It seems like every actor wants to be an athlete and every athlete wants to be a movie star. In a perfect world, we’d have George Clooney in at quarterback and Adrian Peterson starring in Oscar bait. The average NFL career is 3.5 years and the guys that don’t get their Masters from Stanford are hard-pressed to find a second career. Luckily for these guys, the transition from the gridiron to the screen was an easy one. At times, their film careers eclipsed anything they accomplished on the field. Here they are: The 5 Best NFL Players-Turned-Actors.
5. Terry Crews
You could probably guess just by looking at him, but the name Terry Crews doesn’t conjure up the idea of NFL glory. For seven seasons, however, Terry Crews played in 32 games, bouncing around four teams before he hung up the spikes for an acting career.
Crews has shown some great comedic skill and brilliantly adept at playing off-the-wall, physical characters. My personal favorite is his role in Idiocracy, in which he plays President Camacho, a former professional wrestler who was elected the President of the Dumbass United States of the future. Of course, he’s probably even known better in those completely gonzo Old Spice Commercials in which he blows shit up with his raw emotion and awesomeness.
4. OJ Simpson
Before I knew that OJ was one of the greatest running backs in the history of football, I knew him as the guy with the enormous head from The Naked Gun series and the Hertz commercials. Of course, he’d be known for his skill with a knife before the 90s were through, but let’s face it: OJ was a talented comedic actor. The Naked Gun is one of the premiere comedies of the 1980s and OJ was a big part of it. There may not be a joke more memorable in the film that Officer Nordberg heading down the steps at Anaheim Stadium.
3. Jim Brown
One of the first players to ever make the leap, Jim Brown may also be the greatest player in the league’s history. I almost picked Fred Williamson over Jim Brown, if only because of From Dusk Till Dawn. That was until I did my research.
In 1966, Brown had played a mere nine seasons, but already racked up the records for most yards in a game, season, and career. (To put it in perspective, Emmitt Smith was a broken-down old man when he finally broke Brown’s record in his 14th season of 16 games; Brown entered the league when the season was still only 12 games).
During the off-season, Brown was set to star in the badass movie The Dirty Dozen, but scheduling delays forced production into the start of training camp. Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns at the time, threatened to fine Brown each week he missed. What did Jim Brown do? He retired. The dude was still in his prime and just said, “Fuck it. I’m making movies with Lee Marvin in Europe, bitches.” Also, he got to bang Raquel Welch, at least on screen. Much respect.
2. Carl Weathers
That’s right, before he was “The Prince of Punch” Apollo Creed, Carl Weathers played a total of 8 NFL games, all with the Oakland Raiders. It may not have been a career worthy of Canton, but his onscreen persona in the Rocky films is legendary. Apollo Creed was his fictional generation’s answer to Muhammad Ali: brash, charismatic, and above all, a champion. It took a freak of nature in Ivan Drago to quiet Creed, but it wasn’t before he danced with his ridiculous Uncle Sam outfit into our hearts.
Weathers would go on to make a name for himself in films like Predator and Happy Gilmore, but he will always be Apollo “The Count of Monte Fisto” to me.
1. Alex Karras
Making a career out of punching an Italian midget is one thing, but Carl Weathers never punched a horse right in its goddamn face. That honor belongs solely to Mongo from Blazing Saddles, played by former NFLer Alex Karras. Sure, Karras went on to be one of the many white people that went down to the corner store and came home with a tiny black child with a genetic defect in the sitcom Webster, but to me he’ll always be “a pawn in the game of life”.
Blazing Saddles is one of the ten best comedies of all-time. You could not make the movie again in this day-and-age; not without a 3,000-word indictment on Gawker, AV Club, and Buzzfeed, but Mel Brooks’ send-up to westerns is equal parts great parody and biting satire. Karras may only have a minor role in it, but his impact is without question.