It’s that time of the year, the Super Bowl has finished and everything in America is great again! Did you catch the game? The Cincinnati Bengals gave the Los Angeles Rams a run for their money, that’s for sure but the City of Angels got the best of them in the end. I mean what a game from Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp right?
That’s it for the Super Bowl LVI. A lot of high-adrenaline plays with the big boys who can take a hit, that’s for sure. Hits on the field are quite dangerous, especially in high-intensity games, but there are some notable NFL players who actually took more than just a hit from a 300-pound linebacker. These football professionals went downrange with a rifle before they went down the field with a football.
Yup, these men are more than just footballers, some of them are heroes who served their country well. Here are some NFL military veterans that served America proudly and courageously off the football field.
Eddie “Littlest General” LeBaron
At 5-foot-7, Eddie LeBaron was a small player when compared to modern era football players, but don’t let his height fool you – LeBaron isn’t called Littlest General for nothing. The late college football Hall of Fame NFL military veteran was a quarterback who played for the Washington Redskins from 1952 to 1953 (and again from 1955 to 1959), Calgary Stampeders in 1954, and the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1963). Not only was he the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1952, but he also reached the Pro Bowl 4 times!
The Littlest General, before his playing days in the NFL, was first drafted into the military at age 18 to the Marine Corps Reserve, being deployed to serve in the Korean War in 1951. But before he got deployed, he was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 10th round of the 1950 NFL draft, so he had to leave to serve his country.
LeBaron was a fierce player and an even fiercer soldier, serving as a rifle company platoon commander who fought in the Battle of the Punchbowl. He got shot and wounded twice and was later awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat V. This is ultimately where he got the moniker “The Littlest General.”
After his stint with the military, the veteran went back to being a rookie in 1952 playing for the Redskins. He would have a successful career after 12 seasons in the NFL, mostly known for his short but agile structure that helped him to excel in the game of football.
Robert Patrick “Rocky” Bleier
Yup, Rocky Bleier. If you don’t know him already and you’re wondering why the guy’s nickname is “Rocky,” well you’ll soon find out that it suits him perfectly. Well, the NFL military veteran actually got his nickname from his father calling him “a little rock” when he was a newborn and it eventually got stuck. but the halfback would soon see that the nickname was a premonition of what was to happen to him during his NFL career.
The Wisconsin native played college football with the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, winning the national championship in 1968. He was selected 417th overall in the 16th round of the 1968 NFL and AFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. But as luck would have it, he would be drafted into the US Army in 1968 after his rookie season with the Steelers.
The Wisconsin native would soon find himself in the jungles of Vietnam where he was a squad grenadier using the legendary 40mm M79 grenade launcher with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Disaster would strike when he and his platoon were ambushed in Hiep Duc. He would be shot in the left thigh, and as if that wasn’t enough, a grenade was thrown near him sending shrapnel into his high right leg, losing a part of his right foot in the process. He was later awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his valor, however the doctors did say he was never going to play football again. And hey, we couldn’t blame the doctors. The guy was shot in both legs and lost a part of his foot. Who wouldn’t think that be the end of their career right?
Well, Rocky wasn’t one of those veterans who just gave up. So he went back to join the NFL in 1970 when he still couldn’t walk. Yup, that’s how tough that guy is! He never gave up and gave his injuries time to heal until he regained his old form. Not only was he known as one of the Steeler’s best rushers, but he also won 4 Super Bowls with them. Not one, but four Super Bowls. All by a guy who was discharged from the military with service disabilities that would have made anyone else a benchwarmer for life. Now, if that doesn’t scream Rocky Balboa to you, then I think you should watch the movie again.
Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik
Good old Slovak-American Football player, Chuck Bednarik. The center and linebacker was the number 1 pick in the 1949 NFL draft as he was a three-time All-American player when he was playing for the University of Pennsylvania who had one of the meanest tackles in the history of the NFL.
Before he joined the NFL however, he joined the United States Army Air Forces as part of the 467th Bomb Group with the Eighth Air Force. He served as a waist gunner in a B-24 Liberator flying over 30 combat missions in the deadly skies of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He was later awarded the Air Medal, 4 Battle Stars, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and 4 Oak Leaf Clusters.
The NFL military veteran soon returned to the United States, attended the University of Pennsylvania and was selected 1st overall in the 1949 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Throughout his career, he would prove to be a valuable asset to his team as he often started as center and linebacker for offensive and defensive lineups. Because of this, Bednarik would soon be known as one of the last 60 minute men as he played both offense and defense.
Bednarik would obtain the nickname “Concrete Charlie” not only because of his powerful tackle but also because he was a concrete salesman for the Warner Company. I guess it would be fitting since he and his team would drop bombs on Germany perhaps a million times stronger than what dropping concrete would do! He would play a total of 8 times at the Pro Bowl and be named an NFL champion twice in his career.
The great Pat Tillman was one of the few football players who openly gave up a multimillion-dollar career in football to serve his country. What a badass this legend is.
The California native went to Arizona State University with a full-ride scholarship to play football. Known as that warm, friendly, and fuzzy guy, he would write journals and often said that he drew his strength from his family and friends. As a linebacker for Arizona State, he would help his team to make it to the Rose Bowl in 1996 and was widely considered to be the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the year. If that wasn’t enough, he was also named his alma mater’s MVP. The guy wasn’t just physically gifted, he was also quite smart, finishing a marketing degree with a GPA of 3.85, earning the Clyde B. Smith Academic Award in 1996 and 1997.
After a successful career as a collegiate-level football player, he would be drafted by the Arizona Cardinals during the 1998 NFL Draft and played safety. He would go on to finish his career with 340 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 15 pass deflections, and 3 fumble recoveries in 60 games.
However, his football career would come to a halt as he heard the voice to serve his country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, turning down a 3.6 million contract from the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the US Army along with his brother, Kevin, at 25 years old.
They soon would be assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. However, disaster would strike when he would be shot by his fellow soldier in confusion, where an allied group had thought they were enemies in Afghanistan in 2004. His tragic death led to many asking whether he could’ve been one of the NFL greats, and he may very well be but we’ll never really know for sure now. Tillman would later be awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and promotion to Colonel posthumously. Later, the Pat Tillman Award for willingness to serve would be made in honor.