Nov 22, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; A detailed view of the American flag during the national anthem prior to the Thanksgiving day game between the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Memorial Day 2014: Remembering NFL players who served in the military

While Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer for most of us, it’s not just a day for mattress sales and barbecues. It’s a day to honor and remember the brave men and women who died serving in the United States Armed Forces.

In honor of Memorial Day, let’s take a look at some of the veterans who have played in the NFL.

Roger Staubach

Roger Staubach started his football career at the Naval Academy, winning the Heisman Trophy for the Midshipmen in 1963. His professional career had to wait until he served his mandatory four years of service, which included a tour in Vietnam.

The Hall of Famer went on to win two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and was the MVP of Super Bowl VI.

Rocky Bleier

Rocky Bleier was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 but was drafted and called off to Vietnam after his rookie season. He suffered injuries to his legs from rifle fire and grenade shrapnel that left his future in the NFL in serious question.

He worked his way back onto the team after surgeries and being waived several times but eventually made the Steelers lineup in 1974. He played in the Steelers four Super Bowl victories in the 70s.

Kevin Greene

Kevin Greene was a longtime linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams, who also had stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers. Until recently, he was a linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers.

Greene served 16 years as a captain in the Army Reserves, serving as Captain after his commission by ROTC at Auburn University.

Ralph Wilson

The late Ralph Wilson Jr. enlisted in the Navy and served during World War II. Following his return, he founded the Buffalo Bills. He was a key figure in the AFL-NFL merger and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman left his career in the NFL playing for the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the United States Army in 2002. Tillman joined the Army Rangers after he was motivated to serve following the September 11th attacks. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. He was the first NFL player to be killed in combat since the Vietnam War.

Alejandro Villanueva

After playing college football for the Army Black Knights, Villanueva served three tours of duty in Afghanistan as a captain in the United States Army Rangers. This spring he was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end.

ESPN always shows a tribute montage of clips of soldiers, sailors and airmen coming home. They never fail to get me choked up. My family was one of those families when I was growing up. My father served in the United States Navy for 23 years. There were periods of time when he could only come home a few times a year.

Memorial Day is to honor those who did not come home. To honor the families who never got to have those tearful yet joyful homecoming celebrations.

Often military terms are used to describe things that happen on the football field but these are just a few of the men who know the real difference between the battles that are played on grass or turf and the battles that take place all across the world.

Serving your country takes a lot more courage and bravery than putting on a jersey and helmet and running down a field, so let us all thank those who have served and who are serving as well as honor those who sacrificed their lives for our country.

Tags: Alejandro Villaneuva Kevin Greene NFL Pat Tillman Ralph Wilson Roger Staubach

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