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Football Players Turned Actor: A Complete List

Brian Bosworth's shoulder injury ended his NFL gig, but he still had swagger in the 1991 action movie "Stone Cold".

Brian Bosworth's shoulder injury ended his NFL gig, but he still had swagger in the 1991 action movie "Stone Cold".

A complete list of football players who became actors may not exist, but I’ll attempt to build that list today. So far, I’ve located 80 different athletes who played American gridiron football, then later turned to acting. This includes college or pro players. A list with people who played at the high school level would be too massive to research, I’m afraid.

The writeups below contain two types of athletes: actors who once played football and NFL stars who became actors due to their celebrity. In a few cases, prestanding Hollywood connections helped the sportsman break into the business.

However it happened, the people on the list below are notable for a career in either sports or entertainment, or both. As time passes and I stumble across more football stars who tried their hand at acting, I’ll add to this list. For now, if you’re looking for an ultimate guide to NFL players who tried their hand at acting, this is about as close as you’ll get. Enjoy.

1. Bubba Smith, Baltimore Colts DE

Bubba Smith in Police Academy

Bubba Smith appeared in six Policy Academy movies.

Bubba Smith had a storied 10-year career for the Baltimore Colts (1967-71), Oakland Raiders (1973-74), and Houston Oilers (1975-76), winning one Super Bowl and playing in another. Though he has a championship ring for Colts’ defeat of the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V, Smith says he never wears it, out of a sense of disappointment over the Colts’ loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

After retirement, he had a successful career playing Moses Hightower in six different Police Academy movies, from 1984 to 1989. He also made appearances in many television shows, including Wonder Woman (1978), Good Times (1978), Charlie’s Angels (1979), Eight is Enough (1980), Taxi (1982), MacGyver (1991), Married with Children (1991), and Family Matters (1993).

2. Fred Williamson, Oakland Raiders LB

Fred Williamson had a varied career in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1960* and the AFL (1961-1967) with the Oakland Raiders (1961–1964) and Kansas City Chiefs (1965–1967). He has 124 acting credits on his resume. In 1970, he made his debut in M*A*S*H*: The Movie as Spearchucker Jones. After that, he became a blaxploitation star, appearing in films like Hammer, Hell Up In Harlem, Boss N!gger (I didn’t make up these titles), and The Inglorious Bastards (1977 version). In the 1980s, he transitioned into more traditional action movie roles, such as Deadly Impact, Delta Force Commando, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, and Hell’s Heroes. He did a famous turn as a Vietnam vet in the 1996 Quentin Tarantino film, From Dusk Til Dawn, and later played in Starksy & Hutch.

Along the way, Fred Williamson has had dozens of TV roles, including appearnces on shows such as The Equalizer, Fantasy Island, and CHiPS. He also starred in the short-lived 1985 TV series, Half Nelson, alongside the likes of Joe Pesci and Dean Martin (and fellow football stars Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith).

3. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers QB

Terry Bradshaw has 4 Super Bowl rings and a big personality, so it’s no surprise he tried his hand at acting. As his storied career with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1970-83) was wrapping up, he played himself in 1981’s all-star extravaganza, The Cannonball Run. Nearly 25 years after his career ended, he had a key role in Failure to Launch (2006). In between, Terry Bradshaw acted in many TV shows: Blossom (1994), The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1994), King of the Hill (2000), Malcolm in the Middle (2002), and the misbegotten Las Vegas (2008).

4. OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills RB

It’s hard to believe, but O.J. Simpson once had a squeaky clean image and a successful film career. Orenthal James Simpson had a storied career with the Buffalo Bills (1969-77), along with a less successful turn with the San Francisco 49ers (1978-79). After he retired, OJ became the spokesman for Hertz Rent-a-Car. Before he retired, he had a set of silly commercials for Dingo Boots. (“I’m a Dingo man.”) He was beloved, so beloved that he played the long-suffering Det. Nordberg in The Naked Gun series of movies. For many years, the sadistic pratfalls and fall-down pranks of The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991), and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) were the closest thing people who thought he was the murderer got to seeing OJ Simpson punished.

5. Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns RB

Jim Brown was a Hall of Fame running back for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965. In a 9-year career which included 12-game seasons, he set rushing records that many expected to never be surpassed. Jim Brown was such a badass that people took him seriously when he claimed he might come out of retirement in his mid-40s to contest Walter Payton for the rushing title (at the time, Payton was about to break his all-time rushing yardage mark). As for acting, Jim Brown had a key role in the classic action movie, The Dirty Dozen (1967). He also was featured in The Running Man (1987), I’m Gonna Git you Sucka (1988), and Any Given Sunday (1999).

6. Carl Weathers, Oakland Raiders LB

Carl Weathers had a short career with the Oakland Raiders (1970-71) and the British Columbia Lions (1971-73). He’s better known for his iconic role as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies. Apollo Creed was a cross between Muhammed Ali and Captain America, and he was a perfect fit for Rocky Balboa’s antagonist. Apollo’s later face-turn allowed him to teach Rocky the “Eye of the Tiger”, before his untimely demise at the hands of Ivan Drago. His legacy in the Rocky movies was so great that a recent film about his son, Creed, was released to acclaim. As for Carl Weathers himself, he went on to star in action movie classics like Predator (1987) and the underrated Action Jackson (1988). In recent decades, he’s played comic roles in Happy Gilmore (1996) and Little Nicky (2000), along with a brilliant role in Season 1 of Arrested Development.

7. Alex Karras, Detroit Lions DT

Alex Karras was a star defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions from 1958-1970, with a one-year layoff in 1963. After he retired, he got roles in TV and film. He’s famous for punching out a horse in his role as Mongo in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Many will remember him as Mr. Papadapolis in the television sitcom Webster (1983-89). He also had roles in Porky’s and Buffalo ’66.

8. Fred Dryer, L.A. Rams DE

Fred Dryer was a defensive end for the New York Giants (1969-71) and the Los Angeles Rams (1972-81), but his more memorable contributions came with the Rams. He was on the 1979 LA Rams team which went to the Super Bowl and gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a pretty good game (up 19-17 early in the 4th Quarter). After retiring, he played Det. Sgt. Rick Hunter on the TV series Hunter (1984-91). Fred Dryer is a good example of the advantages of playing in Los Angeles. Many players on this list transitioned from athletics to acting because they made friends and contacts during their career in Los Angeles. To a lesser extent, the same can be said about playing in New York City, though NYC seems better suited for a transition into a career in the sports and entertainment media (Phil Sims, Michael Strahan).

