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5/27/2008 02:51:00 PM

Top Five Athlete-Veterans

David Robinson
David Robinson appeared on the Nov. 9, 1986 cover of 'Sports Illustrated.'
Bill Ballenberg/SI
By Lang Whitaker, SI.com

Most of America took Monday off to remember all the members of the military who have served their country. And while many servicemen have gone on to careers in industries far and wide, there have also been many professional athletes who enlisted, many in the prime of their careers (most recently and notably, Pat Tillman). Here's my list of the top five athletes who were veterans both on and off the fields of play.

1. Ted Williams: Regarded by many as the greatest hitter of all-time, the Splendid Splinter played 19 seasons in the big leagues but had his baseball career interrupted twice when he served as a pilot for the Marine Corps in WWII and the Korean War.

2. David Robinson: After a stellar college career at the Naval Academy, Robinson was drafted first overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1987 Draft, but put off his NBA career for two seasons to serve out his time in the Navy. Robinson retired in 2003 with an MVP award and two NBA titles.

3. Roger Staubach: Played three seasons at the Naval Academy and won a Heisman Trophy, then served a five-year hitch in the Navy, including one year in Vietnam. Reported to duty in 1969 with the Dallas Cowboys at the age of 27. Then won two Superbowls and was named to six Pro Bowls.

4. Gene Tunney: Known as "The Fighting Marine," Tunney was the heavyweight champion of the world from 1926-28, retiring undefeated. He book-ended his boxing career with stints in the armed forces, serving in the Marines during WWI and the Navy during WWII.

5. Bob Feller: As a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, in the '30s and '40s, Feller was arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball. One year after throwing a no-hitter, following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Feller enlisted in the Navy. He served four years aboard the USS Alabama, then returned to the Indians and pitched for another decade.

Who are the greatest athletes to serve in the armed forces? Let us know below...

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com
posted by SI.com | View comments |


Posted: May 27, 2008 7:08 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Rocky Bleier
Posted: May 27, 2008 8:36 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
kevin greene was inthe army reserves.
Hockey legend One Eyed Frank McGee... inaugural Hockey Hall of Famer, holds record for most goals in a Stanley Cup game (14) in 1905, averaged 3 goals a game for his career. Was killed in action in 1916 near Courcelette, France.
Posted: May 27, 2008 10:13 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
jackie robinson, rocky blier, jerry coleman
What Hank Greenberg accomplished in major league baseball after serving in WWII is absolutely astonishing.
Posted: May 27, 2008 11:07 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Wow, talk about an incomplete list!!! You need to do a LOT more research. Here are athletes I can name off the top of my head.


Joe Dimaggio - WWII
Warren Spahn - Battlefield commission at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII
Grover Cleveland Alexander - Served in the trenches in WWI
Jackie Robinson - Lieutenant in WWII
Christy Mathewson - Wounded in WWI (when mustard gas he was using exploded)
Ty Cobb - WWI
Willie Mays - Served during Korean War
Whitey Ford - Served in Korea

Chuck Bednarick - Aerial gunner in WWII
Rocky Bleir - Vietnam vet
There was a guy who played for the Buffalo Bills who died in Vietnam whom I can't remember his name.
Posted: May 28, 2008 1:01 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How about Pat Tillman?
Posted: May 28, 2008 3:24 AM   by Anonymous SFSDCris
I would consider Joe Louis deserves mention.
Posted: May 28, 2008 7:54 AM   by Anonymous Chris (USAF)
As a veteran, I feel you should leave out the words "most notably" when referring to Tillman. Every military member that has given his or her life should be given the same respect as the other. None, alive or dead, are more important than the next,. Each and every one should be held to the same high regard. Ok, enough of my soapbox...
Posted: May 28, 2008 9:53 AM   by Anonymous Jeff
How does David Robinson land at No. 2, above Roger Staubach? I understand Ted Williams; his career was interrupted twice, but Staubach had to wait five years out of college before even getting his shot with the Cowboys.
I wrote a blog on this:

Posted: May 28, 2008 11:25 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Chad Hennings...Air Force Academy, Outland Trophey winner, 3 Super Bowl Rings with the Cowboys, flew 45 missions over Northern Iraq.
Posted: May 28, 2008 11:36 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How can Chad Hennings not be on this list?
Posted: May 28, 2008 11:39 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The number of football, baseball, and hockey players that enlisted in WWII was staggering. So much so that only the superstars got the headlines. Unfortunately, it's such a rarity today.
Posted: May 28, 2008 11:49 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Jerry Coleman (the Colonel)--the voice of the Padres!
Posted: May 28, 2008 11:50 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Rocky Bleier should be in the top 5. Left to fight in Vietnam, was wounded and had to rebuild his entire musculature to be able to play again.

