By Elliot Smith

When the USO joined forces with the NFL in 1966 for a series of goodwill tours to visit U.S. military members stationed in Vietnam, these four Pro Football Hall of Famers led the way. They were the first in a series of players, coaches and officials who have continued to visit service men and women to this day.

NFL Legends

From left to right, Willie Brown, Sam Huff, Frank Gifford and Johnny Unitas. NFL photos

Willie Davis

The defensive end spent the majority of his 11-year NFL career with the Green Bay Packers after being picked in the 15th round of the 1956 draft, and started 162 consecutive games in his storied career, anchoring a ferocious defensive front. He won five NFL titles with the Packers, including victories in Super Bowls I and II. During his era, sacks were not kept as an official statistic, but research indicated he would have tallied at least 100—and likely more—during his career. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and remains on the Packers’ Board of Directors.

Frank Gifford

A versatile player who starred as a defensive back, wide receiver and running back for the New York Giants, the popular and charismatic Gifford was elected to the Pro Bowl eight times and won an NFL Championship in 1956. That same year he was also named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Gifford went on to have equal success off the football field, becoming an icon to a new generation of fans for his work as a broadcaster for nearly three decades on ABC’s Monday Night Football. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977. Gifford died in 2015 at the age of 84.

Sam Huff

A savvy and skilled middle linebacker, Huff starred for both the Giants and Washington Redskins during a highly decorated 14-year career in which he was named to the Pro Bowl five times and earned four first-team All-Pro selections. Huff became the first NFL player featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1959 and was also the subject of a CBS special hosted by Walter Cronkite. Huff segued into the broadcast booth after his playing days ended. He served as the color commentator for Redskins games until his retirement in 2012. Huff was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Johnny Unitas

Perhaps the first celebrity quarterback in the NFL, “Johnny U” was worthy of all the accolades, spending all but one year of his career with the Baltimore Colts. There he became an unlikely superstar, winning four MVP awards and leading the Colts to victory in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, which became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” It was the first of his four NFL titles, including a win in Super Bowl V. Unitas was named to the NFL’s 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time teams and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979. He died in 2002 at the age of 69.

—Elliott Smith is a Virginia-based freelance writer.

You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.