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Sports Heroes Who Served: Four Football Notables Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

Sept. 28, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Football players have often been idolized and even been seen as heroes by generations of Americans.

Four football players served in the military and were killed in action. For paying the ultimate sacrifices, they can be listed as some of America's greatest heroes.

Football player poses.
Al Blozis
Al Blozis is featured on an advertisement flyer for a Nov. 15, 1942 game.
Photo By: Courtesy of Al Blozis
VIRIN: 441115-O-D0439-001

Al Blozis

Al Blozis won Amateur Athletic Union and National Collegiate Athletic Association indoor and outdoor shot titles three years in a row from 1940 to 1942 while attending Georgetown University. In 2015, he was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.

In 1942, Blozis pivoted from track and field to football. He was drafted into the National Football League and played offensive tackle for the New York Giants in 1942 and 1943. 

In December of 1943, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army but took leave in early 1944 to play three more games for the Giants.

In 1944, Blozis departed for France with the 28th Infantry Division. On Jan. 31, 1945, while scouting enemy lines in the Vosges Mountains of France, he was shot and killed by enemy fire.

Man in uniform poses for photo.
Jack Lummus
Jack Lummus poses in his Marine Corps uniform sometime in 1944 or 1945.
Photo By: Marine Corps photo
VIRIN: 441115-O-D0439-002

Jack Lummus

Jack Lummus was a baseball center fielder at Baylor University from 1937 to 1940. He was considered the best center fielder who ever played at Baylor.

In 1941, he played nine games as a New York Giants rookie end.

On Jan. 30, 1942, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. In October 1942, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. 

After serving at Camp Pendleton, California, he deployed to the Western Pacific, assigned to the V Amphibious Corps.

Lummus was in the first wave of troops to land on Iwo Jima, Feb. 19, 1945. On March 8, 1945, he led his rifle platoon in fierce fighting at the northern end of the island. 

The lieutenant single-handedly knocked out three enemy strongholds which had prevented his platoon from reaching their objective. He was killed during the assault after stepping on an enemy landmine. For his valor, Lummus was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Football player poses holding football.
Don Steinbrunner
Don Steinbrunner poses for a photo sometime in 1953.
Photo By: Courtesy of Don Steinbrunner
VIRIN: 531115-O-D0439-001

Don Steinbrunner

Don Steinbrunner was selected in the 1953 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns as an offensive tackle. He played in the 1953 NFL Championship Game at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, but the Browns lost 17–16 to the Detroit Lions.

The following year, he left the NFL to fulfill his military requirements by joining the Air Force. He liked serving and decided to make the Air Force a career. 

In 1966, Steinbrunner, then a major, was deployed to Vietnam as an aircraft navigator. On July 20, 1967, his C-123 Provider aircraft was shot down by enemy fire, killing him and four other crewmen.

Man in uniform poses for photo.
Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman poses in his Army uniform sometime in 2003.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 031115-O-D0439-002

Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman was a linebacker for Arizona State University in the mid-1990s. In 1998, he was drafted by the NFL and picked up by the Arizona Cardinals, playing the safety position.

In 2002, Tillman turned down a $3.6 million contract for three more years with the Cardinals to enlist in the Army.

He participated in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then graduated from Ranger School later that year.

In 2004, he deployed to Afghanistan, and on April 22 of that year, he was killed by friendly fire.

More Sports Heroes Who Served
sports graphic
Sports Heroes Graphic
Sports Heroes Who Served graphic - with title
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903