Only 4 Purple Heart recipients who played in NFL

Only four Purple Heart recipients who played in the NFL

One of the oldest awards in the U.S. military, the Purple Heart has been awarded in the name of the sitting President to any person in the Armed Forces who was injured or killed in action since 1917. Millions of brave Americans have served in the military, but only an estimated 1.8 million have been awarded a Purple Heart. Of those 1.8 million, only four have played in an NFL regular-season game either before or after being injured. (In 2015, former Army Sergeant and Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez attempted to become the fifth member of this group, but was one of the last cuts in training camp by the Los Angeles Rams.)

In alphabetical order:

Rocky Bleier

  • Rocky Bleier in the military in NFL action.

    March 5, 1946 – still alive

  • 1968 16th-round pick (417th overall) from Notre Dame
  • Pittsburgh Steelers, RB
  • Before the end of his rookie season, Bleier was drafted by the military at the height of the Vietnam Conflict and sent into action. When his platoon was ambushed, Bleier suffered such serious injuries he could barely walk. Riddled with both grenade shrapnel and wounds from rifle fire, Bleier fought back to return to the NFL and play on four Super Bowl teams.
  • Served with the 4th/31st of the 196th LIB of the Americal Division
  • 1977 – scored the go-ahead touchdown in Super Bowl XIII
  • Purple Heart recipient
  • Bronze Star recipient

1st Lt. James Robert “Bob” Kalsu

  • Former Buffalo Bills lineman Bob Kalsu on the cover of Sports Illustrated before his death in Vietnam.

    April 13, 1945 – July 21, 1970

  • 1968 8th-round pick (199th overall) from University of Oklahoma
  • Buffalo Bills, G
  • 1968 Rookie of the Year
  • 1968 First-team All-Pro
  • 1969 Army enlistment
  • 101st Airborne Division
  • July 21, 1970 – Kalsu died defending Ripcord Base, a secluded jungle mountaintop. His wife, Jan, was informed about her husband’s death just a few hours after she had given birth to their son, James.
  • Purple Heart recipeient
  • Bronze Star recipient

Eddie “The Little General” LeBaron

  • Eddie LeBaron in the military and in football action.

    January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

  • 1950 10th-round pick (123rd overall) from Pacific
  • Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, QB
  • 1950 – before playing his first NFL game, LeBaron was called into active duty and sent to Korea where he was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
  • Standing just 5-foot-7, LeBaron and Philadelphia Eagles’ Davey O’Brien are tied for the two shortest quarterbacks in NFL history.
  • Four-time Pro Bowl QB
  • Earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1959
  • Died at age 85 in a retirement home
  • Two-time Purple Heart recipient
  • Bronze Star recipient

Maj. Don Steinbrunner

  • Former Cleveland Browns lineman Don Steinbrunner before his death during the Vietnam Conflict.

    April 5, 1932 – July 20, 1967

  • 1953 6th-round pick (72nd overall) from Washington State University
  • Cleveland Browns, OT
  • 1954 – After playing in eight games his rookie season, Steinbrunner began his two-year service obligation to the military for his ROTC enlistment in college. After its completion, he decided to stay in the Air Force.
  • July 20, 1967 – Steinbrunner died when his plane was shot down over Kontum, South Vietnam. There were no survivors.
  • Purple Heart recipient
  • Distinguished Flying Cross recipient
  • Air Medal recipient




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