Call of Duty: Pat Tillman and the Top 20 Superstar Military Veterans in Sports History
The 20 Top Superstar Military Veterans in Sports History!
Yep, in honor of Veterans Day, we'll take a look at the professional athletes who have served the United States in our armed forces.
These athletes put everything on hold—their jobs, careers and families—to risk their lives for the greater good of our country.
So it's only fitting that we honor these men with a little slideshow to show our appreciation for all they've done to allow us to live in the freest country in the world.
Here they are: the top 20 military veterans in the history of sports.
20. Ken Norton Sr.
It was during his time with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1963 to 1967 that boxer Ken Norton Sr. fell in love with the sport.
Norton won three all-Marine heavyweight titles before turning pro, where he finished his career with 33 knockouts in 50 career fights.
Perhaps the biggest win of his career was a victory over Muhammad Ali in 1973.
Norton is currently a member of four separate Hall of Fames.
19. Bobby Jones
Despite retiring at the age of 28, Bobby Jones is regarded as one of the greatest golfers who ever lived.
He is known for winning seven majors, including all four major tournaments in 1930.
But Jones also served as on officer in the U.S. Army Aired Forces from 1943 to 1945, when he used his Augusta National Golf Glub—yes, that's his golf course—to raise turkeys and cattle for the World War II effort.
18. Jack Dempsey
Boxer Jack Dempsey was bombarded with accusations that he was dodging the draft during World War I.
But he was able to definitively prove all his doubters wrong when he enlisted in New York State National Guard and later the Coast Guard Reserve.
Dempsey, who held the heavyweight boxing title from 1919 to 1926, reported for active duty in 1942 and was a part of the invasion of Okinawa.
He received an honorable discharge in 1952.
17. Warren Spahn
Warren Spahn has the sixth-most wins of any pitcher in baseball history.
The Hall of Famer also finished his career with one Cy Young award, one World Series title and 14 All-Star appearances on his resume.
But Spahn also served as an Army combat engineer in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Ludendorff Bridge, where he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
16. Tom Landry
Although Tom Landry actually is a former NFL Pro Bowler, we know him best for his long tenure as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
But even before all of that, Landry played college football at Texas, where he had his football career interrupted by his tour of duty in the Army Aired Forces during World War II.
Landed served as a co-pilot in a B-17 bomber, participating in 30 combat missions and even surviving a crash landing.
15. Joe Louis
Boxer Joe Louis enlisted in the Army just one day after participating in a charity fight for the Navy.
He played a key role in limiting racial tension and segregation in military units before being released from military service in 1945 when he was awarded the Legion of Merit medal.
Louis was a heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949 and is also known for being the first African American to compete in a PGA event in 1952.
14. Bob Feller
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, pitcher Bob Feller became the first professional baseball player to volunteer for service in World War II.
Feller served four years on the battleship USS Alabama as an anti-aircraft gun captain, where he earned eight battle stars.
He then returned to baseball and finished his career with three no-hitters, 266 career wins and one World Series championship.
Feller was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
13. Tom Seaver
Tom Seaver joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1962, serving in the unit for more than a year before starting his professional baseball career in 1967.
Seaver would go on to throw a no-hitter and become a 12-time All-Star, a World Series champ and a three-time Cy Young award winner.
12. Rocky Marciano
Boxer Rocky Marciano was drafted into the Army in 1943, and honed his incredible boxing skills while stationed in Wales and Fort Lewis, Wash.
In 1946, he won the amateur armed forces boxing tournament before turning pro a short while later.
Marciano never lost a fight during his entire professional career, finishing with a 49-0 record and an astounding 43 knockouts.
He held the heavyweight title for nearly four consecutive years before retiring in 1956.
11. Roger Staubach
Roger Staubach won a Heisman Trophy at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963 and eventually had an incredibly successful career with the Dallas Cowboys.
But before he could play in pros, Staubach had to fulfill his military duty by spending one year on a tour in Vietnam.