9. Howie Long, Oakland/LA Raiders DT

Howie Long is another example. From 1981 to 1993, Howie Long was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders and L.A. Raiders. After retiring, he starred in films like Broken Arrow (1996), Firestorm (1998), and 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001). Howie Long is better known for his long tenure on Fox NFL Sunday, but he had a burgeoning Hollywood career at one time.

10. Merlin Olsen, Los Angeles Rams DE

Merlin Olsen - Little House on the Prairie

Merlin Olsen played the friendly neighbor on Little House on the Prairie.

Merlin Olsen is yet another example of an L.A. sports star who transitioned to acting. After a massive 15-year career with the Los Angeles Rams from 1962 to 76, Merlin Olsen played 5 season as Jonathan Garvey in Little House on the Prairie (1977-81). Olsen came aboard in Season 4 to play Michael Landon’s new sidekick, after Victor French left to be on his own television show, Carter Country.

Merlin Olsen later starred in his own TV show as John Michael Murphy in Father Murphy (1981-83).

Merlin Olsen also was an NBC sports broadcaster for many years. He frequently teamed with Dick Enberg to call AFC games on NBC. The tandem called four Super Bowls together: Super Bowls 15, 17, 20, and 23.

11. Rosey Grier, Los Angeles Rams DT

Rosie Grier was a defensive tackle on several New York Giants (1955–1962) championship teams, as well as a key member of the Fearsome Foursome unit on the Los Angeles Rams (1963–1966). Along with Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy, the Rams had the most intimidating defensive line of the 1960s. Unfortunately, the rest of the team wasn’t as good, so the talent was wasted. During those years, Rosie Grier was getting a start in acting, making appearances in TV shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Dream of Jeannie. After retirement from the NFL, he appeared in a string of 1970s films, such as Carter’s Army (1970), The Thing with Two Heads (1972), Skyjacked (1972), The Treasure of Jamaica Reef (1975), The Seekers (1979), The Glove (1979), and Roots: The Next Generations (1979).

12. Joe Namath, New York Jets QB

Joe Namath was a quarterback for the New York Jets (1965-76) and the Los Angeles Rams (1977). He famously guaranteed victory in Super Bowl III, which featured his Jets against the more established Baltimore Colts. The Colts came into the game as 17-point favorites, having knocked off the 2-time Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. The Jets were the representative of the upstart American Football League, which later would merge with the NFL. Those interested in seeing a good documentary about Joe Namath should watch “Namath”, which is available on HBO Go.

After his football career, he was in movies like The Last Rebel (1971), The Avalanche Express (1979), and The Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984). Joe Namath never had much of a career in film, but he knocked around as a football analyst on Monday Night Football and other sports media gigs. As a known personality, he made appearances on TV shows like the The Brady Bunch (1973), The Love Boat (1980-81), Fantasy Island (1981), and The A-Team (1986).

13. Brian Bosworth, Seattle Seahawks & OU Sooners LB

Brian Bosworth became famous as “The Boz” on the Oklahoma Sooners National Championship team in the late 1980s. His personality eventually became too big even for flamboyant Sooners coach Barry Switzer to handle, and he was told he wouldn’t be back for his senior year. In the NFL, Boz was an undersized linebacker best known for being flattened by Bo Jackson a Monday Night Football game. A shoulder injury ended his career quickly, so he became an action star in movies like Stone Cold (1991). He also had smaller roles in Three Kings (1999) and The Longest Yard (2005). Those wanting to see his story should watch “30 for 30: Brian and The Boz”, which is a touching documentary about Brian’s life.

14. Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants LB

Lawrence Taylor is considered the best outside linebacker in the history of pro football, and he’s arguably the best LB in the history of the NFL. From 1981 to 1993, he was the key star on a New York Giants team which won 2 Super Bowls. Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells and Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick invented a new defensive scheme to take advantage of Taylor’s talents (the 3-4 Defense), so LT is a seminal figure in NFL history. The troubled Hall of Fame linebacker also had roles in Any Given Sunday (1999) and Shaft (2000).

15. Ed Marinaro, Cornell and Minnesota Vikings RB

Ed Marinaro had a storied college football career at Cornell, finishing 2nd for the Heisman Trophy in 1971. He was taken in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft and played for the Minnesota Vikings (1972–1975), New York Jets (1976), and Seattle Seahawks (1977). After retiring from the NFL, Ed Marinaro became a TV actor, playing in series like Laverne & Shirley, Sisters, and Blue Mountain State. He is best known for his role as Joe Coffey on Hill Street Blues, appearing from 1981 to 1986 on the critically-acclaimed cop drama.

16. Bill Romanowski, 49ers, Broncos, and Raiders LB

Bill Romanowski is a retired linebacker who had a 16-year career with the San Francisco 49ers (1988–1993), Philadelphia Eagles (1994–1995), Denver Broncos (1996–2001), and Oakland Raiders (2002–2003). To this day, he remains the only linebacker to have started in 5 Super Bowls. He won 4 of those Super Bowls (49ers twice, Broncos twice) and was a relevent NFL player in 3 decades. One reason Bill Romanowski is not likely to make it into the Hall of Fame is he was considered a dirty player and a troublesome teammate. He famously spit in another player’s face. In interviews, he spoke with an insane-seeming, Jack Nicholson-esque inflection.

That served him well as an actor. He appeared in a couple of Adam Sandler movies, The Longest Yard and Jack & Jill. He also appeared as a baseball coach in The Benchwarmers, alongside David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite).

17. Bob Sapp, Chicago Bears 3rd Round Draft Pick

Bob Sapp in The Longest Yard

Bob Sapp played Switowski in The Longest Yard remake.

Bob Sapp is most famous for his MMA career in Japan, but he was drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft in 1997 by the Chicago Bears. He was released by the Bears and spent two years with the Minnesota Vikings, though he only played in one game.

After a suspension for steroids in 1998, he left the NFL. He fought in mixed martial arts promotions like Pride Fighting Championship, K-1, and Strikeforce, amassing a record of 11-18. He also fought as a kickboxer and amassed a record of 11-17.

More impressively, Bob Sapp had a movie career from 2003 to 2013, playing in 10 different films and 3 TV series. Those films are Bob Sapp: Sapp Time The Movie!, Izo, Elektra, The Longest Yard, Big Stan, Frankenhood, Blood and Bone, Blood Out, and Conan the Barbarian. He has also appeared in three Japanese television shows: You’re Under Arrest, Devilman, and Miss Pilot. The first two series are anime (on an OVA, one a series), while Miss Pilot is a live-action series which began in 2013.

