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The Top Ten: Football Players Turned Actors

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The Super Bowl has come and gone, but I'm still not ready to let the season go. It all happened way too fast, and dagnabbit, I don't want to get all warm and fuzzy for Valentine's Day just yet. Therefore, I’ve decided to cook up a little list paying homage to the ten greatest football players turned actors in a vain attempt to keep the season alive — if only in my head.

In order to have made the list, each candidate had to have played professional football on some level — be it the NFL, CFL, NFL Europe, etc. Arena Football doesn’t count, because it’s not real football, I don’t care what you say. Oh, and you can’t have killed someone… or two. Sorry OJ, them's the rules. I didn't weigh strength of football career against strength of acting career, because that would have made my brain explode.

While doing research for this list, I was amazed at just how many former pro-football players have tried their hand at acting — and even more surprised at just how good a lot of them are. When I set out to do this list, I had no idea it would turn out to be as difficult as it was. Just to show you how tough it was, here’s a short list of the guys that didn’t make the cut, and the reasons why:

  • Mike Ditka – One movie under his belt. While very funny, not enough to warrant a spot on the list.
  • Terry Bradshaw – See Mike Ditka.
  • Michael Irvin – See Mike Ditka.
  • Bill Romanowski – See Mike Ditka.
  • Brett Favre – See Mike Ditka.
  • Alex Karras – Moderate success on television, but no big screen success.
  • Bill Goldberg – Could have placed on the list near the bottom, but I chose to go with guys I believe have contributed more to film via memorable movies and performances. This is completely subjective.
  • Bob Sapp – See Bill Goldberg.
  • Fred Dryer – A significant acting career, could have easily made the list, but again, most of his work was done on the small screen, therefore, I chose to bump him. Yet another completely subjective selection.
  • Howie Long – Had an impressive supporting role in the John Travolta action blockbuster Broken Arrow, and even starred in his own Guy Movie with Firestorm, but he hasn't done anything since, choosing to pursue a career as an analyst. Hey, I can't fault him for that, but I can't reward him either.
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Never played in the NFL, but did manage two months on a CFL team before being cut. While my criteria was that each man listed have some kind of pro-football career, I didn’t want to take the easy way out and list Rock in the top spot…because if he were going to be on this list, that’s exactly where he’d be, based on the strength of his film career.

As you read you'll notice many of these guys are ex-Raiders, and that several of them appeared in Adam Sandler's The Longest Yard remake. Not a big deal or anything — although it's some nifty info for any of you who'd like to play a couple drinking games while reading the list! I'll even play along — now let's get started…

The 11th Man: Lyle Alzado
Pro-Football Career: Fifteen seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Raiders (DRINK!)

Lyle AlzadoI might catch flack for leaving the late Mr. Alzado off the list, but note that it’s not a slight — it’s just a really tough crop to choose from! Looking over his career as both a football player and an actor, I can’t help but think of the great things he could have done on the big and small screens had he not died so young. I used to watch his sitcom Learning the Ropes as a lad, was thrilled by his evil shenanigans in Destroyer via USA Up All Night, and hated his guts as I rooted for Ernest P. Worrell to kick his butt in Ernest Goes to Camp.

Most will remember him, however, not as an actor or a football player, but as an avid spokesman against the use of steroids. The brain cancer he suffered, and ultimately died from was a result of using steroids throughout his football career, and he wanted desperately for everyone to know — especially children — that the consequences just weren’t worth it. Every time I see a clip of him in his rail-thin, bandana-wearing last days, it brings me to tears, because he really seemed like a good man with a kind soul. God bless you, Lyle.

10. Bubba Smith
Pro-Football Career: Nine seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders (DRINK!), Houston Oilers

Bubba SmithWhat can you say about Bubba that would come anywhere near close to doing him justice? Best known to moviegoers everywhere as Moses Hightower, the soft-spoken, blue-clad giant from the Police Academy series, many might recognize Steve Guttenberg as the star of the franchise, but I don’t think anyone could argue that the supporting cast was the soul, which Bubba anchored with authority. He’s since gone on to star and cameo in B-movies here and there, so keep your eyes peeled!



9. Don Gibb
Pro-Football Career: 1 season in the NFL
Teams Played For: San Diego Chargers

Don GibbYou may not know Don Gibb as Don Gibb, but you’ll surely know him as Ogre, the Alpha Beta bully who tormented the nerds of Lambda Lambda Lambda in Revenge of the Nerds! Guy Movie nuts will also know him as Ray Jackson, Jean Claude’s butt-kicking American buddy at the Kumate in Bloodsport. Don’s face, size, and wild hair are unmistakable, and his persona is one of a big huggable teddy bear — with a bite. Don’s acting gigs have mostly consisted of bit parts in movies and TV shows since his days as Ogre, so while you’re flipping keep an eye out. You never know where he might pop up.


