Ever since the 1930s, Hollywood has managed to work athletes into movies. It was baseball first as that was the major sport back then but football and basketball made their way in too. They even tried to boost some athletes to fame as actors to varying degrees of success. The fact is, some athletes just aren’t cut out for acting, coming off rather stiff and bland and thus not working right. A few can surprise, especially if it’s a smaller role. Several are famous like Derek Jeter in “The Other Guys,” Reggie Jackson in “The Naked Gun” and Brett Favre in “There’s Something About Mary.” A few though, haven't aged well. Obviously, Lance Armstrong’s appearance to give an inspirational talk in “Dodgeball” isn’t as fun and any film involving O.J. Simpson has that fiasco to deal with.
Still, there are athlete cameos abounding in movies and TV. But a few might be overlooked among the more famous ones. They can be in often forgettable films or obscure ones. But there’s also how they can be in major hits yet folks may not know who that person really is. Indeed, some major names have made appearances in movies but often completely ignored and shows how much things can change with fame fleeting for some stars. Yet it’s always fun when you see someone who makes you go “wait, is that…” and they seem to enjoy it. Here are 15 cameos athletes have made in movies that are almost totally overlooked and that you don’t need to have a huge role to make an impact.
15 Terry Crews - Balls of Fury
Terry Crews’ career in the NFL wasn’t too long or really that notable. While a tough player and decent runner, he was saddled on some bad teams and some rough injuries that cut his career short. But Crews has found much bigger success as an actor, from “The Expendables” films to his hilarious role on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” One part that may have been overlooked was in “Balls of Fury,” a fun send-up of the classic “powerful ancient tournament” story…only using ping-pong. Christopher Walken at his bizarre best is a crime lord using this tournament to cover his arms trading.
To figure it out, an FBI agent gets a disgraced former ping-pong champion to get back in shape with a blind trainer and enter the tournament. The whole thing is totally over the top as shown by when he faces Crews, who acts like he’s competing in the Iron Man with his intensity while looking hilarious in shorts and t-shirt. A big move is when he loses and is hit by a poisoned dart as the term “sudden death” is meant literally. Nutty but still a fun cameo amid this crazy stuff.
14 Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus, Warren Moon - Any Given Sunday
There are mixed feelings about Any Given Sunday from critics and viewers alike. Some liked the intensity and over-the-top effects expected from Oliver Stone, while some felt the culture of pro football was over-exaggerated for the movie. The cast was littered with former football players, including Lawrence Taylor, who plays an aging pass rusher and Jim Brown who plays a coaching assistant. However some other notable cameos in the movie come in the form of opposing coaches. Opposing coaches seen in the movie are played by the likes of Warren Moon, Bob St. Clair, Y.A. Tittle, Dick Butkus, Warren Moon and finally, Johnny Unitas in the movie's final game. The hall of famers didn't get many lines, aside from grunting and pacing the sidelines the way you'd typically expect from a coach.
13 Lawrence Taylor - The Waterboy
Lawrence Taylor made quite a few movie cameos in his heyday. Heck, the guy even main evented a WrestleMania. However, one of his cameos that gets overlooked is from one of Adam Sandler's classics The Waterboy. While Sandler's character Bobby Boucher becomes a big college football star due to his ability to channel his anger into sacking QBs, he goes to LT's football camp. After a rambling speech from the stuttering water boy, LT just shrugs it off and delivers his memorable line to the kids at his camp, "which brings me to my next point kids, don't smoke crack." The movie also produced several other NFL cameos, including coaches Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher, who act as NFL scouts at the championship game.
12 George Steele - Ed Wood
Many consider “Ed Wood” as Tim Burton’s best movie. This 1994 black and white film examines the life of the man many consider the worst director of all time. Johnny Depp is terrific as a guy who has big dreams but nowhere near the talent to reach them while also donning women’s clothing. The supporting cast is good, highlighted by Martin Landau in his Oscar-winning turn as an aged Bela Lugosi. One of Wood’s favorite stars was Tor Johnson, a hulking pro wrestler who was featured in movies like his classic “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”
Burton decided the only person to cast was a wrestler and chose none other than George “the Animal” Steele. He had the same bulky presence and bald head as Johnson and fit the role well. The whole film is a great homage to its time and Steele clearly having fun in this unique drama.
11 Lamar Odom -Van Wilder
Today, Ryan Reynolds is a major box office name with Deadpool and other hits. But back in 2002, he was just another guy making his way in nutty comedies. In this flick, he’s a guy who loves college so much that he’s in his seventh year as a senior, the big man on campus organizing parties and having a grand time. When his father finally realizes what’s going on, he threatens to cut his son off, forcing Van to move fast in order to graduate.
The movie mixes nutty comedy with some stuff of a then-hot Tara Reid. A famous bit is Darius Wiles as a ball player who tries to buy fake test scores off of Van. But at one point during a big game, you can briefly see an uncredited Lamar Odom as an opposing player. At the time, Odom was still with the Clippers, a far way from his NBA championship prime so it’s fun to see him so young.
10 The Philadelphia Flyers - This is 40
Judd Aptow’s follow-up to “Knocked Up” centered around Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as a married couple dealing with hitting that particular age. Mann’s character soon falls in with a younger wife (Megan Fox) who teaches her how to cut loose. The two go on a wild night on the town where a bunch of hot guys hit on them.
These guys are none other than Philadelphia Flyers players Ian Laperriere, Matt Carle, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk. The four had a fun time doing wild dancing, their line readings were okay and Fox actually did a bit of her trying on Laperriere’s teeth. It’s short and some might think they were just actors but also funny how it’s more success than the Flyers have seen on ice in a while.