18. Bill Goldberg, NFL Journeyman

Bill Goldberg played in the NFL in three stints: with the Los Angeles Rams (1990–1991), the Atlanta Falcons (1993–1994), and the Carolina Panthers (1995). His time spent with the Rams and Panthers were only on the practice squad or in offseason workouts. He also spent seasons playing arena ball in Sacramento: with the Sacramento Surge (1992) and Sacramento Gold Miners (1993). Obviously, Bill Goldberg is much better known for his work in the pro wrestling arena. He supposedly won 173 matches in a row to begin his career, though that was a fiction. Still, his time in the WCW prepared him to be an actor. Goldberg acted in films like Universal Soldier: The Return, The Longest Yard, and Santa’s Slay.

19. Dwayne Johnson, Miami Hurricanes DT

Dwayne Johnson, who became famous in the WWE as “The Rock”, had a college football career with the Miami Hurricanes. Though his football career was hampered by injuries, he won a national title with the Hurricanes in 1991. After he was injured, Dwayne Johnson was replaced in the lineup by future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. Johnson would play for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League in 1995, but was cut. After being cut, he followed the family legacy and became a pro wrestler. Along with “Stone Cold” Steve Austen, The Rock was a huge part of the rejuvenation of the WWC (later WWE) in the 1990s, after most of the established wrestlers left for the rival WCW. In his acting career, Dwayne Johnson has starred in The Scorpion King, The Rundown (underrated), Southland Tales (awful), Get Smart, G.I. Joe: Retribution, Fast & Furious 6, and Hercules. He’s also set to play Black Adam in the upcoming Shazam! movie.

20. Don Gibb, San Diego Chargers

Don Gibb played basketball at the University of New Mexico, but later transferred to the University of San Diego to play football. Later, he played for the San Diego Chargers in the NFL, though his career is obscure. Don Gibb got into acting with uncredited roles in the movies Stripes and Conan the Barbarian (1982).

Don Gibb is best-known for his role of “Ogre” in the Revenge of the Nerds movies. He even sells “Ogre” beer to this day through his co-owned Chicago-area bar, Trader Todd’s. He later appeared in Bloodsport, Bloodsport 2, Jocks, Amazon Women on the Moon, and Hancock. Don Gibb also made many TV appearances, most famously for the HBO show 1st & Ten. He played Scab in the short-lived Rosie O’Donnell show, Stand By Your Man.

30. Dick Butkus, Chicago Bears Middle Linebacker

Dick Butkus was a Hall of Fame middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears. He was one of the most-feared players in NFL history. In 2009, NFL.com named him the most feared tackler of all time. He retired in 1973 and transitioned to acting roles, and had a likable onscreen persona. He began acting in the original version of The Longest Yard (1974) as a member of the practice team. That was followed by a number of roles in forgettable films like Cry, Onion! (1975), Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), Gus (1976), Superdome (1978), and Cracking Up (1983). As the 1980s moved on, he got roles in more prominent films, such as Johnny Dangerously (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Some of the films he was in were simply terrible, such as Hamburger: The Motion Picture (1986), The Stepford Children (1987), and Spontaneous Combustion (1990).

Over the decades, he continued to appear in football-related movies like Necessary Roughness (1991) and Any Given Sunday (1999). He is probably best known as an act for his role in the TV series, Blue Thunder, and the critically-acclaimed role as himself in the 1971 TV movie, Brian’s Song.

31. Terry Crews, L.A. Rams

 

Terry Crews in Old Spice Ads

Terry Crews also appeared in a successful series of Old Spice commercials.

Terry Crews played college ball at Western Michigan University. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round of the 1991 NFL Draft and spent the 1991 season on their roster.

Crews later would spend time on the rosters of the San Diego Chargers (1993), Washington Redskins (1995), and Philadelphia Eagles (1996). He played in games for the Rams, Charges, and Skins, but only was in the offseason program for the Eagles. In all, he played in 38 NFL games. In between, he spent time with the Rhein Fire (1995).

Terry Crews’ career as an actor has been much more successful. He first gained fame for his role on Everybody Hates Chris. He’s also known for his series of Old Spice commercials. Crews’ first movie role was in 1997’s Battle Dome. Along the way, he has acted in Rob Schneider’s White Chicks, Adam Sandler’s Click, and a string of other movies: Training Day, Friday After Next, Soul Plane, Street Kings, The Benchwarmers, and The Longest Yard.

32. Mark Harmon, UCLA Quarterback

Mark Harmon was the starting quarterback at UCLA in 1972 and 1973. Before that, he played for tiny Pierce University. Though he had been a QB at a major program, Mark Harmon never tried out for the NFL. Instead, he graduated with a law degree from UCLA. He considered becoming a lawyer or an advertising executive, but instead became a merchandising director.

Meanwhile, his sister was married to Ricky Nelson, which gave him a foot in the door of the entertainment industry. Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, his sister’s in-laws, gave him a role on Ozzie’s sisters. He appeared in a succession of television roles in the 1970s and 1980s, usually one-off apearances on the popular programs of the day. He made a name for himself in the TV movie The Prince of Bel Air. He made an even bigger name for himself in The Deliberate Stranger, where he portrayed serial killer Ted Bundy.

Mark Harmon eventually transitioned to movie roles. An early hit was the comedy Summer School, in which he played a teacher dealing with unmotivated students. He also played in Kevin Costner’s Western epic, Wyatt Earp. By far his most enduring role is that of NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the hit CBS show: NCIS. That show continues to be a ratings phenomenon for CBS.

33. Burt Reynolds, FSU Running Back

Burt Reynolds only played in college, but he was a halfback for the Florida State Seminoles in the mid-1950s. While playing at FSU, he roomed with future coach and broadcaster Lee Corso. Burt Reynolds acted in stage productions and television programs throughout the 1960s, but eventually began getting bigger roles. His breakout role was Deliverance in 1972. He gained even more notoreity for posing in Cosmopolitan, which he claims cost him and the cast of Deliverance votes for the Oscars that year. In 1977, Burt Reynolds turned down a role in Star Wars.

That decision did not seem to hurt his career. From 1978 to 1982, Burt Reynolds was the highest-paid and highest-grossing American actor. He played in a string of hit movies. In those years, he made Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), The End (1978), Hooper (1978), Rough Cut (1979), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), Sharky’s Machine (1981), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), and Six Pack (1982). Burt Reynolds claims his run of success came to an end because of Stroker Ace (1983), a role he chose instead of Terms of Endearment. The role in Terms of Endearment went to Jack Nicholson, instead, and he won an Oscar for that role.

For the better part of 15 years, Burt Reynolds’s career would flounder. In 1997, he played in Boogie Nights and began to make a comeback. He worked steadily for the next 10 years, though he took a 7-year layoff between 2008 and 2015. He returned to act in the movie Pocket Listing this year.