8. Lawrence Taylor
Pro-Football Career: Twelve seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: New York Giants

Lawrence TaylorOne of the most colorful figures to ever come out of football, or any sport for that matter, Lawrence Taylor has repeatedly proven that you cannot count him out. Without much of an acting resume under his belt, he managed to snag supporting roles in films like Any Given Sunday and Shaft, and actually deliver the goods. He even proved he could be funny on HBO’s 1st and Ten. The Original LT, however, always seems to be at his best when he’s playing himself, whether its with cameos in comedies like last years The Comebacks or Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy, or taking to the squared circle to battle legendary wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow at Wrestlemania XI — the man has managed to do just about everything one can do, and he’s still got a lot of years left in him. Everything I’ve seen him in I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, so here's to LT doing us all a favor, and doing a few more things in front of the camera.

7. Fred Williamson
Pro-Football Career: Seven seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders (DRINK!), Kansas City Chiefs

Fred WilliamsonRichard Roundtree may have been the face that launched Blaxploitation cinema in the early '70s, but few carried the genre better than Fred “Hammer” Williamson. Oh, the endless amounts of joy this man has brought me over the years is something I truly treasure. Out of all the Blaxploitation leading men, Fred always seemed to be the best at addressing the issue of race without alienating non-black audiences. Sure, most of the plots had to do with inequality, but the rest of them were just so much damn fun, you couldn’t help but ride along with a smile on yourself. It almost makes me sad that most kids today only recognize him as Frost, the big, black, biker bad-ass in From Dusk Till Dawn (if at all), because he’s seriously got a mountain of work under his belt! To prove the sheer brilliance this man possesses: He once starred in a Blaxploitation western called Boss N(self censor)r — of which he was the titular character, and — get this — he also wrote the screenplay! This is one of the few films I’ve yet to see, but after reading reviews it definitely sounds like a must see!

6. Terry Crews
Pro-Football Career: Six seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins

Terry CrewsYou may not know his name, but if you’ve been paying attention to TV and cinema lately, you’ve no doubt seen his face. Terry Crews is big, intimidating, and gifted with an incredible sense of humor. He could take the easy road of being a B-movie action star (like many on this list), but instead he’s flexing more than just physical muscle, he’s flexing his acting muscles, not to mention flexing his funny bone every chance he gets. Whether he’s putting a boot to fools as T-Money on Battle Dome, lusting after a Wayans brother in drag in White Chicks, playing an inmate in Adam Sandler's The Longest Yard (DRINK!), or burning the candle at both ends to raise his family in Everybody Hates Chris, Terry is proving he’s more than just another meathead ex-jock — he’s the real deal. And when all is said and done, I don’t doubt that he’ll be at the tops of many future lists just like this. All hail President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho!

5. Brian Bosworth
Pro-Football Career: Three seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: Seattle Seahawks

Brian BosworthThe Boz has always been a showman, and a show-off. His NFL career is remembered more for his bleached Mohawk hairdo and big mouth than any of his on-field exploits. Actually, he's mostly remembered for getting run over by Bo Jackson, but we won't get into that. While his career on the gridiron was short lived, the idea of an acting career began to percolate, largely after the strength of his very popular commercials as the face of Right Guard deodorant. His first foray into film was as Joe Huff, a detective who goes undercover to infiltrate a villainous biker gang in Stone Cold — a certified Guy Movie classic! He’s since gone on to star in other B-movie action flicks, including a cameo as an evil prison guard in Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard. (DRINK!)

4. Jim Brown
Pro-Football Career: Eight seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: Cleveland Browns

Jim BrownOne of the greatest running backs of all time, Jim Brown first gained attention as a real actor in one of the greatest Guy war movies of all time, The Dirty Dozen — a film he chose to finish filming at the sacrifice of his football career. He would later carve out his own corner in Blaxploitation cinema as the stoic, no nonsense Slaughter. Slaughter was never as cool as Shaft, or Hammer, but he wasn’t supposed to be. The driving purpose of the Slaughter character was to provide the genre with a hard-nosed badass, and it is at that that Mr. Brown more than succeeded. Jim would go on to guest star on television, and join forces with Fred “Hammer” Williamson (number 8 on the list) to revitalize the Blaxploitation genre with Original Gangstas. My personal favorite Jim Brown movie is Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!, where he plays Byron, an ex-boxer turned Casino security guard.

3. Frank McRae
Pro-Football Career: One season in the NFL
Teams Played For: Chicago Bears

Frank McRaeYou might not know his name, but you’ll definitely know his face if you’ve been paying attention to Guy Movies for the last thirty years. He burst onto the seen as Reed Youngblood in Dillinger, and quickly parlayed the success of that role into many others. A man of literal mammoth proportions, Frank has made sure to show he’s more than just a brute giving noteworthy performances in family comedies like *Batteries Not Included and Vacation. He’s also the prototypical angry police captain, creating it in the Guy Movie classic 48 Hrs, and mocking it in another great Guy Movie, The Last Action Hero. Of everything I’ve seen this guy in, he’s never turned in a bad performance. My favorite performance by him has to be as Jim the foul-mouthed mechanic from Used Cars.

