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NFL Stars Who Became Famous Television Actors

Football careers can be notoriously short, that is if you’re not NFL stars like Tom Brady or Adam Vinatieri. Some players hardly have the opportunity to play in the professional league, and some don’t even make it that long, instead of seeing their careers come to an end in college. But not

So what do all of these football players do when they shed their helmets and their time on the gridiron comes to an end? Sure, some players transition into a fairly normal life and some trade in their pigskins for microphones by becoming commentators or analysts on TV, but others find thriving careers in front of the lights and cameras as actors.

There’s always going to be a place in film and TV for large, muscular guys like The Rock for action roles and such. So at least there is some sort of job security that some lucky former stars of the field end up stumbling upon following their careers as quarterbacks and offensive linesmen.

We did a little investigating and compiled a list of some of those multi-talented men who managed to take the tactics that they learned on the field and from doing TV commercials and successfully made the leap from the fan-packed stadiums to the TV screen.

Facts Verse Presents: NFL Stars Who Became Famous Television Actors

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Ed Marinaro

Following the relocation of two of the country’s most prestigious beer distributors from Milwaukee to Burbank California, network execs and producers of the hit sitcom Laverne and Shirley tried to write in a very special love interest for Laverne.

Ed Marinaro played the role of Sonny St. Jacques, a professional stuntman that had the habit of showing off his stacked upper body.

He had a solid career in the NFL as a running back. He played with the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings with whom he was able to play in two Superbowls. Also, he is the runner up to Pat Sullivan for the Heisman trophy in 1971.

Only, he stuck around with Laverne and Shirley for a season before taking a major role on Hill Street Blues. Following that he starred in shows like Falcon Crest and the Football themed comedy Blue Mountain State.

Fred Dryer

After having a stellar career in the NFL that spanned 13 years, 176 games and recording 104 sack with the New York Giants and The Los Angeles Rams and remarkably being the only player in NFL history to ever score 2 safeties in one game, he traded in his shoulder pads for a life on screen.

He might be best known for his work starring in the series Hunter as renegade cop Sgt. Rick Hunter but he also appeared in episodes of ChiPs, Cheers, Agents of SHIELD, and NCIS and starred in the series Lands End.

Today he owns his own production company in LA called Fred Dryer Productions.

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Timothy Brown

This former Colts running back and kick returner managed to get his foot into the door of show business before he had even finished his career in the NFL. In 1967 when he was finishing up his final season with the Eagles he appeared in the season three premiere of The Wild Wild West. Get this, his character’s name was Clint Cartwheel! What a name!

He managed to land quite a few guest appearances on shows like Adam-12 and the Mary Tyler Moore Show before scoring a recurring role on M*A*S*H as Dr. Oliver Harmon “Spearchucker” Jones. but was cut from the show after the first season when producers discovered that there were no African-American surgeons serving in Korea during the war.

He went on to do several films Like Nashville in 1975, Black Heat in 1976, and Midnight Ride in 1990.

Fred Williamson

Williamson had played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs as a defensive back before finding some moderate success onscreen.

He got his start doing blacksploitation films like Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. Notable also was one of his earlier television credits in Star Trek as Anka in the episode “The Cloud Minders”.

Following these roles, he would go on to have 58 acting credits in a career that showed him as a proficient actor, producer, and writer. That career of his would extend into the 21st century with action films being his bread and butter. Most recently he has appeared on 10 episodes of the Travel Channel series Famously Afraid that details well-known people’s encounters and fears of the paranormal.

Alex Karras

This Four-time Pro Bowl player with the Detroit lions made his acting debut on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Daniel Boone. He’d go on to have roles in Blazing Saddles as Mongo, MASH as Lyle, a marine saved by Hawkeye and Odd Couple as Jake Metcalf.

But, most people know him as George Papadapolis as the loving father figure in Webster.

Rosey Grier

Another TV success story that came from the Giants and the Rams was this defensive tackle. His cousin Pam Grier helped him get his foot into the door of the acting world and he started out onscreen with small parts on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Dream of Jeannie and The Wild Wild West.

He then secured a regular role in Daniel Boone as Gabe Cooper in the shows sixth season and then linked up with Danny Thomas as a pianist in the sequel series Make Room For Grandaddy.

It seems like playing for LA or New York increases your chances of striking it big in show biz. The next player continues to hold true to that pattern.

Merlin Olsen

He was a defensive tackle worth shaking in your boots about before he became known as having a huge heart on frontier shows like Little House On The Prarie. In that series, he played a farmer by the name of Jonathan Garvey.

In one humorous scene, Johns son exclaims “My Pa doesn’t know anything about football”

Right kid, sure he doesn’t [sarcasm]

Olsen would go on to play the lead role in Michael Landon’s western offering Father Murphy where he came to the aid of orphans whilst impersonating a priest.

Up next is a man that needs very little introduction.

Dick Butkus

USA TODAY once described Butkus as “the gold standard by which all other middle linebackers are measured”.

He certainly made a name for himself in his tenure with the Chicago Bears. Throughout his career that spanned from 1965 to 1973 seeing 119 games, he was invited to 8 pro bowls, named first-team all-pro 5 times and was deemed the NFL’s Defensive Player Of The Year twice.

He was a fearsome tackler and played with relentless tenacity. Also, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest football players to ever step on to the turf.

He got his introduction to television in 1974 on the civil services drama Emergency!, and then he went on to make appearances in shows like The Rockford Files, Wonder Woman, Taxi, and Fantasy Island.

He finally got a chance to have a lead role in the 80s as Ski Butkowski on Blue Thunder and then later he would play the lead in Half Nelson alongside another NFL player that we are about to hone in on..

Bubba Smith

After playing for the Raiders, Colts, and Oilers, Bubba is probably best known for his recurring role in the Police Academy films. But other than those popular movies, as we already mentioned, he also worked alongside Dick Butkus on Blue Thunder and Half Nelson.

Following those shows, he appeared in a situational comedy about a 24-hour convenience store called Open All Night, but it was canceled after only 1 season. You may have also seen him on an episode of Wonder Woman as the character ‘Rojak’.

Tim Rossovich

Linebacker for the Eagles, Chargers and Oilers, Tim’s career in the National Football League would see him on the field from 1968 to 1976.

He made his first TV appearance in the ABC sitcom The San Pedro Beach Bums in 1977, then the following year found a guest appearance in Charlie’s Angels.

Because of his build and stature, he was type-casted as ‘the muscle’. He played a bodyguard on Soap and then returned to Charlie’s Angels to play a thuglike villain. Following those bits, he played yet another thug and “Beast Man” on Wonder Woman.

His acting career would extend throughout the 70s and 80s with guest appearances on A-team, The Love Boat, and even Alf.

Fun Facts:

Tims, brother is Actor Rick Rossovich and in college Tim roomed with Tom Selleck, another professional athlete that would make a name for himself on television after their basketball career came to a close.

Well, yet again we’ve come to the end of another facts-sinating video. It’s great to see how all these massively talented athletes were able to keep their careers afloat even after departing from the NFL. There are only so many years you can play professionally before you either run out of steam or your body gives out on you. These men were able to turn their established images on the field into celebrated careers on the screen.

Now its time to hear from you. What would you rather be, A pro football player or a famous actor on TV? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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