34. Frank McRae, Chicago Bears

Frank McRae played college ball at Tennessee State, then played 6 games with the Chicago Bears in the 1967 season. He went on to a long career as an actor. His role as Jim the Mechanic in Used Cars was classic. People might remember Frank McRae as the shouting police captain in The Last Action Hero featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was a parody of his earlier role as the shouting police captain in the movie 48 Hours, which starred Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte.

Over the years, Frank McRae had a number of memorable roles in films like Dillinger, Red Dawn, and License to Kill. He and John Candy teamed up twice to portray bumbling men in uniform: first as a tank crew in the movie 1941 and next as theme park security in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

35. Mike Ditka, Bears and Cowboys Tight End

Mike Ditka had a storied career as a tight end with the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys. Later, he served for years on Tom Landry’s staff as a Cowboys assistant. Eventually, he became the head coach of the Chicago Bears, leading the team to its only Super Bowl title in 1985. The Bears of that year were known for their swagger (“The Super Bowl Shuffle”) and defensive prowess. It was a feel-good team known for Walter “Sweetness” Payton, Jim McMahon’s headband shenanigans, the 46 Defense designed by Buddy Ryan, Mike Singletary’s intense eyes, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, and a crushing defeat of its three playoff opponents. Ditka continued as the Bears coach for years, but they never returned to the Super Bowl. His time as the head coach and GM of the New Orleans Saints was less successful. One year, he traded the entire draft for the right to draft Ricky Williams.

Ditka’s most prominent role as an actor was in Kicking & Screaming, playing off of Will Ferrell. He played a coach in an episode of 3rd Rock From The Sun, while playing himself in an episode of Entourage. Ditka played the mayor of Chicago in a short called Madzilla!, and also was in a production called UP, Michigan!.

36. Bernie Casey, San Francisco 49ers 1st Rounder

After a career in track and field at Bowling Green University, Bernie Casey was drafted with the 9th pick of the 1st round of the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers in 1961. He would play for the San Francisco 49ers (1961–1966) and Los Angeles Rams (1967–1968), but later claimed the NFL stifled his creativity. After becoming an actor, Bernie Casey played in Guns of the Magnificent Seven (a sequel to the Magnificent Seven), Brian’s Song, Sharkey’s Machine, Never Say Never Again, Revenge of the Nerds, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Another 48 Hours. He also played in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, a sendup of blaxploitation films. Sci-fi fans might recognize Bernie Casey from appearances on Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5.

37. Woody Strode, UCLA Bruins Defensive Back

Woody Strode played for the UCLA Bruins on the 1939 team. He teamed with Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington as three-fourths of the team’s defensive backfield, and were some of the first African-American athletes in college football. Jackie Robinson would go on to become the first black baseball player in Major League Baseball. Kenny Washington would become the first black football player in the National Football League. While still at UCLA in 1940, the three were key pieces in a 0-0 tie between UCLA and eventual National Champions USC Trojans. It was the first game with national implications between the two teams.

Woody Strode began acting in 1941 in the movie Sundown, but his production was sporadic in those days. In the 1950s, he began to get more roles, though he was most-known as a professional wrestler. In 1960, Strode played the African gladiator in Spartacus and had a key fight scene against Kirk Douglas. He was in movies like The Ten Commandments and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, while he had roles on TV shows like Batman and Rawhide. Woody Strode continued to act in the 1980s and 1990s. His last movie was the The Quick & The Dead in 1995, which starred Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, and Leonardo DiCaprio. The film was dedicated to him, because he died after it was filmed.

38. Ed O’Neill, Youngstown State DT

Ed O’Neill is best known as Al Bundy on Married With Children and Jay Pritchett on Modern Family, but he also played college football Youngstown State University, where he played a defensive lineman. He tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, but was waived in training camp. In his role as Al Bundy, Ed O’Neill played a former high school football star whose dreams of pro glory never panned out. Married With Children even had two appearances of Terry Bradshaw, as a nod to O’Neill’s Steelers tryout. I’ll also provide one other fun fact about Ed O’Neill: he is a brown belt in Brazilian jujitzu. The brown belt is the highest rating in that form of combat.

39. John Wayne, USC Trojans

John Wayne played football USC. He broke his collarbone in a surfing accident and lost his athletic scholarship. USC Trojans football coach Howard Jones used to give Hollywood cowboy Tom Mix tickets to Trojan games, so he called in a favor to help John Wayne get a career in the movies. With Tom Mix’s help, John Ford gave the young athlete a job as a prop boy and extra. While spending time around the set, John Wayne met Tom Mix’s friend, Wyatt Earp. John Wayne later credited his walk, talk, and onscreen persona to Wyatt Earp, so those wondering who Wyatt Earp really talked might imagine a John Wayne impression.

From 1926 to 1930, John Wayne received bit parts in Hollywood westerns. Hanging around the set, director Raoul Walsh thought he had a good look and gave him the lead role in the 1930 film “The Big Trail”. It took years toiling away in B-Movies, but John Wayne eventually became a Hollywood icon. He is known for playing in westerns and war movies. Top films of his include Stagecoach, The Flying Leathernecks, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Bravo, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Alamo, The Longest Day, How the West Was Won, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and True Grit.

40. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers LB

Clay Matthews and Packers Linemen Sing

Clay Matthews recruited several Packers linemen as backup singers for his scene in Pitch Perfect 2.

Clay Matthews III is known as the pass-rushing linebacker for the Green Bay Packers with the long blond locks. He is also known as the son of four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., as well as the nephew of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. Casey Matthews (Eagles) is his brother and Jake Matthews (Falcons) is his cousin.

Besides being in a number of commercials, Clay Matthews III had a small cameo in Pitch Perfect 2: singing the Destiny’s Child song “Bootylicious” along with Packers linemen David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, and Don Barclay.

While Aaron Rodgers did not make it into the scene, his brother, Jordan Rodgers, did.

More NFL Players Who Became Movie Actors

Alright, it’s time for the lightning round. These bios are way longer than I meant them to be, so I’ll be shorter in the second half of the list. The following NFL players were huge in pro football, while having smaller careers in acting.

41. Ray Nitschke, Green Bay Packers MLB

Ray Nitschke in The Longest Yard

Ray Nitschke was effective as a menacing prison guard in the original version of The Longest Yard.

Ray Nitschke had a 15-year career as a middle linebacker with the Green Bay Packers. During his time with the team, the Packers were NFL champions 5 times. Their dominance straddled the pre-Super Bowl and Super Bowl eras, so Ray Nitschke had 2 Super Bowl rings. After his illustrious NFL career, Nitschke played a guard in the original The Longest Yard.

