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Actor John Garfield smokes and studies the script for the movie, 'They Made Me a Criminal.'
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Actor John Garfield studies the script for the movie They Made Me a Criminal.Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Actor John Garfield smokes and studies the script for the movie, 'They Made Me a Criminal.'
A U.S. Marine peers over his shoulder during the final days of fighting to wrest the island of Saipan from Japanese troops, 1944.
Decorated veteran James Stewart, home from the war, 1945.
Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey "C.H." Long, Jr., 1949.
James Cagney in the iconic, climactic scene scene from 'White Heat.'
Jackie Robinson during filming of his own biopic in 1950.
Rocky Marciano, still the only heavyweight champ to retire undefeated, 1951.
Ernest Hemingway, Cuba, 1952.
Spencer Tracy, 1955.
Mickey Mantle, 1956.
Project Mercury astronauts at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia: (top, left to right) Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper; (bottom left to right) Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, 1959.
Burt Lancaster at Dodger Stadium during Game 3 of the 1959 World Series in Los Angeles.
Frank Sinatra, 1961.
Steve McQueen rests in the midst of a long-distance motorcycle race, 1963.
Muhammad Ali after defeating Cleveland Williams in Houston, Texas, to retain the heavyweight crown, November 1966.
John Wayne in 1969.
Former pro football player-turned-actor Jim Brown in 1969.
Johnny Cash in 1969.
Jack Nicholson relaxing at home in Los Angeles, 1969.
Clint Eastwood on the set of 'Dirty Harry,' 1971.
Actor John Garfield studies the script for the movie They Made Me a Criminal.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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Manly Men: Classic American Tough Guys, Seen Through LIFE's Lens

Jan 28, 2014

Once again, football season is upon us, and once again, the occasion brings with it all the marketing mayhem, fan frenzy and trash-talking that sports are so often heir to. Pro football is unique among American sports due to its sheer, outsized spectacle. It's louder than baseball, brasher than basketball, and more routinely violent than the phenomenally physical sport of NHL hockey and the high-speed lunacy of NASCAR. In fact, of all the major sports in North America, football is arguably the one that brings out whatever vestiges of machismo might be lurking in even the most seemingly mild of fans.

Football, after all, is for manly men. But there are many types of toughness. Mental toughness (Jackie Robinson); quiet toughness (Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper); gritty toughness (a weary, determined American Marine); crazy, spasmodic toughness (Cagney's sociopath, Cody Jarrett, in White Heat); run-right-over-you toughness (Jim Brown); and on and on.

Here, LIFE.com offers a look back at some of the iconic faces and personalities that, in their own time and in their own chosen pursuit, were tough enough to answer that age-old question: Who's the man?

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