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Sports Heroes Who Served: Roger Staubach, Christy Mathewson, John Woodruff

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Almost every sporting event in the United States has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help fill the void, this series looks at sports heroes who also served in the military.

Roger Staubach

Football legend Roger Staubach was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, who won Super Bowl VI in 1972 and XII in 1978.

But his football career dates back to 1961, when he entered the U.S. Naval Academy and played quarterback for the Midshipmen.

A quarterback prepares to throw the ball as the defensive line approaches.
Roger Staubach
Midshipman Roger Staubach attempts a forward pass against Maryland defenders at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md., Nov. 7, 1964. The U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen lost that game, 22-27.
Photo By: U.S. Naval Academy
VIRIN: 641107-O-ZZ999-001M

In the 1962 Army-Navy game, Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 34-14 win. Among the fans attending was President John F. Kennedy, a World War II Navy veteran. The next year, Staubach won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's top collegiate football player after leading his team to a 9-1 record for the season.

After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1965, Staubach spent a year in Vietnam as a naval supply officer in Chu Lai. After Vietnam, he was stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where he continued quarterbacking, this time for the NAS Pensacola Goshawks.

I am proud I served and was fortunate to be associated with a lot of great people during my time in the military."
Roger Staubach, former Dallas Cowboys' quarterback

In 1969, Staubach left the Navy to join the Dallas Cowboys, coached by Tom Landry.

"I think one of the things that Coach Landry said was that he felt that my leadership made a difference," Staubach said of his military experience during a recent interview. "It was unusual for a rookie quarterback to start, but he felt that my maturity would be a big help. I learned a lot about those qualities in the military."

"I admire those who serve on the front lines," he continued. "I am proud I served and was fortunate to be associated with a lot of great people during my time in the military."

Christy Mathewson

Future Baseball Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson was the winning pitcher in three of the New York Giants' four victories in the 1905 World Series. Because of his religious beliefs, Mathewson — who was often called "The Christian Gentleman" — never pitched on Sundays.

Even so, Mathewson won 373 games and lost 188 in his career, setting a National League record.

A baseball pitcher wearing a New York Giants sweater warms up in front of a dugout.
New York Giants
Christy Mathewson, pitcher for the New York Giants, pictured Jan. 1, 1910.
Photo By: Library of Congress
VIRIN: 100101-O-ZZ999-001M

In 1916, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds where he initially had a dual role as pitcher and manager, though he pitched only once for the Reds.

During World War I, he served in the Army's Chemical Warfare Service as a captain. He was deployed to France, as was baseball legend Ty Cobb. After being discharged from the Army in February 1919, he returned to the Giants as a coach.

John Woodruff

Track and field athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, and was the most successful athlete at the Games that year.

However, he wasn't the only African-American to win Olympic gold. John Woodruff, who is less well-known, won the 800-meter race.

Running athlete just seconds before breaking the tape at the finish line. A packed grandstand is in the background.
John Woodruff
John Woodruff wins a gold medal in the 800-meter race at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 4, 1936.
Photo By: IOC Olympic Museum/Allsport
VIRIN: 360804-O-ZZ999-001M

What's unusual about that race is that he started out in last place and ultimately passed everyone else, finishing first.

Woodruff, the grandson of Virginia slaves, served as an Army officer from 1941 to 1945 during World War II, rising to the rank of captain.

He returned to the Army during the Korean War and remained in the Army until 1957, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He later coached youth sports and helped at-risk children. He kept in touch with Owens over the years and also counted some of the Tuskegee Airmen as friends. He died in 2007 at the age of 92.​

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VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903

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