42. Deacon Jones, Los Angeles Rams DE

Deacon Jones claims to have the all-time NFL sack title, but he played in an era when sacks were an unofficial stat. He was the most talented and prolific member of the Fearsome Foursome of the L.A. Rams in the 1960s.

After his career ended, Deacon Jones acted in the movie Heaven Can Wait. He was the player who kept knocking the crud out of Warren Beatty.

43. Michael Irvin, Dallas Cowboys WR

Michael Irvin was drafted by Tom Landry, but he is most famous as “The Playmaker” in the 1990s Dallas Cowboys dynasty. As the Cowboys’ top receiver and Troy Aikman’s favorite target, Michael Irvin won 3 Super Bowls. He also was featured in The Longest Yard in 2005. While most of the other football stars on this list had smaller roles in The Longest Yard, Michael Irvin had a significant role, including a one-on-one basketball contest with Adam Sandler’s character.

44. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins QB

Dan Marino held the single-season NFL passing touchdown record for well over 20 years. His 48 touchdowns in the 1984 season are simply magnificent. In fact, that record probably would still be standing, if the NFL hadn’t have felt the need to change the passing rules in 2004-05. Since then, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have surpassed the mark, but it’s comparing apples to oranges. Dan Marino’s mark is simply more impressive in an era where defenders could manhandle the receivers more. As Jimmy Johnson once said, if you take a tire tool to the receiver every play, the refs couldn’t call the penalty every time. The NFL made sure that’s the case now, so passing records have all fallen. Despite never winning a Super Bowl, a good argument could be made that Dan Marino is a Top 5 NFL quarterback of all time. His acting credentials are not so good. Dan Marino was in Ace Ventura alongside Jim Carrey, but his acting was awful. Dan Marino line: “You’re a weird guy, Ace.”

45. Arian Foster, Houston Texans RB

Arian Foster is getting his acting chops these days, perhaps preparing for a full Hollywood career after he retired. Nearing 30 years of age and coming off an Achilles injury, the time of retirement could be sooner rather than later. Arian Foster played Ray Jennings in “Draft Day”. Ray Jennings was a Florida State running back whose father, Earl Jennings (Terry Crews), had been a star with Cleveland. I won’t give spoilers on the Kevin Costner film, but I will say the film has appearances from Bernie Kosar, Jim Brown, Ray Lewis, Jon Gruden, and Roger Goodell.

46. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers QB

Brett Favre’s career in the NFL is well-known, including two Super Bowl appearances and one world championship with the Packers. He also played with the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, getting the Vikes to the NFC Championship Game in 2009. And then there’s the consecutive start record, and all the passing records. What people might not remember is “Reggie’s Prayer”, a film starring Reggie White. In the film, Brett Favre and then-Packers coach Mike Holmgren played a couple of janitors at a school. More famously, Brett Favre had a hilarious role in “There’s Something About Mary”.

47. Lou Ferrigno, Toronto Argonauts

Lou Ferrigno became famous for his role in Pumping Iron, a 1975 film about the world of bodybuilding and the competition (between Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger) to win the Mr. Olympia competition. He came in 2nd in 1974 and 3rd in 1975, but still had to work as a sheet metal worker to make ends meet. When a co-worker cut his hand off doing the dangerous work, Ferrigno left the job and the bodybuilding circuit. During a long layoff from the circuit, he spent two games with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Because he had never played football before, Ferrigno was cut after 2 games. He eventually became a full-fledged actor as the Hulk persona on the The Incredible Hulk TV show of the late-Seventies.

48. Ronald Reagan, Eureka College

Ronald Reagan in Knute Rockne All American

Ronald Reagan played football at Eureka College, but is seen here portraying George Gipp in “Knute Rockne All American”.

Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the United States, the California governor before that, and a B-movie actor before that. Reagan’s most famous role came in a football movie, in which he played George Gipp (“The Gipper”) in “Knute Rockne All American”.

What people might not know is Ronald Reagan received a partial scholarship in 1928 to attend Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois.

He also washed dishes at the dormitories and was a swimming coach to pay for the remainder of his college. He was an indifferent student, but gave a speech during a time when students were demonstrating against the school president (who resigned). It appears his political talents outshone his athletic talents even at an early age.

49. Lee Majors, Indiana and Eastern Kentucky

Lee Majors received a scholarship to play football at Indiana University, but eventually transferred to Eastern Kentucky. While playing football at Eastern Kentucky, he received an injury which left him paralyzed for two weeks. He eventually recovered enough that the St. Louis Cardinals offered him a tryout, but he declined and went to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Born “Harvey Lee Yeary”, he changed his name to Lee Major in tribute to Johnny Majors, a halfback at Tennessee (2nd in Heisman voting) and a head coach at Iowa, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh (1976 National Title).

Lee Majors was most famous for playing Colonel Steve Austin, better known as the “Six Million Dollar Man”. He was also likable as Colt Seavers in the show “The Fall Guy”.

50. Lyle Alzado, Raiders/Browns/Broncos DE

After attending college at Yankton, Lyle Alzado had a 15-year career with the Denver Broncos (1971–1978), Cleveland Browns (1979–1981), and Los Angeles Raiders (1982–1985). He tried a comeback in 1990 with the Raiders, but it failed. In those years, Alzado helped the Broncos get to the 1977 Super Bowl as part of the “Orange Crush” defense. He also was part of the “Cardiac Kids” Cleveland Browns team led by Brian Sipe.

Finally, he was part of an LA Raiders team which destroyed the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in the 1984 Super Bowl. After football, Lyle Alzado appeared in the horror movie Destroyer as a slasher. He also appeared in the comedy Ernest Goes to Camp. Alzado had several TV roles, including Small Wonder, Learning the Ropes, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All.

51. Reggie White, Eagles & Packers DE

Reggie White is famous for his career with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers, where he won a Super Bowl title. In 1996, White starred with Pat Morita in Reggie’s Prayer, a Christian film. He plays the main protagonist, “Reggie Knox”, a football player who retires after the 1996 season to become a 10th-grade language arts teacher and head coach of a high school football team in Portland, Oregon. The film also had appearances by his Packers teammates Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren as janitors, and Keith Jackson as an assistant coach. M.C. Hammer played a park ranger in the feel-good film.

52. John Matuszak, Oakland Raiders DE

John Matuszak had a colorful and successful career in the National Football League, playing from 1973 until 1982. Most of the time was spent with the Oakland Raiders, but he was drafted by the Houston Oilers and later spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs. Matuszak helped the Raiders win two Super Bowls, but his heavy drug use and difficult personality caused him to be disliked by many Raiders players and coaches. After he assaulted Raiders’ coach Terry Robiskie, owner Al Davis barred him from Raiders facilities for life.

