Alex Karras starred for the Detroit Lions from 1958 to 1970, then appeared in nearly 40 movies and television shows over 30 years. As one of the most dominant defensive linemen of his time, he was a First-Team All-Pro three times and selected to four Pro Bowls. While still an active player, he appeared as himself in Paper Lion (1968). Many remember him for his roles in Webster and Blazing Saddles. Personally, I enjoyed his performances as the Sheriff in Porky's and as "Squash" Bernstein in Victor Victoria.
While Alex Karras has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, here are five Hall of Famers who found success as actors.
Jim Brown was arguably the greatest running back of all time. Playing for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965, he led the NFL in rushing yards every year except 1962, when he finished fourth. He retired while still on top of his game, to become an actor, where he has more than 50 credits from Rio Conchos in 1964 to Dream Street in 2010. My personal favorites are The Dirty Dozen and Mars Attacks!, two films from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Dick Butkus played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1973, before a knee injury ended his career. He was all NFL six times and an eight-time Pro Bowler. As an actor he has appeared in several feature films and many television movies and serials, most recently as Coach Mike Katowinski in the Hang Time series. I remember him well as a coach in the 1999 film Any Given Sunday.
O.J. Simpson was the #1 overall pick in the 1969 NFL draft, after winning the Heisman Trophy at USC. He played running back from 1969 to 1979 for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. He was named NFL Player of the Year three times. His best known movie role is Nordberg, in the Naked Gun series. Of his many other appearances, two that stand out are Jernigan in The Towering Inferno and John Walker in Capricorn One.
Terry Bradshaw led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl championships and was named the game's MVP twice. He was the Steelers quarterback from 1970 to 1983. His acting has primarily been on television, but enjoyable silver screen appearances include as Sherman in Hooper, Terry in The Cannonball Run, and Al in Failure to Launch, though we may have seen too much of Al.
Merlin Olsen played defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams from 1962 to 1976. He was Rookie of the Year in 1962, a 14-time Pro Bowl selection, and is a member of the Rams' all-time team. Olsen's most well-known portrayal was as Jonathan Garvey in television's Little House on the Prairie series. In feature films you can find him as Little George in The Undefeated and Sgt. Fitzsimmons in Something Big.
There are many professional football players who have had off-field success as actors. In my opinion, these are the cream of the crop.
Harold Andrews has been a fan of football and the silver screen for nearly 50 years. He has enjoyed watching each of these professionals perform both on and off the field.Sources:
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Alex Karras
- Alex Karras
- Detroit Lions