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15 Super Famous Actors Who You May Not Have Known Played Football

By / 11.15.12
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On Tuesday night, UPROXX’s beloved clown prince and star of Community, Joel McHale, stopped by Conan to discuss how NBC might eventually air the final season of Community, as well as his brief and underwhelming stint on Sons of Anarchy. And I’m so relieved right now, because that opening sentence has so many of my favorite things that I never get to talk about here because Maske, Kurp and Danger get to have all the fun over at Warming Glow.

Of course, plenty of other sites picked up on McHale’s always-charming interview and one little nugget of information seemed to have caught a lot of bloggers and interwebbers by surprise – McHale played tight end for the Washington Huskies and even has a ring from U-Dub’s 1992 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan. And when I read all of the surprised, “Why I never!” reactions, I was like, “Hey, I knew that.”

I only knew it, though, because I remembered reading something on ESPN.com recently that I actually enjoyed. Back in August, ESPN’s Charles Curtis kicked off the series “How Good Was He?” which was a phenomenal idea that seemed to have died several weeks later with “How Good was 2 Chainz at Basketball?”, but I hope there will be more. In fact, let’s consider this short feature a little kick in the pants for ESPN’s Playbook to get back to these enjoyable interviews.

It turns out that a lot of famous actors actually have roots in football, and I’m not just talking about crossover legends like Alex Karras and Bubba Smith (rest their souls) or humiliating one-and-done guys like Howie Long and Brian Bosworth. You may read this and say, “Eh, nothing new” but several of these famous actors who used to play football actually surprised me.

He also now coaches high school football. Can't forget your roots, bro.


Before he’d go on to become the star of the inexplicably popular That 70s Show and create one of MTV’s greatest daggers in the heart of music videos with Punk’d, Ashton Kutcher was a pretty f*cked up kid. He was an admitted wild child and he never took anyone or anything seriously, which includes when he attended the University of Iowa to study biochemical engineering and develop a cure for his twin brother’s cerebral palsy and also when he was a wide receiver at Clear Creek Amana High School in Homestead, Iowa. But he won a modeling contract, grew up, married Bruce Willis’ ex-wife and now he’s dating Mila Kunis, so who the hell needs football anyway?

It’s funny, I never knew even wondered if Bernie Casey played college and professional football when he starred alongside Jim Brown in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, which is one of my favorite movies ever made, because he was just a good actor. And before that, when he starred in one of my other favorite movies, Spies Like Us, it never occurred to me either. Same with Revenge of the Nerds. In retrospect, Casey was just such a good comedic actor to me, but sure enough, he played football at Bowling Green – where he also broke several track records – and he had a decent NFL career with the 49ers and Rams.

I believe that he goes by just Chad Murray now, because the three-name thing is soooooo 1990s, but the former Mr. Sophia Bush – how do you leave that, bro? – showed everyone that he could play a little football in A Cinderella Story. He was a natural for the part, though, because he’d been a serious high school football star at Clarence High School in New York. Word is he even broke his nose once and that’s what gave him his chiseled good looks. I mean, GRRRRRR PUSHUPS!

The star of Angel and Bones, as well as one of Kelly Bundy’s skuzziest boyfriends, played high school football at Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania after his family moved from New York. During his junior season, Boreanaz reportedly blew out his knee, abruptly ending what was a promising young career. Poor guy, I hope he’s not sad about how things turned out.

What? That's an actual picture of Dean Cain playing high school football. While we don't hear much from Mr. Cain these days - all I can think of when I do hear his name is John Mulaney's bit about Law & Order - he will forever be known as Superman to TV fans. But he does have a background in athletics, as he showed off while losing to our beloved Eve Torres on Stars Earn Stripes. Cain actually played high school baseball with Rob and Chad Lowe, as well as Charlie Sheen, and he turned down a buttload of athletics scholarships to various colleges to play football at Princeton, where he also dated Brooke Shields. And Cain was no slouch on the field. He had 11 interceptions in his senior season and signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills before turning to a career in acting.

I don’t think this one really surprises anyone, but I think that because he plays such a lovable-but-tough dad on Modern Family, people forget that Ed O’Neill has always been a badass. The star of Married… with Children was also a star defensive lineman at Youngstown State and Ohio University, and he was good enough to earn a tryout for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, he was cut because he was a dick to the coaches and his teammates, but when you score four touchdowns in one game for Polk High, you’ve earned it.

