Old School Americana & Nostalgia


5 Pro Athletes Who Became TV Stars

5 Pro Athletes Who Became TV Stars

It’s not unusual to see some pro athletes appear on TV shows as they are celebrities themselves to a point. Yet over the years, some athletes have made the full switch to acting. They have been able to take their on-field experience and find a way to make it work on the small screen.

Mind you, there have been athletes who have found success in movies too. For our purpose here, we’ll take a look at five athletes who moved off the sports field to go in front of the camera.

Alex Karras

As a standout defensive tackle, Alex Karras dominated the defensive side of the football for the National Football League’s Detroit Lions. He played 12 seasons for the team and earned accolades for his effort. There are a lot of people who will remember Karras from playing Mongo in the Mel Brooks classic movie Blazing Saddles. Yet TV fans will lovingly recall him playing George Papadapolis in Webster. One of football’s top pro athletes.

Ed Marinaro

Ed Marinaro played in the NFL for six seasons as a running back. He played for the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and New York Jets. While with the Vikings, he appeared in Super Bowl VIII and Super Bowl IX. After his pro athletic days on the field ended, he turned to acting. Old-school TV fans might remember him playing Officer Joe Coffey on Hill Street Blues. Marinaro made additional appearances on Laverne & Shirley and Sisters.

Fred Dryer

In his playing days, Fred Dryer could be a monster on the field. Dryer played defensive end for the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams, amassing 103 career sacks over 13 years. Additionally, Dryer is the only NFL player to record two safeties in one game. One of football’s most powerful pro athletes. After retiring from football, he turned his attention to acting. Dryer eventually got his turn to play a cop in the show Hunter, which aired in the 1980s-90s.

Bob Uecker

Now here’s a guy who found humor in his playing days and doesn’t mind talking about it at all. Humorously tagged as “Mr. Baseball,” Bob Uecker played between 1962-67 for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. His career batting average is .200, so he wasn’t the best of hitters as a catcher. But he found his place among other pro athletes.

These days, Milwaukee Brewers fans know Uecker as the longtime radio voice of the team. As for his TV career, Uecker played sportswriter George Owens in the 1985-90 ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere. Uecker also had a number of memorable guest appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Merlin Olsen

What a career for Merlin Olsen. He played defensive tackle for 15 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, a legendary part of “The Fearsome Foursome” along the defensive front. Olsen also was selected to play in the Pro Bowl for 14 of his 15 seasons. It’s just an amazing run for one of the NFL’s top pro athletes. Olsen also spent time in the broadcast booth, sometimes being paired with legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg.

When it came to his TV career, Olsen appeared as Jonathan Garvey alongside Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie. But he got a chance to star in his own show as John Michael Murphy in the early 1980s series Father Murphy.

Just Some Pro Athletes Who Became Actors

While there are just five of the pro athletes who became actors, there are others who have done cameos. One classic TV show that made use of them was The Brady Bunch. Los Angeles Dodgers player Wes Parker and Los Angeles Rams standout Deacon Jones popped up in different episodes.