Articles

6 military veterans who played in the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is where the stakes are highest in the world of professional football.


But for some who have played in that big game, they have staked far more than whether or not they help hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy — they've served in the military, signing "a blank check to the United States of America for an amount of up to and including my life," to paraphrase a popular quote.

Here are some of the more famous names (and not-so-famous) names who served in the military and played in the Super Bowl:

1. Hall of Fame OLB Kevin Greene

Former NFL linebacker Kevin Greene is greeted by Senior Master Sgt. Damian Orslene, 506th Air Expeditionary Group Personnel In Support of Contingency Operations superintendent, in the dining facility Feb. 2. Mr. Greene is traveling to military bases in Iraq to show support and increase the morale for U.S. service members. Throughout his career, he played for the Las Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers. (USAF Photo)

While Greene is not well known, he is one of the NFL's all-time great pass rushers, and played in Super Bowl XXX with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also served in the Alabama Army National Guard, according to a 1986 article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, getting paratrooper wings and also at times commanding a tank platoon.

In the 2017 season, he will coach linebackers for the New York Jets.

According to NFL.com, Greene totaled 160 sacks and five interceptions over 15 seasons.

2. New England Patriots LS Joe Cardona

New England Patriots long snapper and Navy officer Joe Cardona. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Cardona will be playing in Super Bowl LI with the New England Patriots, serving as a long snapper. He did the same with the U.S. Naval Academy's football team – starting as a freshman and for all four years.

A 2015 DoD feature on military-NFL ties reports he serves on active duty, and has assignments with the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport and with the destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000).

3. Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach

Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, who threw for 153 TDs in a career that came after service in the United States Navy that included a tour in Vietnam. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to Pat Tillman, Roger Staubach was probably the most famous person who had his feet in both the military and National Football League. He played 11 years in the NFL, all with the Dallas Cowboys, throwing 153 TD passes according to NFL.com. He played in four Super Bowls, winning Super Bowls VI and XII.

He served four years in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam.

4. Retired WR Phil McConkey

(YouTube screenshot)

Perhaps best known for his Super Bowl XXI heroics as a member of the New York Giants, including a 6-yard TD catch, McConkey wasn't drafted by an NFL team when he graduated from the Naval Academy.

His naval service included time as a helicopter pilot, but he decided to go for his dream of playing pro football. A 2013 Buffalo News article revealed that it was a family connection to New England Patriots coach Bill Belicheck (whose father was an assistant coach at the Naval Academy) that launched McConkey's NFL career.

A 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash didn't hurt, either. Over his six-season professional football career, NFL.com notes that McConkey had 67 receptions for 1,113 yards and two TDs for the Giants, Chargers, Cardinals, and one other team.

5. Retired DT Chad Hennings

Chad Hennings, a 1988 graduate of the Air Force Academy, was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on May 16, 2006. He was considered one of college football's great defensive linemen of his era, a unanimous first-team All-America selection in 1987 who received the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman. As a pro, he embarked on a nine-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys that brought him three Super Bowl titles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Though Hennings won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, he also was very well known as an Air Force pilot flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support plane, according to GoAirForceFalcons.com. According to NFL.com, Hennings had 27.5 sacks over his nine-season NFL career.

6. Retired RB Rocky Bleier

Vietnam Veteran and former Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier poses with Capt. Doug Larsen who tries on Bleier's four Super Bowl rings at the North Dakota National Guard's 2009 Safety Conference in Bismarck Jan 24. (US Army photo)

Rocky Bleier was overshadowed in the Steelers' backfield that won four Super Bowls by NFL Hall of Fame legends Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.

One reason may have been the fact that in December, 1968, he was drafted by the Army and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. According to a 1969 AP report printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bleier was wounded on Aug. 20 of that year — shot in the thigh and hit by grenade fragments, losing part of his right foot.

According to NFL.com, Bleier only played six games in 1971 after missing all of 1970. He would rush for 3,865 yards and 23 TDs, while catching 136 passes for 1,294 yards and two more TDs.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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