When he returned to football, he won two Super Bowls (including a Super Bowl MVP) and was a six-time Pro Bowler.
His jersey was retired at the Naval Academy.
10. David Robinson
At the US Naval Academy, basketball player David Robinson was a two-time All-American and the Wooden and Naismith Player of the Year during his senior season.
He was selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft despite having to serve two tours of duty with the Navy upon graduation.
Robinson, nicknamed "The Admiral," joined the Spurs after fulfilling his military obligations and finished his career as a two-time NBA Champion, a one-time MVP and two-time Olympic gold medal winner.
9. Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra finished his professional baseball career as a 10-time World Series Champion, a 15-time All-Star and a three-time American League MVP, making him one of the most decorated athletes in sports history.
But prior to making his Yankees debut, Yogi Berra was actually a gunner's mate in the US Navy for the legendary D-Day invasion on Normandy Beach.
8. John Wooden
John Wooden was a three-time All-American as a college basketball player before moving on to the NBA.
Wooden is best known for winning 10 national championships in 12 years as the head basketball coach at UCLA.
Here's an often overlooked fact about Wooden: during World War II Wooden joined the Navy in 1942, and he eventually became a lieutenant.
7. Nolan Ryan
In 1966, Nolan Ryan was drafted by the military in the same year that he made his professional baseball debut.
Ryan completed a six-month term with the Army Reserves by 1967 before joining the New York Mets full time in 1968.
Of course we know that Ryan went on to have a 27-year career that ranks among the most prolific in MLB history.
Before he hung up his cleats, Ryan tossed an MLB record seven no-hitters.
6. Pat Tillman
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Eight months after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Pat Tillman did the unthinkable.
The Arizona Cardinals safety chose to forgo his professional football career and $3.6 million contract to fight in the war on terror.
Tillman enlisted and became an Army Ranger, serving a tour in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan.
In April 2004, he was killed by friendly fire and awarded a Purple Heart, Silver Star and a posthumous promotion.
5. Willie Mays
William Mays won the Rookie of the Year award in 1951, but just one year later he was drafted into active duty by the U.S. Army and subsequently served in the Korean War.
He missed more than 250 games before returning to the San Francisco Giants in 1954, where he picked up right where he left off with 41 home runs and a .345 batting average.
Mays finished his career with 12 Gold Gloves, two MVPs and a staggering 20 All-Star game appearances.
He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.
4. Jackie Robinson
Before Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball in 1947, he served in a segregated Army unit after being drafted in 1942.
Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant but was court-martialed in 1944 after refusing to move to the back of an Army bus.
He was found innocent of any wrongdoing and was later honorably discharged.
Robinson then went on to break into the majors with the Dodgers, where he had a stellar career that included an MVP and a World Series championship.
In 1997, his No. 42 was retired by every MLB team.
3. Joe DiMaggio
In his incredible baseball career, Joe DiMaggio won nine World Series titles and three American League MVP awards as a member of the New York Yankees.
But DiMaggio put his illustrious career on hold for three seasons when he joined the Army Air Forces on Feb. 17, 1943.
He never participated in active duty, but he served as a physical education instructor at several stations before leaving the service in 1945.
2. Ty Cobb
During his incredible professional baseball career, Ty Cobb set a mind-boggling 90 MLB records, including winning 12 batting titles.
He was elected into the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame, but he may have actually accomplished even more in the pros had his career not been interrupted in 1918 by World War I.
Cobb enlisted in the Army's Chemical Corps, serving around 70 days before being honorably discharged following accidental exposure to mustard gas.
1. Ted Williams
Often considered one of the greatest hitters to ever live, Ted Williams missed five years of his career while serving as Marine pilot.
He enlisted in 1942, just after completing his first Triple Crown season and cementing his name in baseball history.
Williams was a flight instructor during World War II and returned to active duty at age 34 in 1952, when he flew 39 combat missions in the Korean War.
We can only wonder what type of insane stats Williams would have put up had he not missed a big chunk of his career.