Meanwhile, John Matuszak was forging a successful acting career. He had a role in North Dallas Forty as a football player in 1979. Then he acted in several movies, including Caveman, One Man Force, The Ice Pirates, and One Crazy Summer. His most famous role was as Sloth, the goofy looking mutant in Goonies. His career was short-lived, though, because of a drug overdose that killed him in 1989.

53. Nick Nolte, Arizona State

Nick Nolte is another actor who played only at the college level of football. He attended Pasadena City College in Southern California, Arizona State University in Tempe (where he had a football scholarship), Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, and Phoenix College in Phoenix. At Eastern Arizona, Nick Nolte was a 3-sport athlete. He lettered in football as a two-way player (TE/DE), as a catcher on the baseball team, and as a forward in basketball. He studied theater in college. He became known for a number of roles, including 48 Hrs. (1982), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), Another 48 Hrs. (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Thin Red Line (1998), Hulk (2003), Hotel Rwanda (2004), and Tropic Thunder (2008).

54. Ben Davidson, Oakland Raiders Defensive End

Ben Davidson

Ben Davidson is seen here in the Conan movie.

Ben Davidson had an 11-year career with the Green Bay Packers (1961), Washington Redskins (1962–1963), and Oakland Raiders (1964–1971). He later played for the Portland Storm of the World Football League in 1974.

Ben Davidson was an iconic Oakland Raiders player, because his trademark handlebar mustache made him kind of look like a biker (when he didn’t wear the wig above).

Ben Davidson starred in the Miller Lite commercials with John Madden and Rodney Dangerfield.

Ben Davidson appeared in the Miller Lite commercials which featured John Madden and Rodney Dangerfield.

Ben Davidson appeared in a number of movies over the years, including “The Black Six”, “M*A*S*H”, “Conan the Barbarian”, “Behind the Green Door”, and “Necessary Roughness”. Of all his acting jobs, Ben Davidson might be most famous for playing himself in the Miller Lite commercials of the 1970s and 1980s, which starred pop culture icons like John Madden, Bob Uecker, and Rodney Dangerfield .

People who lived through the era will remember the commercials. Someone from the sports or entertainment world would deliver the pitch, but they eventually would set off a controversy in which half the room believed Miller Lite is less filling, while the other half believed it tasted great. “Less Filling! Tastes Great!”, they would argue. Ben Davidson was the 6’8″ hulk usually seen menacing the other stars.

55. Joel McHale, University of Washington TE

Joel McHale played Jeff Winger NBC sitcom, Community, which had a pretty nice run a few years back. He got his start in show business hosting Talk Soup, which later became “The Soup”. Before that, the 6’4″ actor was a tight end for 2 years at the University of Washington. He’s a fan of the Seattle Seahawks.

56. Forest Whitaker, Cal Poly Pamona

Forest Whitaker attended Cal Poly Pomona on a football scholarship, but never played due to debilitating back injury. He transferred to USC and attended the university’s Drama Conservatory. While there, he studied alongside future actors like Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, and Judge Reinhold. While still a student, he received a small role as a high school football player in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Once he became a professional, he quickly garnered several roles, including in The Color of Money, Platoon, and Good Morning, Vietnam. He played Charlie “Bird” Parker in the movie Bird. Later, he played an Englishman in The Crying Game.

Forest Whitaker later garnered a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor for appearing in Battlefield Earth, considered by many to be one of the worst movies ever. (He expressed regret for the appearance.) Whitaker won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Last King of Scotland, in which he played the schizophrenic dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin.

57. Matthew Fox, Columbia University

After attending high school at an academy in Wyoming, Matthew Fox studied economics at Columbia University in New York City. While at Columbia, he played on the football team. His first role of any note was in an episode of Wings. Fox’s breakout role was as the older brother on the TV show Party of Five, in which he starred opposite Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lacey Chabert, Scott Wolf, and Neve Campbell. Party of Five was cancelled after Season Six. Matthew Fox starred in Haunted, a show that got cancelled quickly. He is most famous these days for his role as Jack on the ABC’s thriller Lost. Jack was the surgeon who took the role of moral leader in the early seasons. He later played in movies like Speed Racer, Vantage Point, and We Are Marshall. On recommended recent movie of his is Bone Tomahawk, a western horror film starring Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins.

58. James Caan, Michigan State Spartan

James Caan attended Michigan State University to play football, but transferred to Hofstra to study acting. His time with the MSU Spartans prepared Caan for his early role as dying NFL player Brian Piccolo in Brian’s Song, but his reputation is built on playing tough guys. One of his Hofstra classmates was Francis Ford Coppola. This led to James Caan’s role as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, which set the tone for his career.

James Caan has been in dozens of films, including Rollerball (1975), 1941 (1979), Alien Nation (1988), Dick Tracy (1990), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), The Program (1993), Eraser (1996), and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (and its sequel). James Caan is notable for all the movies he rejected, including The French Connection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kramer vs. Kramer, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Apocalypse Now, Superman, and Blade Runner. His son, Scott Caan, was in the Ocean’s 11 remake, as well as Entourage.

59. Dean Cain, Columbia Defensive Back

Dean Cain was a star football player at Santa Monica High, where he attended school alongside Rob Lowe, Chad Lowe, and Charlie Sheen. He went to Princeton University, where he was a star defensive back (and dated Brooke Shields). Dean Cain was drafted by the Bills, but suffered a knee injury and was cut by the team. Dean Cain is best known for playing Clark Kent (Superman) in the 1990s TV series Lois & Clark. He’s still part of the Superman television mythology, as he played Dr. Curtis Knox on the TV show Smallville (Dr. Knox is based on Vandal Savage) and is Jeremiah Danvers currently on Supergirl. He’s been in a number of movies of lesser note, such as The Broken Hearts Club (2000), Out of Time (2003) starring Denzel Washington, and Bailey’s Billion$ (2004). In recent years, he played evil atheist businessman “Mark” in the 2014 film God’s Not Dead.

60. Brian Dennehy, Columbia University

Brian Dennehy played football at Columbia University after a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. He also played rugby union for Old Blue RFC. Dennehy transferred to Yale to study drama. He’s primarily known as a dramatic actor, though he’s played in comedies like Semi-Tough, as well. Brian Dennehy’s breakout role was playing the sheriff who just wouldn’t leave John Rambo alone in the movie First Blood. Dennehy’s has a wildly diverse set of roles, including a corrupt sheriff in the 80s western, Silverado, and an alien in the 80s drama, Coccoon. He also played in Legal Eagles, 10, Presumed Innocent, Alleged, and Tommy Boy. He did voice work in Ratatouille. Even as a bad guy you love to hate, Brian Dennehy is generally likable.