Forest Whitaker had the acting bug from an early age, but he was also a pretty good high school football player in California, as he earned a full athletic scholarship to Cal Poly Pamona. Unfortunately, he had suffered a pretty nasty back injury and he was unable to play anymore. That’s fine, though, because that led him down the path to putting together one of the most impressive 80s film (and current) résumés of any of his peers.

Obviously that inset picture above shows the Academy Award-winning star of Stealth, Jamie Foxx, in his high school basketball gear, but make no mistake about it – Wanda was a two-sport star. I don’t know if Foxx was better at basketball than football or vice versa, but seeing as he didn’t look terrible throwing a football in Any Given Sunday, I’m betting he held his own.

I don’t think it surprises anyone that John Wayne was a badass high school and college football player. I just feel like we don’t talk about the Duke enough these days, and every generation should be reminded about guys like him, because he’d probably chew a glass bottle and spit it at Justin Bieber. But yes, in case you weren’t aware, Wayne (AKA Marion Morrison, and of course you’ll make fun of that name now that he’s dead) played for Howard Jones and the USC Trojans. I like to think that somewhere his ghost is trying to poop on Lane Kiffin.

We obviously know that Mad Men star Jon Hamm is a fan of the 11-time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, because he’s classier and more intelligent than most actors. But he also played football and baseball at John Burroughs School in Missouri. He was also on the swim team there, but if I posted a picture of that, every woman who looked at it would have an orgasm and melt like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

This is the one that makes me feel like a dumbass, because I feel like I should have known that Mark “Mr. Shoop” Harmon was the quarterback of the UCLA Bruins for two seasons in the 1970s. In fact, Harmon’s Bruins were 17-5 while he was QB, which is almost as impressive as his character in Summer School allowing a female student to move in with him, and no one at the studio stopped and said, “Hey, you guys know he’d be in prison if this actually happened, right?” In conclusion, Mr. Shoop turned down Courtney Thorne-Smith for Kirstie Alley.

Before he was on that popular TV show on ABC that I never watched and before he was making Tyler Perry pretend that he could be an action hero, Matthew Fox was a wide receiver for the Columbia Lions, adding his name to Lou Gehrig and Jack Kerouac as famous people who played for this Ivy League institution. Except, while the Lions were good in the days of those other guys, they were f*cking terrible when Fox was there. By the start of his senior season, Columbia was 0-30 during Fox’s college career. That explains why he wanted to be left to die on an island.

Nick Nolte is a 71-year old badass, who simply does whatever the hell he feels like whenever he feels like it, because that’s what you do when you’re grizzled and presumably drunk all the time. One of Nolte’s biggest roles, obviously, was the football film North Dallas Forty, and football ran in his family’s blood. His dad was an All-American at Iowa State, while Nick would go on to play football at Eastern Arizona College. Eventually, he realized that he hated school and just decided to act, because that was an actual choice people made in the 50s and 60s.

That’s Tommy Lee Jones up there, No. 61 leading the way as a blocker for the Harvard Crimson. He was actually the offensive guard on Harvard’s undefeated team in 1968, and apparently he was also part of a 29-29 tie against Yale that is still celebrated as some famous game, but holy crap does that sound boring or what? But damn, if I could travel back in time and be bros with one guy in college, it would be Jones. You know he slayed the Harvard girls. They never stood a chance.

We know that Will Ferrell is one of the funniest men alive, and we know that he’s a huge sports fan, with perhaps his greatest allegiance being to the USC Trojans. We know that he was a singer in college and he’s every frat boy’s greatest inspiration – the guy who left the DTD house and made millions as a professional dick joke maker. But did you know that during his senior year of high school, Ferrell was a place kicker? He kicked 14 field goals and made 41-of-50 extra points that year, and I feel like he should be on more ESPN pregame shows, trying to outkick Lee Corso.

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TAGSASHTON KUTCHERATHLETES TURNED ACTORSBERNIE CASEYCHAD MICHAEL MURRAYDAVID BOREANAZDEAN CAINED O'NEILLFOREST WHITAKERHIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALLJamie FoxxJOEL MCHALEJOHN WAYNEJON HAMMMARK HARMONMATTHEW FOXNCAA FOOTBALLNFLNick NolteTommy Lee JonesWILL FERRELL

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