10. Dick Butkus - "Necessary Roughness"
I saw Dick Butkus in an elevator about 12 years ago, and I wanted to tell him how much I've enjoyed his acting career, but the look on his face told me all I would get out would be, "Hey, Dick, you know ..." and he would attack me like I was a deer in the woods and he was a Cullen. In "Necessary Roughness," Butkus plays the leader of a squad of prison football players sent to scrimmage against Texas State. But instead of a ferocious fire-breathing monster, he comes out to the midfield captain's meeting very polite and matter-of-fact, which disarms you for the scene. "Gentlemen, this is your home field, so please, take the ball." I just loved it.
9. Ray Nitschke - "The Longest Yard"
P.A. Announcer: "Once again Crewe hits Bogdanski in the, uh, nether regions."
To get even with Nitschke's character Bogdanski, a prison guard who just made a dirty play, Burt Reynolds' Mean Machine team keeps letting him through the line of scrimmage so Reynolds can take aim at his, uh, nether regions with the football. The fact he does it for the final time on a third-and-32 play just makes it all the more fun. It's stunning that Nitschke, long considered the most intimidating force in football and also in this movie, could so easily become a punch line in a matter of two minutes. Not many guys could play it like that.
8. Dan Marino - "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective"
"Laces out, Dan."
I'm a Jets fan. Ray Finkel's room looked like mine when I was a kid. The "Die Dan Die" graffiti and knife through his picture? I had that too. But I have to give Marino credit for a couple of things. First, even though he doesn't have a lot of screen time, his presence hangs over the movie almost like a ghost, which is hard to pull off ... "When's Marino going to be in it?" It was like waiting to see when Lord Voldemort was going to show up for the first time (remember, Jets fan here). But even more impressive is that he was the first modern football superstar in his prime to really go for it in a movie where ridicule is always a possibility if it doesn't work. Even though he's not an actor, Marino was good enough.
7. Fred Williamson - "From Dusk Till Dawn"
"The Hammer" was a great player who had a long movie career playing various badasses starting in the 1970s. He just oozed intimidation on the screen. I felt oddly comforted seeing him for the first time in this movie, because I just knew he'd be a huge force for the good guys. And he was, until he got so wrapped up in his Vietnam soliloquy ("I played possum, listened to the enemy laugh, joke") that he fails to see Sex Machine, who turned into a vampire, drop down on top of him and bite him on the neck. (If you haven't seen the movie, it would take too long for me to explain that last sentence.)
6. Lawrence Taylor - "Any Given Sunday"
"When a man looks back on his life he should be proud of all of it, not just the years he spent in pads and cleats."
Seriously, was there anyone else who could have embodied the message Oliver Stone was aiming for with this character? A guy who was a demon on the field, out of control off of it, and ultimately the movie's most sympathetic figure as he puts his life at risk for one more sack and a million-dollar bonus -- which is what we think many players do. His final scene where he's barely conscious makes you want to turn away from the screen, and in my mind is the third best scene in the movie -- just behind Jamie Foxx's debut where you see the action from his point of view, and of course, Al Pacino's "Peace with Inches" speech, which might be the best on-screen moment of his career.
5. Bubba Smith - "Police Academy"
"Mahoney, I haven't driven a car since I was 12."
You talk about someone not afraid to mock their image, Smith wore a too-tight police uniform and portrayed his character as the "Enforcer who behind the layers is just as afraid of driving a car as you are." When Steve Guttenberg takes him out for lessons I can't get over the look on Smith's face -- he looks scared to death the entire time. Similar to Butkus in playing off-type, this was a much meatier role. As a result, Smith's character became a pop-culture icon. I interviewed him once and he told me how upset he got when people would recognize him as Moses Hightower instead of the football legend he was, but plenty of people would love that kind of notoriety in both the NFL and Hollywood. And I think he married Hooks later in life. (Editor's note: he did not.)
4. Brett Favre - "There's Something About Mary"
"What about Fav-ruh?",
The movie is a comic classic: The hair-gel scene, the old lady kissing the dog, Matt Dillon's dentures, etc. But let's be real: Wasn't the first thing you said after you walked out of the movie, "Wow, how funny was Brett Favre?" Who knew Favre's scene would have the most staying power nearly 15 years later?
3. Alex Karras - "Blazing Saddles"
Before he utters a word, Karras provides us with the physical highlight of the movie by punching the horse of a man who speaks to him. I've seen plenty of ideas in movies regurgitated over the years, but no one has dared try to one-up the horse punching. While seeing an athlete play a slow-witted person isn't anything new ("Mongo only pawn in game of life"), can you really see anyone else doing what he did? I even liked him in "Webster."
2. Deacon Jones - "Heaven Can Wait"
"I'm terribly sorry Mr. Farnsworth, this is really embarrassing."
He only has one scene, but Jones makes me howl every time I watch Warren Beatty's tryout scene with the Rams. Beatty is the owner of the team and he wants to be the quarterback, so he arranges a scrimmage workout with them. But this doesn't sit well with the players, so Jones keeps jumping offsides and decking Beatty before he even gets the snap. That by itself would be funny enough. But the fact that every time Jones sacks him he immediately feels remorse and apologizes -- because after all, Beatty's character is the owner of the team and signs his checks -- makes that scene legendary.
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1. Carl Weathers - The "Rocky" series
Much can be said about Weathers as Apollo Creed: His athleticism and how he looked like a boxing professional. His ego was over the top, but it never got campy. You could list your top 50 Apollo Creed quotes and people would still say you missed some. (For the record, I'm partial to "Does this look like a circus to you, man?") Sylvester Stallone's beloved Rocky Balboa character doesn't happen without Weathers. It's said a good action film is only as good as its villain, and it was no accident that Creed remained a huge character in the second, third and fourth films. Even his death in "Rocky IV" is what the movie's entire plot hinges on. They knew a good thing when they saw it. Weathers was a natural in front of the camera, and is by far the best football-player-turned actor (he played parts of two seasons for the Oakland Raiders as a linebacker).