61. Tommy Lee Jones, Harvard University

Tommy Lee Jones is known as a silver screen curmudgeon these days, but he played college football at Harvard University before his acting career. Tommy Lee Jones attended Harvard on a need-based scholarship and played offensive guard on the school’s 1968 unbeaten team. He was part of the squad who engineered the amazing comeback against Yale that year. Those interested should watch Jones’s comments on the documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. After college, Tommy Lee Jones acted in relative obscurity for most of the 1970s and 1980s. He came to mainstream attention for his role as the quite-but-deadly Texas Ranger, Woodrow F. Call, in the mini-series Lonesome Dove. He also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Fugitive. Since then, Tommy Lee Jones has been an American cinema favorite. Notable roles include films like JFK, Under Siege, Natural Born Killers, Cobb, Batman Forever, Men in Black, No Country for Old Men, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Lincoln.

62. Phil Robertson, Louisiana Tech Quarterback

Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was the quarterback at Louisiana Tech at the same time as Terry Bradshaw. In fact, Robertson, who in Louisiana high school was all-state in football, baseball, and track, started in front of Terry Bradshaw for two years. Phil Robertson was a year ahead of the future NFL star, but Terry Bradshaw was a highly touted recruit. After playing as the starter in 1966 and 1967, Phil Robertson left school in his senior year in 1968. This cleared the way for Bradshaw, who posted two brilliant years and was the 1st pick in the NFL Draft in 1970. Terry Bradshaw later said, “Phil Robertson loved hunting more than he loved football.

Robertson put it more cynically: “Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks.

Readers might be wondering why Phil Robertson is listed among these actors, but he is set to make his film debut in the movie, “I Am Not Ashamed”. The movie is about Rachel Scott, one of the victims of the Columbine shooting. The shooters — Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — taunted Rachel Scott for her Christian beliefs.

63. Bill Cosby, Temple University

Bill Cosby at Temple University

Bill Cosby played football at Temple University. His breakout acting role was portraying a tennis star on the 60s TV show, I Spy.

Bill Cosby is a controversial figure these days. Before he was persona non grata, he played football Temple University in Philadelphia. The Cos had been in the U.S. Navy, like his father had been. He attended Temple in 1961 on a track & field scholarship, but also played halfback on the football team.

He started bartending in clubs to make ends meet, but later became a standup comic. Many comedians give Bill Cosby credit for opening doors for them, especially as sitcom stars. Bill Cosby became a TV act on the series “I Spy” alongside Robert Culp. He played a pro tennis player who used his weekly stops on the tennis circuit as a cover for spy activity. Later, he became an iconic figure for series like Fat Albert and The Bill Cosby Show.

His film career was never quite as successful. In the 1970s, he starred in film comedies which were supposed to counter the image of African-Americans in blaxploitation films. In the Eighties, he was in Leonard Part 6, considered by many people to be one of the worst movies of the era. Making a bad movie obviously is the least of Bill Cosby’s offenses, if his many accusers are to be believed.

64. John Goodman, Missouri State (Southwest Missouri State)

John Goodman went to Missouri State University on a football scholarship, though the school was then called Southwest Missouri State. While at SWS, John Goodman discovered acting. Also in the program at the time were future stars Kathleen Turner and Tess Harper, who are said to remain his close friends to this day. After an injury sidelined his football career in 1975, Goodman moved to New York City to find work as an actor. He did voice work and appeared in commercials while appearing in theater shows, but struggled to find success. Goodman was the actor in the iconic Skin Bracer for Mennen commercial in which he is slapped and says, “Thanks. I needed that.”

He played the football coach in Revenge of the Nerds, while also appearing in the early Cohen Brothers hit, Raising Arizona. Goodman became a Cohen Brothers regular, appearing in films like Barton Fink, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Big Lebowski. In the early years, though, it was in the comedy field he gained a name. He credits his role in True Stories for starting his success. He also credits his size, saying, “I’m 6′ 3″ and maintain a consistent panda bear shape.” Eventually, the role that established John Goodman as a household name was his role as Dan Connor on the Roseanne tv show (1988-1997). Among his most memorable movie roles were Fred Flintstone in The Flintstones, as well as Babe Ruth in Babe. He’s done significant voice work, incluing Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, as well as Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University. Besides that, John Goodman has hosted Saturday Night Live 13 different times and made appearances in other episodes, making him one of the most prolific hosts of SNL.

65. Mark Schlereth, Broncos and Redskins OL

Mark Schlereth spent 12 years as an offensive lineman for the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. He won two Super Bowls with the Broncos (1997, 1998) and one with the Redskins (1991). Besides his world titles, Mark Schlereth is known for having 20 surgeries during his NFL career. Since retiring, he’s been an ESPN broadcaster on television and radio. His nickname is “Stink”. Strangely, Schlereth was cast as Detective Roc Hoover on the Guiding Light daytime soap opera in 2007. He also appeared in the remake of Red Dawn in 2012.

66. Sam J. Jones, Semi-Pro Football Player

Sam Jones as Flash Gordon Playing Football

Sam Jones put his football skills to use in this key scene from Flash Gordon.

Sam J. Jones was in the U.S. Marine Corps before he became a semi-pro football player. He would put those skills to use in a humorous scene in the 1980 film, Flash Gordon, where he played a former New York Jets quarterback named “Flash” Gordon.

In one scene, he used a metallic football to fight his opponents, hitting them in the gut (or the head) with the golden football.

[Note: That scene can be seen in the picture above. It’s a goofy movie, but I like it. I love that Flash Gordon actually wears a t-shirt with his nickname on it.]

67. Lester Speight, Baltimore Stars

Lester Speight played for the Baltimore Stars of the USFL, then later turned to acting. He played Rasta the Voodoo Man in the 1990s remake of Battle Dome.

68. Ron Simmons, FSU and NFL Player

Ron Simmons played college ball at Florida State University. Later, he would playing for the Cleveland Browns of the NFL, the Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL, and the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. He eventually got into professional wrestling, where he became known for a number of characters. He was one of the Nation of Domination as Faarooq, then later formed the Acolytes alongside Bradshaw. In 1997, Ron Simmons headlined the 1997 King of the Ring event, fighting The Undertaker for the WWF Championship. In 2012, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. As an actor, Ron Simmons was on episodes of Law & Order and NYPD Blue. He also had a role in the feature film Gone in 60 Seconds.

69. Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings

Fran Tarkenton is the Hall of Fame quarterback who played for the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings. He led the Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances, while breaking many NFL passing records. The scrambling quarterback went on to be a host of That’s Incredible and a broadcaster on Monday Night Football. What many people don’t know is Fran Tarkenton appeared in the movie M*A*S*H as one of the football players. He also acted in one episode of Hill Street Blues, while appearing as the play-by-play announcer in 12 episodes of 1st & Ten.

