Every sport has its fair share of tough, gritty athletes. From the warriors competing in the ancient Olympic Games dating back to the 8th Century BC to the honed, skilled athletes of today, competitors must be mentally and physically strong. The same exists for the warriors fighting in the United States military.
As a two-sport athlete at Baylor University, Jack Lummus embodied the meaning of a badass football player. Around halftime during his professional career with the New York Giants, the news media relayed the staggering news: Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The players were not notified of the news, and play continued. Lummus enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve a short time later.
After being promoted to Second Lieutenant, Lummus was assigned as Executive Officer to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines. The Division was assigned to the V Amphibious Corps, which landed as the first wave of troops to strike Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. For two weeks, Lummus and his troops fought the Japanese. Lummus’ troops took out three major enemy strongholds before he stepped on a landmine, mortally wounding him. On his death bed, he told his doctor, “Well, doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good End today.”
The first All-American football player to ever graduate from the University of Oklahoma, Waddy Young undoubtedly had a future as a badass professional football player. Instead, Young joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1941 as an observation pilot for the First Ground Air Support Command at Pope Field. Though he aspired to become a fighter pilot, Young’s physical stature(6’2”, 202 lbs) limited him to flying bombers. As the Captain of a Bombardment Squadron, his crew was nicknamed “Waddy’s Wagon” as it entered battle over Japan.
While returning from a bombing mission in 1945, Waddy’s Wagon spotted a severely damaged B-29 that had suffered a kamikaze attack. Young and his crew attempted to protect the damaged B-29 from further attacks, but the two aircraft collided. All crew involved were killed in the attack.
Not all badass football players signed contracts with the NFL. One such player is Donald Holleder. Several top college football recruiters took an interest in Holleder, including West Point’s offensive coach, Vince Lombardi. Though West Point finished their season with a 6-3-0 record, Holleder’s leadership found him on the cover of Sports Illustrated after West Point beat Navy. Holleder would graduate in 1956 alongside his classmate, Norman Schwarzkopf.
As time passed, Holleder would eventually rise to the rank of Major. He also declined a contract to play for the New York Giants, electing to continue his career with the US Army. During the Vietnam War, Holleder requested to deploy to Vietnam. Tragically, Holleder died during the Battle of Ong Thanh. After securing three volunteers, Holleder was shot and killed by a sniper. He received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.
As a badass football player who excelled in playing all sides of the ball (quarterback, safety, and punter.) Eddie LeBaron became inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the US Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame. At 18, LeBaron joined the US Marine Corps Reserve. The All-American athlete was called to service after the Korean War broke out in 1950.
Applying his collegiate football experience to his military service, he once wrote in a column, “when you’re giving an order, you have to make sure it’s a good order before you give it – one that is based on a well-made decision, not a slapdash judgment.”
As rifle company platoon commander, LeBaron led his platoon into the Battle of the Punchbowl. Although he deployed without ever practice firing his rifle. LeBaron was wounded twice and awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism.
Following an honorable discharge, LeBaron returned to professional sports and played in the Canadian Football League and the National Football League.
This badass football player started his career in professional football, served his country, then returned to football. As a University of Notre Dame graduate, Rocky Bleier was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968. Shortly after playing his rookie season, Bleier then drafted by the US Army to fight in the Vietnam War. He patrolled Hiep Duc until his platoon was ambushed while in a rice paddy. An enemy grenade landed nearby his position, and he attempted to jump over it. The grenade exploded, sending shrapnel through his leg and foot.
Though doctors told Bleier he would never play football again, Bleier persisted. After spending a few years rehabilitating himself, Bleier returned to the gridiron in 1974 as a halfback for the Steelers.
Few football players can claim the title of “badass” as a long snapper. Nate Boyer is the exception. Boyer joined the US Army in 2005 and later awarded the distinction of being a Green Beret in 2006. Before his military service, Boyer worked building camps for refugees in Sudan. As a member of multiple special forces groups, Boyer deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Bulgaria, and Greece.
Following his military service, Boyer joined the University of Texas Longhorns football team as a walk-on, despite never having played football in high school. He played 38 consecutive games for the Longhorns as their top long snapper, winning an Armed Forces Merit Award and multiple athletic-academic awards. Though drafted as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks, Boyer never played on the team during the regular season. Instead, Boyer has been part of numerous veteran assistance charities and portrayed himself in the video game Madden NFL 18.
Like many badass football players of his generation, Maurice Britt ended his professional football career early to serve in the military. Following his collegiate career as a football and basketball player for the University of Arkansas, Britt was drafted by the Detroit Lions. After just one season, Britt entered active duty with the US Army in 1941 during World War II.
As an infantryman, Britt’s first deployment was to North Africa, specifically Casablanca. His Battalion tasked with personally guarding Sir Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Casablanca Conference. Later, Britt would participate in amphibious landings as part of the invasion of Italy. Britt’s acts of heroism would earn him a series of medals, including the Silver Star, his first of four Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Medal of Honor, the British Military Cross, the Italian Medal for Valor, and a Distinguished Service Cross.
Many of the most badass football players end their military service and return to play football. After losing part of his right arm performing calisthenics to get a hidden German machine gun position to expose themselves, this was not an option for Britt. Instead, he continued his badassery by becoming the 11th Lieutenant General of Arkansas, one of the first Republicans to serve as Lieutenant Governor since Reconstruction.
Known as one of the hardest-hitting tacklers in NFL history, Chuck Bednarik received the nickname “Concrete Charlie.” His football career came after serving in the US Army Air Forces during World War II. As a waist-gunner, Bednarik flew aboard at least 30 missions over Germany. His unit, also known as the “Rackheath Aggies,” joined between 1,500 and 2,000 bombers that destroyed several Axis tank manufacturers, oil fields, and gasoline production plants. The Rackheath Aggies would also deliver fuel to 500 of General George Patton’s tanks 10 miles behind enemy lines in Saint Lo, France.
Upon his return from the war, Bednarik earned All-American distinction three times at the University of Pennsylvania before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. He would play his entire career with the Eagles before retiring in 1960. Later becoming being named the 35th greatest player in the NFL by the NFL Network.
All-state athlete Don Steinbrunner had a passion for football and the military. After graduating from Washington State College as captain of the football team, Steinbrunner was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1953. He only played eight regular season games before starting military service in the US Air Force. Combining both passions, he served as Assistant Coach for the Air Force Academy’s football team from 1959-1964.
Steinbrunner deployed to Vietnam with the US Air Force in 1966. While flying an aerial mission, he was shot in the leg by small arms fire. Steinbrunner was operating as a navigator for a C-123 Provider aircraft conducting a defoliation mission over Gia Vuc when hostile ground forces downed it. All five men aboard were killed. Steinbrunner later received the Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously.
Badass football players are often known for their skill to throw a football. Al Blozis made a name for himself by setting the Fort Benning record for the US Army’s longest hand-grenade throw of 94 yards, 2 feet, 6.5 inches. This was no surprise to some, as Blozis spent most of his college career throwing a discus and shot put. The New York Giants later drafted him in 1941.
As World War II led on, Blozis convinced the US Army to waive their size limit and permit him to enter the service. He was assigned to the Walter Reed General Hospital as a physical instructor before his officer training at Fort Benning. Tragically, his first deployment would be his only deployment. While scouting enemy lines in France, two members of Blozis’ platoon went missing. Blozis attempted to search for his missing men but never returned. Honoring Blozis, the New York Giants retired his jersey number after his death.