Nine out of 10 professional athletes want to be actors. And with the level of fame they attain from their athletic skills, many actually get the chance. Most of the time it doesn't go over so well, even when they're just playing themselves, but every once in awhile, a gridiron great snags the perfect role and nails it.
With Super Bowl 50 looming, we've compiled a list of guys who jumped from the big game to Hollywood and scored as fictional characters (sorry, Ace Ventura star Dan Marino). And while some are better than others, they all had their own highlights -- the kind that didn't show up on SportsCenter.
This Is the World's Longest Zipline
Black Caesar | American International Pictures
Kansas City Chiefs defensive back and Super Bowl I participant Fred "The Hammer" Williamson could talk some shit. He was one of the first NFL players to use the media to smack-talk opponents, and his physical play on the field usually backed it up. That supreme confidence carried over to his acting career, dominating the Blaxploitation movement with roles in Black Caesar, Hell Up, and Boss Nigger. As an athlete-turned-actor, Williamson oozed charisma onscreen; regardless of whether he was taking charge of a situation in a smooth manner or a kinetic one, he always came off as badass. In more recent years, Williamson has been seen in From Dusk 'Til Dawn and the Starsky & Hutch remake, and he turned up in a 2014 episode of Real Husbands of Hollywood.
The running back played six seasons in the NFL, including spots in Super Bowl VIII and Super Bowl IX with the Minnesota Vikings, before turning to acting. Hill Street Blues cast him as a series regular in 1981 and he played Officer Joe Coffey for most of the series' run, busting down doors and playing off his partner, Lucy Bates, in a classic will-they-won't-they situation. His character also had the pleasure of dying twice: he was killed once in the line of duty (but it was just a flesh wound), and then again down the road. Surely Marinaro and his bank account were thankful. Beyond Hill Street Blues, Marinaro appeared on Laverne & Shirley, the early-'90s NBC drama Sisters, and as a football coach on Spike TV's Blue Mountain State.
Police Academy | Warner Bros. Pictures
Gigantic defensive end Bubba Smith played in Super Bowls III and V with the Baltimore Colts, and went Hollywood after retiring in 1976. The first pick of the 1967 NFL draft went on to play Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies, who earned laughs from his sheer size. Throughout his acting career, Smith also benefitted from a fruitful partnership with another former NFL great, Dick Butkus; the two appeared in a series of Miller Lite ads, including one in which they quenched their thirsts after a round of tennis, which didn’t suit their large frames. Is it me, or does it seem like the 6' 7" Smith would have held his own on the court?
Mars Attacks | Warner Bros. Pictures
Technically, Jim Brown never played in a Super Bowl, since the NFL invented the big-game concept a year after his retirement. But the man who has been called the "best football player of all time" and the "first black action star" did win a NFL Championship before it was super-sized, so we're going to let him slide. After making his acting debut in the World War II classic The Dirty Dozen, the charismatic Brown popped up in various scene-stealing roles, including the murderous, jetpack-wearing Fireball in The Running Man, as former heavyweight champ Byron Williams in Mars Attacks! and a coach in Oliver Stone's football flick Any Given Sunday.
Any Given Sunday | Warner Bros. Pictures
The man who many consider to be one of the best defensive players in NFL history smashed his way to Super Bowls XXI and XXV as a member of the New York Giants. The same physicality, not to mention a big mouth, gave him a magnetic presence on-screen, especially as Any Given Sunday's Shark, a guy playing through a number of concussions. OK, that performance wasn't exactly a stretch for him, but he also wasn't terrible in the Shaft remake and Jean-Claude Van Damme's In Hell.
Hooper | Warner Bros. Pictures
Sure, Pittsburgh Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw has four Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVPs. A bunch of guys can claim honors like those. But Bradshaw made it big in the acting realm, too, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to prove it. Early in his acting career he found himself opposite Burt Reynolds in Hooper (a rare instance of seeing Bradshaw with a full head of hair) and The Cannonball Run. Nearly 30 years later, he played Matthew McConaughey's father in the rom-com Failure to Launch, bearing serious skin during a scene set in a "naked room." He goes all the way for a win.
Three-time Super Bowl champion (for XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX) and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin is now known primarily as a Sunday NFL talking head. But in his one beefy acting role, he's pretty damn funny. He adeptly pulls off playing a wise-ass and badass receiver in the Adam Sandler-starring remake of The Longest Yard. He also turned up as a football coach being threatened by gangsters in a 2009 episode of Burn Notice.
The Goonies | Warner Bros. Pictures
John Matuszak, who helped carry the Oakland Raiders to wins in Super Bowl XI and XV, did a whole bunch of smallish TV and film work in the 1980s, but you'll recognize him for one role in particular: Sloth in Goonies. Unfortunately, Matuszak was largely unidentifiable in the role thanks to what seems to be ten tons of melty makeup. The defensive end reportedly spent five hours each day in the makeup chair to get Sloth's look just right, but that chore definitely paid off, as he plays Sloth with so much kindness and warmth, while still exuding child-like wonder. Sadly, Matuszak passed away at 39 in 1989 from an accidental drug overdose.
Firestorm | 20th Century Fox
The defensive end wanted to be an action star so, so bad. Long, another Oakland Raider who climbed to Super Bowl glory (in XVIII), certainly had the jawline for it. The NFL Hall of Famer had a role in John Woo's Broken Arrow, where he acted alongside John Travolta and Christian Slater, before nabbing his first lead in 2013's Firestorm. It’s a straight goof of a movie that's one of those "so bad it's almost good" deals. Nowadays, Howie seems to have gotten over his action star bug and is comfortably found on Fox's Sunday NFL broadcast.
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Luke McCormick is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn who is a big football fan, but sadly a Chicago Bears one. Find him on Twitter @LUKEmccorm