Time was, homo universalis-types came a dime a dozen. Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Danny Devito—the history books are full of guys who could do it all, dudes whose high-octane joie de vivre drove them over boundaries and across disciplines. Somewhere along the line, though, singular proficiency became the order of the day, and the jack-of-all-trades—that most limited of all specialists, if you listen to Scott Fitzgerald—took a backseat to the narrow-minded technophile. It's just not hip to be well-rounded anymore—not like it used to be, anyway, back when you couldn't call yourself a stud unless you were a scholar and a gentlemen, an artist and an inventor, or, even—
An athlete and an actor.
That's right, Meat: the Renaissance ain't quite dead yet, because somewhere, right now, there's a movie script crying out for a sporty celebrity cameo. Hollywood has played host to more than a few crossover hopefuls through the years, with results ranging from the sublime (Jessie Ventura in Predator) to the sad (Jim Brown in Mars Attacks) to the downright incoherent (Dennis Rodman—alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme—in Double Team). What follows is our list of the five greatest jock acting performances of all time, a tribute to those rare polymaths who had the chops to cut it between the lines and on the silver screen. It may be true that all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, but come on, right?:
To be a true player you've got to know how to play, and no-fooling thespianism ain't one of those things anybody can ever fake...
Number Five: Cam Neely in Dumb and Dumber
"Kick his ass, Sea Bass"—honestly now, do you need any more convincing than that? In an exceedingly memorable flick, few scenes stand out like Neely's turn as the loogie-hawking, man-lovin' rowdie who harasses Lloyd and Harry at a truck-stop diner. The former Bruins' forward popped up again—this time as Sea Bass the state trooper—in Me, Myself, and Irene...and let's not forget his starring role in one of the first offbeat ESPN commercials. "You guys want to kick my dog while you're here?" If you don't remember that gem, Meat, you'd damn well better ask somebody.
Number Four: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane!
Oh, the Romantic irony. Abdul-Jabbar, if you'll remember, plays a dual role in the slapstick classic: yes, he's Roger Murdock, First Officer of ill-fated Trans-American Flight 209 to Chicago...but he's also himself, apparently, a fact grasped only by a precocious youngster who visits the cockpit. After a delightfully lascivious dialogue with Peter Graves' Captain Clarence Oveur ("You ever seen a grown man naked?"), little Joey presses the evasive Lakers' center on his true identity—and finally touches a nerve when he relates his dad's stance on Kareem's dubious work ethic. "Listen kid," the sky-hooker growls into Joey's ear. "I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for forty-eight minutes." The fourth wall, it seems, never knew what hit it.
Number Three: John Matuszak in The Goonies
Sloth, to put it simply, is nothing short of a cultural icon, a figure every bit as important to 80s movie lore as Molly Ringwald or the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. And let's be clear about this much, Meat: there could have been no Sloth without Matuszak, who endured five hours of daily makeup work to play the part. At 6'8", the Raider D-end had the sort of size you couldn't teach—and a flair for the dramatic that helped turn "Chuuuunk!" into a part of our modern pop vernacular. Sadly, the hard-living Tooz died of heart failure in 1989, leaving Goonies fans everywhere to wail out their misery in that most pious and probing of all possible hymns: why God?—why couldn't you have taken Corey Feldman instead?
Number Two: Bob Uecker in Major League
Some critics might argue that Uecker mostly acted his way through a six-year career with the Brewers, Cardinals, Phillies, and Braves (lifetime batting average: exactly .200), but we're not about to quibble with statistics—not when the man has given so much back to the game as Harry Doyle, the voice of your Cleveland Indians. His whiskey-addled performance in the booth—"That's all we got, one goddamned hit?"—almost single-handedly makes the baseball scenes work in Major League...which is no mean feat, given Tom Berenger's painfully spastic swing. Truth be told, Uecker's small-screen work in Mr. Belvedere gives him a pretty compelling claim to this week's top spot on the strength of lifetime achievement alone—and we'd almost be inclined to give it to him, if it weren't for, well...
Number One: O.J. Simpson in The Naked Gun
Sure, he spends most of the movie in a coma, but the Juice won us over with that opening scene: bumbling through the door as Detective Norbderg, taking a hail of gunfire from Vincent Ludwig's goons, then, in short order, stepping in a bear trap, getting his fingers slammed in a window, bouncing off a freshly-painted wall, and taking a nosedive into an aptly-placed wedding cake before finally hurtling over a railing and into the harbor. It's physical comedy at it's best, and no one—not even Charile Chaplin himself—could have done it better. If nothing else, it sure beats the work O.J. did in that formulaic courtroom drama a few years later, which, well—
Christ, Meat, we already got a Corey Feldman dig in...you didn't really think we were going to pass this one up, did you?