This Week's Top 10: Football Players As Actors
It's Super Bowl week, and while I have less than zero interest in the upcoming game between the Patriots and the Eagles, I do love me some Super Bowl-adjacent content. So in honor of this Sunday's event, let's take a look at the best performances by football players in film and television. I disqualified any players who played themselves (except for one very important exception), and I should note at the top that Dan Marino might actually be the worst actor in the history of recorded medium (his stuff in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is truly painful, and he's playing Dan Marino!).
Also, a handful of Up All Afternoon listeners wanted Merlin Olsen on this list, but I've never seen Little House on the Prairie and my only association with him is in the confusingly terrible Joe Don Baker cop movie Mitchell. To the list!
10. Terry Crews, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
I love Crews on this show, which remains one of the best network comedies out there, but he gets the bottom slot because his NFL career was so short and unassuming.
9. OJ Simpson, Capricorn One
The Juice almost certainly has the best resume of anybody on this list, both as a player and as an actor. He's pretty amazing in Capricorn One, a loopy bit of '70s paranoia, but his legal troubles keep him in the lower echelon.
8. Bubba Smith, Police Academy
Bubba Smith drives home the difficulty in casting football players in movie roles: He is so much larger than most everybody else on screen that he ends up being more of a distraction. But in Police Academy (and its various sequels), he's supposed to be a distraction, so it all works. Smith also has impeccable comic timing, and there are entire entries in this series wherein he represents the only funny stuff happening.
7. Brett Favre, There’s Something About Mary
Look, Favre is a huge tool and I said I wouldn't reward anybody who played himself, but his presence in There's Something About Mary is too good to deny. Am I overrating Favre's turn in this classic gross-out comedy because of the way Ben Stiller pronounces his last name? Most definitely.
6. Alex Karras, Blazing Saddles
Now we're really getting into legend territory. Karras was a football legend and also had a hell of a run as an actor in a multitude of comedies. This is his best role, and he's able to keep up with Mel Brooks' band of misfits with no trouble at all.
5. Bill Goldberg, WCW Monday Nitro
In the old days, lots of football players would wrestle in the off season (Karras was actually a well-regarded grappler), but when Bill Goldberg's NFL career washed out, he began a whole new life for himself. "Goldberg" is essentially a role he's been playing non-stop for over two decades, which makes Bill Goldberg one of the greatest performance artists of a generation.
4. Jim Brown, The Running Man
Often in the conversation about the greatest football players of all time, Brown also had a gravitas and a charisma that the camera loved. He's got a twisty, colorful resume, but I love him in this ultra-violent blast of '80s sci-fi dystopia. I'm mildly shocked he didn't square off against Arnold Schwarzenegger more often—Brown made for a great foil.
3. Howie Long, Broken Arrow
Long's skills as an actor, broadcaster, and Radio Shack pitchman pale in comparison to his on-field abilities (he's in the Hall of Fame), but he holds his own as a henchman to John Travolta's evil nuke thief in a fantastically over-the-top action caper from John Woo.
2. Dick Butkus, My Two Dads
The guy could have wrung plenty of comedy just from his name, but he really adds to the goofiest of '80s sitcoms.
1. Fred Williamson, No Way Back
"The Hammer" played in the very first Super Bowl, showed up in the first Star Trek series, and graduated from blaxploitation leading man to writer/director/producer. His greatest achievement is No Way Back, a gleefully grimy piece of cop fiction that lets Williamson spew charisma all over the damn place.