In honor of Memorial Day, NFL.com looks back at 11 of the best NFL players to come from the service academy (Army, Navy and Air Force) football programs.
1) Roger Staubach, QB, Navy
Pro team:Dallas Cowboys (1969-1979).
At the college level, Staubach starred at Navy, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1963. The Cowboys took him in the 1964 draft, but as a result of his Navy service obligations and a tour of duty in Vietnam, he didn’t begin his NFL career until 1969. He was 85-29 in the league as a starter, and his NFL resume includes two Super Bowl titles, a Super Bowl MVP, six Pro Bowls and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2) Ed Sprinkle, DE, Navy
Pro team:Chicago Bears (1944-1955).
A four-time Pro Bowler known as the “meanest man in football,” Sprinkle terrorized quarterbacks for 12 seasons with the Bears. According to a New York Times obituary, in the 1946 NFL Championship Game, he sidelined three New York Giants — a quarterback and two running backs — with two broken noses and a shoulder separation. Bears owner and coach George Halas honored Sprinkle with the jersey No. 7, which Halas had worn as a player.
3) Bob Hoernschemeyer, RB, Navy
Pro teams: Chicago Rockets (1946-47), Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-48), Chicago Hornets (1949), Detroit Lions (1950-55).
Long before the forward pass became such a big part of the game, Hoernschemeyer (pronounced Hunch-meyer) made it a big part of one game in particular. He began his college career at Indiana threw six touchdown passes in a 1943 win over Nebraska. Not bad for a guy who later became one of the NFL’s top rushers. In between, he enlisted in the Navy and played for the academy in 1945. After a stint in the All-America Football Conference, he went to two Pro Bowls and won a pair of NFL championships with the Detroit Lions. He also was good enough at baseball to draw a contract offer from the New York Yankees.
4) DeWitt “Tex” Coulter, C/OT, Army
Pro teams:New York Giants (1946-49, 1951-52), Montreal Alouettes (1953-56).
Coulter was an All-American performer on a national championship Army team in 1945. He then went on to a strong career playing in both the NFL and the Canadian Football League. Remarkably, he made two Pro Bowls for the Giants in 1951 and ’52 after he’d spent 1950 in retirement, during which time he worked for a newspaper as a reporter and cartoonist. After retiring for good, he went from cartoons to paintings — sports paintings, in particular. His art had an “almost photographic realism” and was in high demand, per a 1960 issue of Sports Illustrated.
5) Mike Wahle, OG, Navy
Pro teams:Green Bay Packers (1998-2004), Carolina Panthers (2005-07) and Seattle Seahawks (2008).
Wahle was a three-sport athlete in high school and arrived at the Naval Academy as a wide receiver. Several years later, he had grown into a standout offensive lineman, but he was asked to resign his commission before his senior season at Navy. The Green Bay Packers selected him in the supplemental draft with a second-round selection, and he went on to a 10-year NFL career. He started 138 games and earned a Pro Bowl nod with the Carolina Panthers in 2005.
6) Chad Hennings, DT, Air Force
Pro team:Dallas Cowboys (1992-2000).
Hennings won the Outland Trophy (top interior lineman) at Air Force in 1987 and was an 11th-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys — his draft stock reportedly slipped due to his pending military service. He served his country for four years as an Air Force pilot, and had four more years waived, which allowed him to embark upon a pro football career. He was already 27 when he began playing for the Cowboys, but managed to win three Super Bowls and notched 27.5 sacks before retiring after the 2000 season. In his post-NFL life, Hennings became a Christian motivational speaker.
7) Bob Mischak, OG, Army
Pro teams:New York Giants (1958), New York Titans (1960-62) and Oakland Raiders (1963-65).
After earning All-America honors at Army, Mischak was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1954. But due to his three years of Army service, they had to wait until 1957 to get him on the field. Injured his first year, Mischak was traded to the New York Giants and played in the NFL championship game against the Baltimore Colts in 1958. He became one of the AFL’s best guards with the New York Titans and Oakland Raiders. He later was a tight ends coach for three Super Bowl-winning teams with the Raiders.
8) Alejandro Villanueva, OL, Army
Pro team:Pittsburgh Steelers (2014-present).
A 2010 West Point graduate, Villanueva had the remarkable distinction of making a position switch from offensive line to wide receiver at the college level. He started at left tackle for the Black Knights as a junior, but led the team in every receiving category (34-522-5) a year later at 6-foot-10, 283 pounds. The Bengals decided not to sign him after trying him out at tight end in 2010, and he then embarked upon a decorated service career that included three tours of duty in Afghanistan and a pair of Bronze Star Medals. As a pro football player, he’s developed from a practice squad player to two-time Pro Bowler over the course of five seasons, and has started 58 consecutive games for the Steelers over the last three seasons. Last year, the Steelers put his receiving skills back on display as he caught a TD pass on a fake field goal against the Denver Broncos.
9) Glenn Davis, RB, Army
Pro team:Los Angeles Rams (1950-51).
The 1946 Heisman Trophy winner was known as “Mr. Outside” at Army, the complement to Doc “Mr. Inside” Blanchard. He was a first-round selection of the Detroit Lions, but three years of Army service delayed his pro football debut until 1950. He also suffered a knee injury during the filming of a movie (“Spirit of West Point”) in the summer of 1947, which hindered him once he entered the NFL. It didn’t stop him from emerging as an instant success, though, as he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams and earned a Pro Bowl nod in his first season. However, he injured his knee again in 1951 and the Rams released him in 1953.
10) Chris “Red” Cagle, RB/DB, Army
Pro teams:New York Giants (1930-32), Brooklyn Dodgers (1933-34).
Cagle was a three-time All-American at West Point in the late 1920s. In 1929, he was Army’s team captain, starting quarterback, top rusher and he served as both punter and kicker. He was dismissed from Army before graduating because it was learned he was secretly married, which was not permitted for cadets. After a brief coaching stint at Mississippi State, he signed with the Giants and played three seasons for Big Blue. He finished his career with the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers, for whom he became part owner in 1933. He later helped found the New York Touchdown Club. He died at the age of 37 after a fall down a flight of New York City subway stairs.
11) Phil McConkey, WR, Navy
Pro teams:New York Giants (1984-85, 1986-88), Green Bay Packers (1986), Phoenix Cardinals (1989), San Diego Chargers (1989).
A receiver and return specialist for the Midshipmen from 1975-78, McConkey served in the Navy for five years after graduation. Bill Parcells signed him to the New York Giants as a 27-year-old rookie after a tip from Steve Belichick, a longtime Navy assistant coach who also happened to be the father of one of Parcells’ assistants at the time. McConkey had a six-year NFL career highlighted by the Giants’ victory in Super Bowl XXI. He caught a TD pass and broke a 25-yard punt return in the Giants’ 39-20 win over the Denver Broncos. McConkey caught 67 passes over his NFL career, but was more effective as a return man, logging more than 3,000 total yards (1,832 on punts, 1,324 on kickoffs).
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