NFL Salutes Memorial Day and Players Who Have Served

Above: Former Steeler and Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva stands outside the team tunnel at Soldier Field for the National Anthem before the game against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 24, 2017. The Bears would win 23-17. Photo Credit – Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press.

With this upcoming Monday as Memorial Day, there have been a few names of NFL players who may not be known as military veterans. As we prepare to salute our fallen soldiers, let’s take at some members who currently play or have played in the NFL.

  • Chuck Bednarik – The World War II Air Force gunner, known as “Concrete Charlie” (due to working as a concrete salesman during the offseason), played center and linebacker for the University of Pennsylvania and was the first draft choice in 1949 by the Philadelphia Eagles. He would finish his career as an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time champion, and would have his No. 60 jersey retired by the Eagles.
  • Rocky Bleier – This running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who played his college football at Notre Dame, played his rookie season in 1968, then was drafted by the U.S. Army and served as a squad grenadier in an infantry brigade when he ended up injuring his leg and losing part of his right foot. He would return to Pittsburgh and be placed on injured reserve for the 1970 season, which resulted in a move to the special teams unit starting in 1971. Once Bleier became fully healthy, his production received a major boost, and the Steelers would go on a run of winning four Super Bowl titles in the late 70s. Bleier retired after the 1980 season, and he held the franchise’s fourth-place position in terms of all-time rushing yard leaders.
  • Eddie LeBaron – LeBaron was drafted in the 10th round in 1950 by the Washington Redskins (now Washington Football Team) as a quarterback, but was soon pulled for service and training in the Korean War, serving as a lieutenant in the Marines. He would return in 1952 for a couple of seasons, then signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union (a predecessor to today’s Canadian Football League), before going back again to Washington, and then rounded out his career in 1963 with the Dallas Cowboys. Lebaron, nicknamed “The Little General,” only posted one winning season over the course of his career, and was a law practitioner after he retired.
  • Sid Luckman – A Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chicago Bears from 1939 to 1950, Sidney Luckman won four championships with Chicago, but after a big game win in 1943, he along with 18 other teammates were called into service for World War II. Luckman served as a junior Merchant Marine and was stationed in the U.S. He would later return to the Midway Monsters and win a fifth championship in the 1946 campaign. 
  • Roger Staubach – Known as “Captain America”, this former Navy Midshipman did a tour of duty in Vietnam after graduation in 1963, and would later join the Dallas Cowboys in 1969, leading them to five Super Bowl appearances (2-3 in those games), and receiving the game’s MVP award in Super Bowl VI against the Miami Dolphins. 
  • Pat Tillman – The first pro football player to be killed in the line of duty since Bob Kalsu in 1970, the former Arizona Cardinal safety stopped his playing career in 2002 after the September 11th attacks to join the Army. Tillman was deployed as part of a battalion in Afghanistan, where he was allegedly killed by friendly fire.
  • Caleb Campbell – One of the last picks in the 2008 NFL Draft, Caleb Campbell was the first Army player selected in over a decade, but served in the military a couple more years before joining the Detroit Lions in 2010. His statistics may not be memorable, but his service to his country will be.
  • Alejandro Villanueva – A multi-versatile player when suiting up for the Army Black Knights, this former Pittsburgh Steeler and Army ranger recently signed a contract with the division-rival Baltimore Ravens to shore up the offensive tackle position and help protect for quarterback Lamar Jackson.
  • Nate Boyer – This former long snapper for the Seahawks served six years as a green beret with tours in Iran and Afghanistan, and also made an appearance in the Longshot mode of the Madden NFL 18 video game.
  • Joe Cardona – A current service member in the Naval Reserve and a two-time champion with the New England Patriots, Cardona is a long snapper and graduate from the Naval Academy in 2015.

The NFL frequently does a Salute to Service in November to honor the U.S. troops, and some NFL players who join the ranks will receive more recognition from the league as we draw closer to the season.