enemy positions. He was fatally wounded after stepping on a land mine. While doctors were attempting to save his life he is famously quoted as saying "Well, doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today."
Dick "Night Train" Lane
Lane was one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the position. He was given the nickname "Night Train" for the way he punished people when tackling. He was a 10 time all pro with 14 interceptions in his rookie season. This was after walking into the Los Angeles Rams facility looking for a tryout. Lane's football career was after an Army stint where he fought in the Korean war.
Tillman is the only player to give up a multi million dollar contract to serve in the Military. Tillman's patriotism and desire to serve pushed him to walk away from the NFL in his prime to become an Army Ranger. Tillman was lost to the effort that followed 9/11 sadly and people often wonder how good he could have been as a player.
Graham voluntarily enlisted in the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but never saw action in his two years of service. In 10 seasons as a quarterback for the Browns, he took the team to the league championship game all ten seasons. They won seven of those games. As a nine-time All-Pro, Graham lost only 17 times in his career and is still considered by many to be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
During WWII, Groza served as a surgical technician in Okinawa. While serving, Groza received a package from at the time Ohio State football coach, Paul Brown. It contained footballs and a contract to play for the Cleveland Browns. Groza is known for revolutionizing the kicking position and at one time held the career record for points at 1,608.
After being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 and playing one season, Bleier was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. The Purple Heart for an injury that left shrapnel in his right leg. Doctors assured him he would never play football again.
But Bleier did play again. He returned to the Steelers and played on four Super Bowl-winning teams in 10 more NFL seasons.
He has a quote that puts the game of football in perspective.
"For me, to have someone yell at you was second nature. In combat, as we have come to learn, when you're put in harm's way, there is a chance of permanent injury. There might not be a tomorrow, and that is always the question that lingers in one's mind. Will I get back safely? Will I be able to survive this combat? In football, there will always be next week."
To all the Vets, Thanks.