2. John Matuszak
Pro-Football Career: Nine seasons in the NFL
Teams Played For: Houston Oilers, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders (DRINK!)

John MatuszakThe Tooz was the man. Even though he landed at number two on this list, he’s easily my favorite overall. He lived his life at full throttle, just like he played the game, and pursued acting. He made me laugh so hard I nearly crapped my Pampers in Caveman, instilled a desire to have curly hair, a grizzly beard, and play football in North Dallas Forty, and caught the attention and captured the hearts of an entire generation as Sloth, the big mutant Fratelli brother from The Goonies. Only the Lord knows what kind of career he would have had had he been allowed to live a longer — more than likely he would have become some sort of B-movie action star, or continued to make goofy cameos in A-list and B-list flicks. Either way, it sure as hell would have been a lot of fun to watch him work and grow as an actor. RIP, Tooz.

1. Carl Weathers
Pro-Football Career: One season in the NFL, two seasons in the CFL
Teams Played For: Oakland Raiders (DRINK!), British Columbia Lions

Carl WeathersCarl Weathers is, simply, the man. Having racked up high profile roles opposite the two biggest action movie stars of all time, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and starring in one of the best Guy Movies of the late '80s, his selection as the greatest ex-football pro turned actor was a veritable no-brainer. Carl first took on Sly’s Rocky Balboa as the loudmouthed Apollo Creed in Rocky, one of the greatest Guy Movies of all time. Not only did he have the absolute coolest name ever — he looked like he was chiseled out of stone, and had the uncanny ability to flap his gums at 100 miles per hour without fumbling a single word. Apollo’s death in Rocky IV at the hands of Ivan Drago was and is the most heartbreaking moment for me in the entire series. Carl then took on Arnie as the no-nonsense CIA agent Dillon in Predator. Carl was the perfect foil for Arnold, because he could match him for strength and size.

After his many cinematic successes, Carl eventually earned the right to star in his own action movie, Action Jackson, where he played inner city police detective Jericho Jackson. The premise of his own Guy Movie was that he, Jericho, was locked in a battle of brains and brawn with Craig T. Nelson’s evil automotive icon, Peter Dellaplane. The movie boasts all sorts of great Guy Movie moments, from a young Sharon Stone to some quality Vanity nudeness, lots of colorful henchman, and loads of catchy one-liners. Carl had a resurgence many years later as the one-handed ex-golf pro Chubbs in Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore, but he since has become more of a supporting actor in small films and TV shows. He was last seen briefly in a series of Old Spice ads as the corporate figurehead of the company.

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About Junior Bruce

  • Bradshaw has made more than one movie. Karras was Mongo in “Blazing Saddles” and I guarantee more people can quote Mongo than any Bosworth character.

  • Did OJ’s inclusion in this list also get awarded to the Goldman family?

  • zingzing

    mongo like candy.

    mongo straight.

    spanish balloons?

  • What about Alan Autry, who spent a couple of seasons quarterbacking for the Kansas City Chiefs (I think), went on to star as Bubba in the TV series In the Heat of the Night and is now mayor of Fresno, California?

    …Yeah, yeah, I know. What about him?


  • REMF

    Woody Strode –
    One of the first blacks to play in the NFL…played for the L.A. Rams in 1946…played for the CFL Calgary Stampeders, 1947-48…appeared in almost 60 films…my favorites with Strode were The Professionals and Spartacus;

    Bernie Casey –
    Played wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and LA Rams from 1961-68…appeared in over 50 films…my two favorites of his were Boxcar Bertha and Ring of Passion;

    Mark Harmon –
    Starting quarterback for UCLA for 2 years, 1972-73…has appeared in numerous films and TV shows.

  • I didn’t know Mark Harmon had played football.

    But I think the criterion for inclusion in the list was that you had to have played professionally.

  • duane

    Oh, c’mon, Don Meredith’s acting career trumps most of these guys.

  • REMF

    “Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Never played in the NFL, but did manage two months on a CFL team before being cut. While my criteria was that each man listed have some kind of pro-football career, I didn’t want to take the easy way out and list Rock in the top spot…because if he were going to be on this list, that’s exactly where he’d be, based on the strength of his film career.”
    – Junior Bruce

  • Thanks for all the feedback, folks. Thanks for taking the time to check the list out. I see there were several guys I overlooked, including that important note regarding Karras. Unforgivable. Might have to go back, reevaluate the list, and come up with another for the start of the next season.

  • Jarrett

    Fred “The Hammer” WIlliamson and Jim Brown not on the list..come on The Hammer was in MASH (The Movie), From Dusk til Dawn, Starsky & Hutch (the Movie), and He was Black Ceaser…..Jim Brown was in Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, Mars Attacks, Any Given Sunday, and 100 Rifles where he made out with Raquel Welch…