70. Roy Jefferson, Washington Redskins

Roy Jefferson spent 12 seasons in the NFL for the Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Indianapolis Colts. In 1968, Jefferson led the NFL in receiving. In 1973, he starred alongside a bevy of Redskins players in the blaxploitation film, Brotherhood of Death.

71. Bo Jackson, Oakland Raiders

Bo Jackson was a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Auburn. Later, he would become a pop culture phenomenon and modern folk hero as a two-sport star with the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Raiders. Bo Jackson was not some part-time 2-sport star, either; those who saw him play swore he would have been a Hall of Fame player in both sports. Everyone expected Jackson to enter the NFL as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ #1 pick. According to Jackson, they tricked him into a visit that violated NCAA rules, hoping to get him suspended from playing baseball (and hurting his MLB chances).

To spite the Bucs, he chose to become a baseball player and was drafted in the 4th round by the Royals. His combination of physical strength and bat speed made Bo Jackson a home run phenom, while his 4.1 speed made him a unique base-stealer on the base paths. The first day he took batting practice, legendary Royals players and scout Buck O’Neal heard the crack off the bat and said he had only ever heard that sound off two other players’ bats: Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson. That set the tone for a 5-year stretch in which Bo Jackson amazed fans, teammates, and opponents alike. He was head-and-shoulders above all other players on the field in the 1989 MLB All-Star game, for which he won the MVP award. His career in the NFL was similar, as he still holds the record for the fastest 40-yard dash time in NFL Combine history. And he was a 230-pound, rugged inside runner.

Bo Jackson was so good at both sports that Nike developed the “Bo Knows” ad campaign, in which it was implied Bo was a genius at virtually every field of human endeavor (except playing the guitar). His career was cut short by an injury, but those who watched him play often consider him the greatest athlete they’ve ever seen. While he never made a huge impact as an actor, Bo Jackson acted in several TV shows, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Pros vs. Joes, and Lois & Clark.

72. Roman Gabriel, Eagles and Rams QB

Roman Gabriel was the first Asian-American to be an NFL quarterback. He played 11 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams and 5 more seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles. At the time, Roman Gabriel’s 6’4″, 235-pound frame made him a physical marvel. In many ways, he was the prototype of the later era of large quarterbacks. He also had a few acting roles, in films like Skidoo and The Undefeated.

73. Bob Golic, NFL Defensive Tackle

Bob Golic has a 13-year career from 1979 until 1992 as a defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, and Oakland Raiders. He is the brother of Mike Golic of “Mike & Mike” fame. Bob Golic was voted to three Pro Bowls and was considered the more accomplished of the two Golic brothers in the NFL.

Bob Golic became an actor after retirement and played on Saved by the Bell: The College Years. His character was named Mike Rogers.

74. Larry Csonka, Miami Dolphins

Larry Csonka was a fullback for the Miami Dolphins who helped Don Shula’s team reach 3 straight Super Bowls. Behind Csonka’s bruising running style, the Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowls and achieved the only perfect season in the Super Bowl Era. Larry Csonka and Jim Kick left the Dolphins in their primes to play in the World Football League. While he later returned to the NFL, it never was quite the same. Csonka later was a broadcaster on American Gladiators, but he also had a few acting roles.

Larry Czonka played on an episode of Emergency!, while also playing the imaginatively-named “Larry Bronco” character on The Six Million Dollar Man. He was the uncredited Cmdr. Delaney on the 1976 war film Midway. Larry Csonka also acted in Snake Eater, a 1989 action film starring Lorenzo Lamas. He’s also played in episodes of 1st & Ten and Ballers.

75. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears RB

Matt Forte is one of six current NFL players who appeared in episodes of The Onion’s “Tough Season”, a spoof of fantasy football leagues. The show follows a knucklehead fantasy owner through three seasons of FF melodrama. It plays out like the players interact with their fantasy owner, lobbying for playing time or being called in to be benched or waived. The first season was good comedy, while the second and third seasons became increasingly forced. It’s a good chance to see the acting chops of players like Matt Forte, and predict whether they might have an acting career beyond football. Matt Forte gets the most screen time of the players, and he’s not bad as an actor.

Matt Forte and Alfred Morris on Tough Season 2

Matt Forte and Alfred Morris showed their acting chops on Tough Season, a mockumentary on The Onion website.

76. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins RB

Alfred Morris is a key player in Season One of Tough Season, which aired in 2013. Though he gets a little less screen time than Matt Forte and Andrew Luck, he is effective in the scenes he appears. He has good facial expressions.

77. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts RB

Andrew Luck also gets a lot of screentime. He is first seen sitting in sullen silence in a locker room with other free agent quarterbacks, after some league owner inexplicably dropped him from their roster. The players seem to be inhabiting some kind of Limbo world and Andrew Luck appears real happy to be picked-up off the waiver wire.

After his addition to the roster, Andrew Luck became a key contributor on the team and the series. His acting is similar to what you’ll see on the many commercials which feature Andrew Luck these days.

78. Wes Welker, Patriots and Broncos WR

Wes Welker appeared in Tough Season: Season 2. Welker seemed preoccupied with training for the triathlon, for some reason.

79. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals WR

A.J. Green also appears in Tough Season: Season 2. He appears to have some kind of juggling club he belongs to. When Brad (the stupid owner) asks him to score 120 fantasy points to pull off a win, AJ Green gets on conference call to let him know it’s his bye week. AJ Green might have shown more talent juggling than acting, but it’s a start.

80. Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers PK

Mason Crosby is seen in all seasons of Tough Season. He is a key figure at the end of Season 1, but continues to make cameo appearances throughout the years.

In Season 2, Mason Crosby joined AJ Green’s juggling club.

NFL Players Turned Hollywood Actors

Okay, so the lightning round didn’t go as quickly as I promised. My enthusiasm got the better of me, but it’s probably time to end this list. When you’re adding players who were on Tough Season, you’re starting to run out of football players who turned to acting.

Given the appeal so many NFL players have, I’m sure I’ve missed former stars who appeared in a production somewhere or another. {Someone mentioned Dandy Don Meredith, who needs an entry.] I’ll continue adding to this list as time goes by and I realize more players-turned-actors. Maybe I’ll get to 100 players at a point. For now, this ranks as the ultimate guide to football players who became actors.

1 Comment

  1. TimTam98

    You can’t beat Hunter and Dee Dee McCall! Great list. Lots of players who I never knew tried their hand at acting. The next time I’m looking for something to watch on Netflix, I’ll have lots of extra options.

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