Alex Karras as Mongo Blazing Saddles
Karras is in only a handful of scenes in Mel Brooks' 1974 western comedy, but they are among the most memorable in the movie. Karras is at the center of probably the most iconic scene: He parks his mule in front of a bar and is told by a man on a horse, "Hey, you can't park that thing there.'' Mongo then hauls back with a punch and knocks out the horse. Hilarious. Karras barely speaks in the movie, but he delivers the classic line: "Mongo only pawn in game of life.''
Fred Williamson as Frost From Dusk Till Dawn
An NFL star in the 1960s, Williamson made a successful transition into acting, usually playing a tough guy in "blaxploitation'' films. But he was never cooler, tougher and funnier than in Robert Rodriguez's 1996 campy vampire movie From Dusk Till Dawn, which also starred George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and the writer of the screenplay, Quentin Tarantino. Williamson is on camera for about only 20 minutes, but he wipes out dozens of vamps while chewing on a cigar. He also has one of the better lines, challenging a vampire by saying, "Yo, monkey man! Anything you got to say to them, say to me first.'' And if you've seen the movie, you know that those long fingers crawling over his shoulders make for the creepiest scene.
Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle Major League
Dubbed "Mr. Baseball" by Johnny Carson, Uecker wasn't much of a player (a .200 lifetime average over six seasons), but he became a star as an announcer, for his Miller Lite commercials and for his funny appearances on the pre-Leno Tonight Show. Uecker starred in the sitcom Mr. Belvedere, but his best acting performance was as the boozing, sarcastic Cleveland Indians announcer in the movie Major League. As Doyle, Uecker uttered one of the most famous lines in sports-movie history: "Juuuuust a bit outside.''
Rosie Greer as Jack Moss The Thing With Two Heads
A member of the Rams' famed Fearsome Foursome along with another future actor (Merlin Olsen), Greer is in one of the silliest low-budget sci-fi movies ever made. It is so outlandish that it's good, in a cult way. Check out the premise: Ray Milland plays a dying, rich, racist doctor who has his head transplanted onto a healthy body. That body turns out to be that of a black death row inmate played by Greer. The two heads then share the body and get in adventures. Ain't that awesome?
Pele as Cpl. Luis Fernandez Victory
I have a soft spot for this soccer movie in which a bunch of Allies in a World War II POW camp beat a team of Germans, then escape. Sure, it's corny, but it's fun. The great Pele has the best line of the movie: He grabs chalk from the coach (played by Michael Caine) during a strategy session and walks up to the board, draws a bunch of zig-zag lines and says, "After giving me ball here, I do this, this, this, this, this, this, this … goal. Easy.''
O.J. Simpson as Officer Nordberg Naked Gun
Before he became infamous for other reasons, Simpson, one of football's greatest running backs, had a successful post-NFL career as a pitchman (Hertz) and actor in TV and movies, including Roots, The Towering Inferno and the better-than-you-think conspiracy movie Capricorn One, where he played an astronaut alongside James Brolin. But when you think of the "Juice" and movies, you think of the human crash-test dummy otherwise known as Nordberg in The Naked Gun series. Simpson had few lines but plenty of pratfalls in the crime comedy movies.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Roger Murdock Airplane!
The NBA's all-time leading scorer has been in plenty of movies and TV shows, often playing himself. He had an awesome fight scene against Bruce Lee in the 1972 film Game of Death, but his best performance is as airplane pilot Roger Murdock (Over … Roger … huh?) in the comedy Airplane! The gag is he is playing himself, and he reveals so when a kid tells him his dad says Abdul-Jabbar doesn't play hard until the playoffs. Abdul-Jabbar grabs the kid and says, "Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!''
Jim Brown as Robert Jefferson The Dirty Dozen
It was during the making of The Dirty Dozen that arguably the greatest football player of all time announced his retirement from the NFL after nine years. Brown was in more than three dozen movies, including 100 Rifles with Raquel Welch. That was one of the first movies with an interracial love scene. But our favorite movie with Brown is The Dirty Dozen, which also stars Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson. Taking full advantage of Brown's football skills, the best scene features Brown, a former running back, dodging bullets and grenades like he was avoiding linebackers.
Ray Allen as Jesus Shuttlesworth He Got Game
Director Spike Lee considered several NBA stars to play the role of high school basketball phenom Jesus Shuttlesworth in this 1998 film, including Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady. But the part went to Allen, who was widely praised by critics even though he had never acted.
Terry Bradshaw as Al Failure to Launch
There were plenty of choices for the final spot on this list, such as Bubba Smith as Hightower in the Police Academy movies and Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed in Rocky, but I'm going with Bradshaw. The former NFL QB played the country bumpkin role in movies including Cannonball Run and Hooper, but he did an admirable job in the 2006 comedy Failure to Launch. The movie was forgettable, but Bradshaw managed to hold his own among A-list actors Kathy Bates, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey. Heck, Bradshaw even did a nude scene!
tom jones' two cents
Last week the NFL family lost one of the great characters of all time, Alex Karras. A star defensive lineman with the Lions in the 1960s, Karras had an impressive second career as an actor, starring on the TV show Webster with Emmanuel Lewis and in movies such as Porky's, Against All Odds and Victor/Victoria. • And no, I didn't forget his most famous role. • To mark Karras' passing, we look at some of our favorite movie characters played by athletes or former athletes. We start with our favorite of all time, played by none other than Karras.