Other than Rocky I like your list, but think Roger should be in front of David.
Posted: May 28, 2008 12:21 PM   by Anonymous bill chrostowski
Warren Spahn-achieved as much or more than the five you picked in sports-received purple heart in WW II-gave up 4 years in his prime to country-pitched 14 innings of shutout ball at age 42- R. Clemens couldn't carry 'Spahnie's' jockstrap as a pitcher or a human being-YOU CAN LOOK IT UP!
Posted: May 28, 2008 12:25 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Posted: May 28, 2008 1:26 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
You forgot Barney Ross.
Bullet Bill Dudley. Was drafted #1 overall by Pittsburgh Steelers in 1942. As World War II was raging in Europe, the armed forces were drafting all able-bodied young men. In 1942 Dudley was called up by the Army Air Corps, but because of a delay in training he was able to finish his season with the Steelers. Dudley ended up leading the league in rushing and won Rookie of the Year. Once he joined the Army in 1944, he played for a team fielded by Randolph Field, an Army Air Corps training facility, leading them to a 12-0 intercollegiate record and a #3 ranking by the Associated Press poll, while winning the Most Valuable Player award.

Upon the close of the war in 1945, Dudley returned to the Steelers. As a testament to his ability, he managed to lead the team in scoring for the season despite only playing in four games. In the 1946 NFL season, Dudley set a record that is unlikely to ever be broken: because of his versatility as one of the "60-minute men" who played both offense and defense, Dudley led the league in four diverse statistical categories, rushing (604 yards), interceptions (10), punt returns (27 for 385 yards), and lateral passing (which is no longer recorded). As a result, Dudley was the NFL MVP that year. Dudley became the first person to win MVP awards in college, service, and professional levels.
Posted: May 28, 2008 7:00 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
pat tillman definatly. he left for a war not many agree with in an era when almost no athletes leave for duty. he was starting a great carrer and gave everything for his country. how he is not on the list is astonishing.
Posted: May 28, 2008 8:25 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Arthur Donavan- Baltimore Colts
As a vet, I love to think of the quintessentially American flavor of a man like Ted Williams.

I wrote something about the newest service academy to pro sports story here. Seems like the media missed the John McCain connection to the Caleb Campbell story...

Posted: May 29, 2008 10:59 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
An american icon who has more championships then any other player - Lawrence Peter(Yogi)Berra - WWII Navy
Posted: May 29, 2008 1:37 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Ernie Stautner, Chuck Bednarik, Rocky Beier, Roger Staubach, Pat Tillman, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, and many more. All of the above served their country in a humble and gracious manner in addition to being great athletes in their respective fields. We owe them a great debt that many of us take for granted on a daily basis. God bless them all.

Posted: May 30, 2008 2:39 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Rocky Bleier
Posted: May 31, 2008 2:06 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Don Hollender - Army
Posted: June 1, 2008 12:04 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Simeon Rice!
Oh, wait a minute, he said you were an idiot for serving, my mistake...
Posted: June 1, 2008 4:07 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Nile Kinnick
Napolean Kaufmann
Napolean Maccullum
Posted: June 3, 2008 12:21 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Nolan Ryan never served in action, but he was in the Army Reserves
Posted: June 3, 2008 1:53 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Gino Marchetti fought at the Battle of the Bulge...Yogi Berra was at Normandy...
Posted: June 3, 2008 1:54 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Gino Marchetti fought at the Battle of the Bulge...Yogi Berra was at Normandy...
Posted: June 16, 2008 11:27 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
James Robert Kalsu
First Lieutenant
Army of the United States
13 April 1945 - 21 July 1970

On July 21, 1970, the Bills' lineman became the only professional football player to be killed in Vietnam. Details of his death came from the lips of a teary-eyed former soldier who saw Lieutenant Kalsu fall while helping defend something called Ripcord Base on an isolated jungle mountaintop near the Ashau Valley.
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