The Super Bowl 50 epic battle between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos has just concluded and the Broncos emerged victorious!
Though the football season has ended, it’s no reason to stop celebrating this all American sport we’ve come to love so much through the years. So for this post, let us take a look at some former NFL players who were also former service men that have made a great impact while playing in the NFL.
Here are 7 of them.
7.) Dick “Night Train” Lane — Cornerback (Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions)
After serving in the U.S. Army for 4 years, Lane returned home and then walked into the Los Angeles Rams’ training facility and asked if he can try out for the team. He was 24 years old at that time, considered as an “old guy” in terms of football age. No one, not even Dick himself imagined that he would become one of the greatest defensive backs in the history of American Football. Dick was a ball hawk in the NFL. The moniker “Night Train” was given to him because of his aggressive game and tackling. In his rookie season, he had 14 interceptions, an NFL record that still stands today. When he retired, Dick “The Night Train” Lane was a 10-time all-Pro and registered 68 picks.
6.) Otto Everett Graham, Jr. — Quarterback (Cleveland Browns)
Otto Everett Graham Jr. is considered as the greatest quarterback who ever played the game. Graham Jr. served two years in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, his play in the NFL was the most notable. He played 10 seasons for the Browns as a quarterback. In his 10 seasons as a pro, Graham Jr. led the browns to the league championship game all ten years, winning 7 of them. In his career, he only lost 17 times and was an All-Pro nine times.
5.) Lou “The Toe” Groza — Offensive Tackle/Kicker (Cleveland Browns)
Groza was serving in the U.S. Army’s 96th Infantry Division as a surgical technician in Okinawa Japan in 1945 when Paul Brown, the Ohio State Football coach sent him a package that contained a football and a contract to play for the Cleveland Browns in the All-American Football Conference. When the Second World War ended in 1946, Groza signed with the Browns and went on to play 21 years as an All-Pro offensive tackle. When Groza retired from the game, he held the career record for point at 1,608.
4.) Gino Marchetti – Defensive End (Dallas Texans, Baltimore Colts)
Gino Marchetti was still in senior high when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in the spring of 1944. During that same year, Gino was assigned in the 1,273rd Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division that fought in Europe during the Second World War. Gino was the machine gunner in The Battle of Bulge.
When Gino’s military service was over, he joined the Baltimore Colts in the NFL. Here, Gino revolutionized the defensive end position and also led the Colts to back-to-back NFL championships in 1958 and 1959 seasons. In his career, Gino was an 11-time Pro Bowler and 9-time NFL All-Pro first team.
3.) James Robert “Bob” Kalsu — Guard (Buffalo Bills)
James Robert “Bob” Kalsu was just starting to scratch the surface of his football talents when he had to put his NFL career on hold to complete his ROTC commitment. Kalsu was stationed in Vietnam as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. On July 21, 1970, Kalsu was killed in action when his unit came under heavy enemy mortar fire at A Shau Valley. James Robert “Bob” Kalsu’s NFL career may be short, but his legacy, bravery, and sacrifice will be forever remembered.
2.) Ralph Alvin Heywood — Wide Receiver/Defensive End (Detroit Lions)
Ralph Alvin Heywood served aboard the USS Iowa during the Second World War. After the War, he played 5 seasons in the NFL and AFL. Then, he retired from the game and returned to the Marine Corps where he served for more than 32 years. The only NFL player to have served in the Second World War, Korean War, and Vietnam War, Heywood died in 2007 as a Colonel in the Marine Corps.
1.) Pat Tillman – Safety (Arizona Cardinals)
Pat Tillman’s story is very well documented that most Americans are familiar with it. Tillman had an amazing year in 2000 playing for the Arizona Cardinals. In 2011, Days before the 9/11 attacks, Tillman went back to work as a safety. At the end of the season, Tillman retired from his football career and became an Army Ranger. He was then stationed in Afghanistan. Tillman met his end when he was hit by a friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004. Tillman’s death became a strong reminder of all the sacrifices and the bravery that is embodied by all enlisted men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Also Read: Athletes Who Served In The Military