Would Len Eshmont approve?
The 49ers were one of eight All-America Football Conference teams, which played from 1946 to 1949. The Cleveland Browns won all four league championships. The 49ers and Browns joined the NFL in 1950, and the Browns won the NFL championship that year.
Returning World War II veterans made up most of the rosters. Eshmont was in the Navy, and he scored the team's first touchdown.
I could not get much information about him, but an article at the Levis Stadium site about that original team provided some information:
Receiver Alyn Beals, a graduate of San Francisco’s Poly High School, completed ROTC at Santa Clara University, became an Army Field Artillery Battery Commander, and saw action at the Battle of the Bulge and Remagen Bridge. After Germany surrendered, he was part of General George Patton’s security force at the Nuremberg trial of Nazi war criminals.
Running back Sam Cathcart was drafted into the Army in 1943. He served as a squad leader in the 75th Infantry Division and saw action at the Battle of the Bulge and at the Colmar Pocket in France, where he was wounded and earned a Silver Star. Cathcart joined the 49ers as a free agent. As a 25-year-old rookie in 1949, he totaled 1,038 all-purpose yards, sixth best in the All-America Football Conference. He added another 145 all-purpose yards for the 49ers during their two 1949 playoff games.
Joe Arenas was a fearless kick returner and running back for the 49ers. The way he saw it, sprinting through a pack of football players was much easier than his previous occupation as a U.S. Marine at Iwo Jima.
Quarterback and defensive back Jesse Freitas saw action as an Army Artillery Commander at the Battle of the Bulge. He earned a Bronze Star for ordering an artillery barrage against an enemy position. He then supervised the rescue of several comrades who were pinned down by machine gun fire.
Wide receiver and defensive end Hank Norberg graduated from nearby Palo Alto High School and Stanford University. Immediately after completing his studies at Stanford in 1943, Norberg enlisted in the Army despite being drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 1943 NFL draft. He was shipped to Hawaii, where the U.S. Armed Forces were rebuilding after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Norberg saw duty in the Pacific Theater, particularly in Saipan.
Fullback Leonard “Mickey” Masini was in the midst of a brilliant college football career at Fresno State in 1942 when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. He spent the next two years in battle zones from Africa to Europe earning 10 battle stars and two Presidential unit citations for heroic service. While en route to North Africa on a troop transport ship his unit was attacked by German planes.Battle of the Bulge. Iwo Jima. Saipan. North Africa. And then Nuremberg.
In all, thirty players served.
Not all of them in battle. Sure. Someone had to protect the Panama Canal and oilfields. There was clerical work.
But they served and in doing so, they exposed themselves to danger. They were willing to fight. Many of them did.
And I cannot speak for Len Eshmont. He may very well have been cool with a millionaire quarterback showboating like this.
But let us not call it courage. Speaking out and having someone criticize you -- no matter how unfairly -- isn't courageous.
I say that as someone who did that for a living and now does it as a hobby.
Let us not confuse those of us who use our rights with those who defend them.
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