Top 10 NFL players turned actors

NFL Hall of Fame running back, Jim Brown - Getty Images

On Monday, ESPN's NFL Live crew was talking about former NFL players who turned actors. Among them, they missed some notable names including former Raiders John Matuszak and Carl Weathers. So I made a list that actually makes sense.

The NFL Live crew hosted by Mike Hill along with analysts Jason Taylor and Jerry Rice were killing some off-season time (ehem) talking about Arian Foster's recent appearance playing himself on the CBS show "Hawaii Five-0".

After discussing the performance of Foster, it led them to discussing some other notable NFL player acting performances. They put up a graphic titled "Notable NFL players turned actors" with 14 players/actors on the list. Here are the names who were on the list:

Terry Bradshaw, Jim Brown, Fred Dryer, Joe Namath, Brett Favre, Michael Irvin, Alex Karras, Dan Marino, Ed Marinaro, Mark Schlereth, O.J. Simpson, Bubba Smith, Lawrence Taylor, and Fred Williamson.

There are some great NFL stars turned actors on this list. But right away, the one thing that jumped out to me was who was NOT on the list. That of three former Raiders; John Matuszak, Carl Weathers, and Howie Long.

Before we get to the omissions, let's talk about those who are on the list who do NOT belong:

  • Dan Marino - The only "acting" he has ever done was playing himself a bunch of times, most notably in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective".
  • Joe Namath -- Had a few guest appearances on TV shows but did nothing of note.
  • Brett Favre -- Played himself a few times, most notably in a cameo on "There's Something About Mary". Hardly worth including.
  • Michael Irvin -- Played a football player turned convict in "The Longest Yard" and that's about it. Hardly a stretch or notable.
  • Lawrence Taylor -- Played a football player in the 1999 film "Any Given Sunday". Another real stretch. And that was the only thing even worth mentioning.
  • Mark Schlereth -- Had a recurring role last year on the soap opera "Guiding Light" and a day player role in the new "Red Dawn" movie. Come on.

Now with those players removed from the list, we have the real list whose inclusion is based on their actual acting accomplishments.

Here is what the list should look like in order of notoriety:

1. Fred Williamson - Still acting in several projects in production. Has acted in 115 films and TV shows since 1968. That number alone is incredibly impressive. His credits are equally impressive. He came up in the business in the seventies as one of the more popular "Blacksploitation" film stars. Most notable of late are his roles in "From Dusk Till Dawn", and "Starsky and Hutch"( the movie). He was also in the film "M.A.S.H." (1970) which the long running TV show was based upon. He spent eight seasons in the NFL including four as an All Pro cornerback for the Raiders, and finishing his career with three seasons in Kansas City.

2. Jim Brown - Arguably the greatest running back in NFL history spent his entire nine year Hall of Fame career with the Browns. He has been in 53 different films and television shows. His notable credits are many, including those in the films "The Dirty Dozen", "The Running Man", "I'm gonna Get You Sucka", and "Mars Attacks!". He also had principal roles in films such as "He Got Game", "Small Soldiers", and "Any Given Sunday".

3. John Matuszak - He appeared in 33 roles in film and TV between 1979 and 1989 when he died of heart failure. This included three TV series and four movies in the final year of his life. Matuszak played nine seasons in the NFL (1973-81), the last six as an Oakland Raider. He was on the Raiders defense for two of their three Super Bowl titles. That makes him plenty notable as a player. He is most noted for his role as Sloth in the classic film "Goonies" (1985). He also had lead roles in popular films such as "North Dallas Forty" (1979), "Caveman" (1981), "Ice Pirates" (1984), and "One Crazy Summer" (1986). In addition to his film roles, he appeared in 22 different television shows including a lead role in the 1985 show "Hollywood Beat". I would say that makes him plenty notable as an actor as well.


4. Alex Karras - 12 seasons in the NFL for the Lions. 37 roles in film and TV including the role of Mongo in the classic film "Blazing Saddles" and a lead role as the father in the TV series "Webster".

5. Fred Dryer - Appeared in 38 films and television shows including the title role in the long running hit show "Hunter" (1984-91). He played 13 seasons in the NFL (1969-81), the final ten with the Rams.

6. Ed Marinaro - Appeared in 55 films and television shows. Most notably he was a lead in the long running TV show "Hill Street Blues" (1982-86). He also had recurring roles on hit shows Laverne & Shirley, Falcon Crest, Sisters, and Days of Our Lives. He spent six seasons as an NFL fullback, the first four with the Minnesota Vikings.

7. Carl Weathers - Weathers played two seasons in the NFL, both for the Raiders, before moving on to a very successful acting career. He is most noted for his role as Appolo Creed in the first four "Rocky" films, his lead role alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Predator", and as the title role in "Action Jackson" (1988). He also played Golf Pro Chubbs in the Adam Sandler comedy classic "Happy Gilmore". He appeared in some 50 TV series including recurring roles on "In the Heat of the Night", "Tour of Duty", "Street Justice", and "Brothers". He also had the title role in the 1986 show "Fortune Dane". One could argue that while Weathers is quite notable as an actor, he is not very notable as a player. And while some of the other actors may have more credits, Weathers is truly famous.


8. Bubba Smith - He played nine seasons in the NFL from 1967-76 with the Colts, Raiders, and Oilers. Most notably as an actor, he was Sargeant Hightower in all six "Police Academy" movies. In total he appeared in 49 films and television shows including a recurring role on Good Times, and lead roles on three shows which had brief runs.

9. O.J. Simpson - Most known these days for his popular TV drama "The OJ Simpson Trial" in which he and his lawyers acted their way out of a double murder conviction. Before that he was most well known as a one of the greatest running backs in NFL history as well as his roles in the first two "The Naked Gun" films and "The Towering Inferno". He also had a recurring role in the show "1st and Ten: The Championship" which ran from 1985-91.

10. Howie Long -- Long played his entire 13-year Hall of Fame career with the Raiders. He is obviously plenty notable as a player. He retired in 1993 and immediately began acting. He appeared in the hit films Broken Arrow (1996), 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001), and had the lead role in the film "Firestorm" (1998). He has been a popular analyst for the Fox Sports NFL show for several years now.

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