By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The reaction seemed universal when the announcement first came forth last weekend, former WVU quarterback Patrick White announcing that he was going to become an actor, almost everyone hearing the news stunned and wondering how White could pull this off.
It’s one thing to shake and bake your way through the Georgia or Oklahoma defenses, quite another to try and maneuver through a Spike Lee script, although the thought does occur if Mike Tyson can take a Spike Lee production to Broadway, an Oscar might well be within White’s grasp in Hollywood.
Athletes have, of course, forever been finding their way into show business, but for whatever reason it seems that is the football players who seem to be the best at that craft. There are those who say they live in a world of make believe anyway, so the journey to television or the big screen isn’t as long a journey as it may seem.
We spent Tuesday afternoon thinking about former football players who made good and decided to come with a few lists for you to enjoy.
The 10 greatest football players to become successful actors:
1. This is easy, Jim Brown, the former Syracuse and Cleveland Browns’ fullback who wound up starring In a group of movies that were not much better than today’s Cleveland Browns — “The Dirty Dozen,” “Mars Attacks!” “100 Rifles” (a movie saved by the presence of Raquel Welch), “The Running Man” and “Any Given Sunday.”
2. O.J. Simpson, the greatest running back not named Jim Brown to play in the NFL, he wound up running through airports and starring as Nordberg in the “Naked Gun” trilogy.
3. Dan Marino. Probably the best quarterback of the modern era, he was a TV pitchman for Isotoner gloves but did give acting a try, if you can call being kidnapped by cross-dressing psycho Ray Finkle in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” acting.
4. Lawrence Taylor. This New York Giants linebacker was good enough to go to 10 Pro Bowls and win two Super Bowls. Oscars have avoided him, however, as he played in such movies as “The Waterboy,” “Any Given Sunday” and the remake of “Shaft.”
5. Joe Namath. Before Chad Ochocinco there was Namath wearing pantyhose in a commercial after coming out of Alabama and giving the American Football League a place in American society as he led the New York Jets to the first AFL victory over the Baltimore Colts.
6. (Tie) Mike Ditka and Dick Butkus. Both these guys were Chicago Bears, Ditka maybe the toughest tight end to ever play the game, Butkus perhaps the toughest middle linebacker ever to play the game. As actors they remain two of the toughest football players ever to play.
8. Bubba Smith. A star at Michigan State and the first player picked in the 1967 NFL draft, Smith played nine seasons before making some classic Miller Lite commercials and playing the role of Moses Hightower in the “Police Academy” movies.
9. Alex Karras. A great defensive tackle at Iowa and a wonderful pro with the Detroit Lions who somehow survived a 1963 suspension for betting on football games in the pre-Pete Rose era, who can forget him KO’ing a horse in his role as Mongo in “Blazing Saddles” and playing George Papadapolis on the TV series “Webster”?
10. Terry Bradshaw. He was a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and possesses four Super Bowl rings, which speaks for how good a football player he was. As for his acting, well, he was in “Hooper,” “Cannonball Run” and “Failure to Launch.” Let’s just say he’s a better TV commentator than actor.
There is another top 10 that we’d like to hit on here, that being the 10 most successful former football players turned actor.
1. John Wayne. From “The Sands of Iwo Jima” to “The Alamo,” wearing a “Green Beret” or living through “The Longest Day,” this former USC player whose career was ended by injury was America.
2. Ronald Reagan. Only in America can you have a former football player who became an actor rank second in the most successful even though he was president of the United States. Perhaps it was because he co-starred with a chimpanzee in “Bedtime for Bonzo” or because he didn’t have to beat the Japanese or the Viet Cong, only Jimmy Carter.
3. Burt Reynolds. Injured while playing at Florida State, Reynolds changed directions and wound up becoming a star for his roles in “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Cannonball Run,” “Boogie Nights” and the football movie “The Longest Yard.”
4. Merlin Olsen. A member of both the Pro Football and College Football halls of fame, to say nothing of the L.A. Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome,” Olsen changed his image as he was the spokesman for FTD Florists and played Jonathan Garvey on TV’s “Little House on the Prairie.”
5. Mark Harmon. A quarterback at UCLA, and you know the quarterbacks always get the women. Voted the Sexiest Man Alive in 1986, he married Pam Dawber of “Mork and Mindy” and has topped his acting career with the hit TV series “NCIS.”
6. Carl Weathers. He wasn’t really famous as a linebacker in the NFL but you’d know he was when told he was Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” movies and also a star in “Predator,” “Action Jackson” and “Happy Gilmore.”
7. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. A defensive tackle at Miami when it won the 1991 national championship, he went on to become a wrestler and then an actor in action films.
8. Rosey Grier. Kind of a forgotten name now but he was a giant of a Giant and also one of the Fearsom Foursome, paving the way as one of the first players turned actors who hit it big with TV series roles. It didn’t hurt, either, that he took the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan after he had fatally shot Robert F. Kennedy.
9. Bernie Casey. A good wide receiver in the NFL in the ’60s, he played a number of roles but was at his best in “Brian’s Song.”
10. Ed O’Neil. He wasn’t much of a player, being cut as an outside linebacker by the Pittsburgh Steelers before ever playing a game, but he became a cult hero as Al Bundy on the TV series “Married With Children.”
Now it’s Patrick White’s turn.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.