LOS ANGELES — Super Bowl Sunday is upon us, a special, heartwarming time to gather with friends, eat too much queso and make ridiculous side bets on how long the national anthem will last and who will be forced to punt first.
It's also a good time to reflect on the many, many football players who've branched out into movies. We'd be here all day if we pondered college standouts like John Wayne and Dwayne Johnson, so we're sticking to the NFL. We'd also be here all day if we considered all forms of entertainment, so we're sticking to feature films — so sadly, I can't give a gratuitous shout-out to my fellow SMU Mustang "Dandy Don" Meredith.
— O.J. Simpson: We really can't ignore him. So instead, let us now harken to a simpler, happier time, when O.J. was best known as a charismatic rental-car pitchman and sometime actor. After winning the Heisman Trophy as a running back at USC in 1968, Simpson put together a stellar career over nine seasons with the Buffalo Bills before retiring with the San Francisco 49ers in 1979 and being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. But he'd already begun his acting career before he retired, playing a security chief in "The Towering Inferno" (1974) and an astronaut in "Capricorn One" (1978). Probably his most famous film performances came in the "Naked Gun" trilogy, in which he played Frank Drebin's best friend and partner, Nordberg, who often found himself in awkward situations.
— Jim Brown: Spike Lee devoted an entire documentary, 2002's "Jim Brown: All-American," to Brown's accomplishments on and off the field. One of the greatest running backs in football history, Brown played nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns, from 1957-65. When he retired, no player had run for as many yards (12,312) or scored more touchdowns (126) or rushing touchdowns (106), which put him in the Hall of Fame. His confident persona drew the attention of a Hollywood agent, who thought he'd be perfect for action films. Brown was a revolutionary presence on the screen — a virile, almost threatening black man, in contrast to the sophisticated characters Sidney Poitier played. And in movies like the 1969 Western "100 Rifles," he did something previously unheard of: an interracial love scene (with Raquel Welch).
— Carl Weathers: Come on, he's Apollo Creed! And he was in "Predator." Weathers started out as a star linebacker at San Diego State University before going on to an extremely brief pro career with the Oakland Raiders in the early '70s. After a couple years in the Canadian Football League with the BC Lions, Weathers retired to pursue acting full-time in 1974. His most important role has been as Rocky Balboa's nemesis and eventual friend in the first four "Rocky" movies; the character died in "Rocky IV." His first crack at playing the lead, 1988's "Action Jackson," didn't go so well. But he's rebounded nicely, including playing a version of himself as Tobias Funke's acting coach on a few episodes of "Arrested Development."
— Terry Crews: I would argue that Terry Crews is better-known now as an actor than as a football player. He's done everything from dopey comedies ("Soul Plane," ''White Chicks") to bombastic action movies ("Terminator Salvation," ''The Expendables"). He even has a bit part in the Oscar-nominated "Bridesmaids" as the boot-camp instructor whose classes Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph take in secret behind a tree. Whatever movie he's in, he's a welcome sight with his mix of intimidation and self-aware humor. He's also carved out meaty television roles for himself on "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Are We There Yet?" Oh, yes, and he played football. He was a defensive end and linebacker for the (then-Los Angeles) Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins over three seasons.
— Alex Karras: You may know him best for his television work as Emmanuel Lewis' adoptive dad, Mr. Papadapolis, on the feel-good '80s sitcom "Webster." But before that, Karras put together more of an eclectic filmography than most football players who become movie stars. Karras was an All-Pro defensive tackle who played 12 seasons for the Detroit Lions between 1958 and 1970. Even before his football career was over, he played himself in 1968's "Paper Lion." Famously, he punched a horse as the fearsome but dimwitted Mongo in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974). Karras played the sheriff in the classic teen-sex comedy "Porky's" and a closeted gay bodyguard in "Victor/Victoria" — and those movies happened to come out on the same weekend in 1982, a real demonstration of his range.
Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire.
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