The legendary Russian theater director Constantin Stanislavski knew a bullshit actor when he saw one. Before entering his studio for the first time, performers were required to answer the following question: “Did you come here to serve art, and to make sacrifices for its sake, or to exploit your own personal ends?”

This seems like as good a barometer as any for measuring the acting prowess of professional athletes.

If Stanislavski were to sift through all the car dealership commercials, deodorant ads and soft-core porn films featuring ballplayers (as we have done for the past 48 hours), we’re confident that these 10 performances would rise to the top. That’s assuming, of course, he pressed on despite stumbling upon this Wilt Chamberlain commercial for laxatives.

So without further ado, we count down the 10 Greatest Thespian-Athlete Performances of All Time…

Athletic: NFL quarterback, 1998-present
Acting: Various TV commercials; host of Saturday Night Live
Submission: SNL digital short: “United Way”
Stanislavski’s Note: Exceptional comedic timing. Relatable. Knows how to deliver a joke, even if it’s at his own expense.

Athletic: NFL defensive end, 1969-1981
Acting: Lead role on NBC’s Hunter, 1984-1981; nearly cast as Sam Malone on Cheers
Submission: Hunter trailer
Stanislavski’s Note: A very real performance; comfortable handling a pistol; understated rage is captivating.

Athletic: NFL running back, 1967-1977
Acting: Detective Nordberg in the Naked Gun trilogy; actor in and producer of made-for-TV films Goldie and the Boxer, Cocaine and Blue Eyes and Frogmen
Submission: Deathbed scene in Naked Gun
Stanislavski’s Note: Competent physical comedian, comfortable with matters having to do with death.

Athletic: NFL defensive tackle, 1958-1970
Acting: Mongo in Blazing Saddles (1974); Sheriff Wallace in Porky’s (1981); George Papadapolis in the TV series Webster (1983-89); TV sportscaster in Buffalo ’66 (1998)
Submission: Mongo’s entrance in Blazing Saddles
Stanislavski’s Note: As a devoted Webster fan, I was struck by the actor’s versatility. I can count on one hand the number of actors who could portray both George Papadapolis and Mongo with such ease.

Athletic: NFL linebacker, 1958-1970
Acting: Apollo Creed in Rocky (1976), Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV; Dillon in Predator (1987); Action Jackson in Action Jackson (1988); Chubbs in Happy Gilmore (1996); Chubbs in Little Nicky (2000); Colonel Brewster in Tour of Duty (1989-90); Adam Beaudreaux in Street Justice (1991-93); Chief Hampton Forbes in The Heat of the Night (1993-94); himself in Arrested Development (2005)
Submission: Apollo and Rocky’s last talk
Stanislavski’s Note: I believe I’ve found my Othello.

Click here for Part Two: Our countdown of the Greatest Thespian-Athlete Performances of All Time continues…



  • C. Brian Smith