9 Lee Trevino - Happy Gilmore
This 1996 hit has Adam Sandler as a failing hockey player known for his booming, but erratic slapshot and a fiery temper. Needing money to help his grandma, he turns to golf and finds he has a knack for it. Everyone knows the big cameo from the movie, where Sandler gets into a knock-down, drag-out fight with “The Price is Right” host Bob Barker. But that overshadows another fun bit where Sandler’s character is just starting out and is utterly terrible at it. He’s shown smashing balls into forests, knocking people down and more. At one point, you see none other than Lee Trevino standing nearby, shaking his head in dismay. The golf legend also pops up with the odd line of “Grizzly Adams did have a beard” and has become a popular gif. Trevino himself says he didn’t read the script and wouldn’t have if he’d known how much cursing was in the movie but still a fun appearance.
8 Dale Earnhardt Sr - BASEketball
Matt Stone and Trey Parker are well known for creating “South Park” and the Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon.” In 1998, they tried their hand at a new big screen flick with “BASEketball,” a comedy about two nuts who create their own sport out of boredom only to see it become the new national pastime. The film is not one either man remembers fondly, citing studio interference keeping them from making it as good as they hoped. There are slews of great athlete cameos in it, usually folks playing themselves. Among the antics is Yasmine Bleeth as a mom with her kids trying to get to the stadium fast. In a cab, she yells if the driver can go faster. Turning to face her is “The Intimidator” himself who says if she wants fast, fine. Putting on his helmet, he takes off, complete with parachute behind the car. It’s short but a fun bit and he seems to enjoy revving the movie up.
7 Dale Earnhardt Jr - Talladega Nights
Most NASCAR fans know that odd things tend to happen at Talladega. So it makes sense to center a nutty Will Ferrell comedy there. He plays Ricky Bobby, a dimwitted but successful NASCAR driver who’s threatened by a strange rival. Ferrell does take some shots at how crazy NASCAR can be and the film goes a bit too much for the classic “Southern yokels” jokes. However, it does show some good stuff such as Ferrell hanging with a crowd doing autographs (including signing a baby’s head). One guy comes up asking for an autograph and when asked who to make it out to, replies “Me.” The joke is that it’s Dale Earnhardt Jr but Ricky has no idea who one of the biggest stars in NASCAR even is. It’s brief but fun to see the star giving the character the rub.
6 Cam Neely - Dumb and Dumber
This 1994 comedy is a famous one with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as a pair of utter dimwits who accidentally get involved in a wild kidnapping scheme and are unaware of it. In one scene, the two are at a diner and accidentally insult the waitress. Up comes Sea Bass, a rough trucker who takes exception to this and spits in their food. The part was played by Cam Neely, long-time right winger for the Boston Bruins.
He later went on to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005 and currently serves as the Bruins’ President. Neely actually reprised the role in the 2014 sequel to bring it full circle, older but still tough and a showcase for how hockey guys can be as imposing as football players in such roles.
5 Rex Ryan - That’s My Boy
One of the worst Adam Sandler comedies ever (which is saying something), the very plot of this film is odious. Sandler's character begins the movie as a 12-year-old who knocks up his teacher who gives birth while in jail to their son. Thirty years later, Sandler is a total loser slacker in over his head thanks to debts. He realizes his son is now a successful businessman about to marry an heiress and decides to reunite with him for the money. An early scene has Sandler being informed of his bad financial and legal situation by his lawyer. The lawyer is being played by Rex Ryan and the Super Bowl winning coach (2000 Ravens) actually doesn’t come off too bad. Funnily enough, he plays a huge Patriots fan in the movie. If anything, he’s the model of dignity compared to the rest of this film and shows that playing a small role pays off better.
4 Tom Brady - Stuck on You
This 2003 comedy was a misfire despite the talent involved. Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear play naive conjoined twins, with one brother trying to achieve his dreams of fame and fortune in Hollywood. The fact they have different opinions and even lovers doesn’t help things. The plot is a mess, really little more than selling the joke of two big actors joined together and bouncing around and easy jokes like one hooking up with a girl while the other just lies there trying to ignore it.
Kinnear's character ends up getting a role on a TV show with Cher (playing herself). On the set of the fictional TV show, a tech worker boosts the image on Cher's backside to make it look bigger. You see a fellow tech laughing at the image backstage. Beneath that stubble and piercings is none other than the five-time Super Bowl champion MVP of the New England Patriots. Boston-bred Damon insisted on having him cast and it worked for a fun cameo to boost this movie a bit.
3 Roger Clemens - Kingpin
This goofball comedy has Woody Harrelson as a selfish bowler who cheats some guys for a big payday. They get back at him by shoving his hand into a ball returner, crushing it. Years later, he finds an Amish kid (Randy Quaid) who is a bowling savant and trains him to return to the big time. In one scene, the kid is getting picked on at a bar by a pack of Southerners who are the classic Hollywood version of what people in the South are like. The ringleader is Roger Clemens who at the time was still the star pitcher for the Red Sox. He hassles Quaid while putting on a completely idiotic accent to highlight the wild scene. Clemens would go on to have a long career, winning World Series with the Yankees. Sadly, his legacy is now tarnished by his long-time use of PDAs that has disgraced him for many and this cameo coming from a different time.
2 Hines Ward - The Dark Knight Rises
The grand finale of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was filmed in Pittsburgh, filling in for Gotham City. The plot has Bane taking over Gotham, blowing up bridges to cut the city off from society as part of his big plan. The trailers wowed with its amazing showcase of the key scene where a football game is being played. As a player runs back a kick, Bane sets off massive explosives underneath the field. This leads to the great shot of the player running with no idea of the field collapsing behind him, including taking down all of the other players. It’s not until he’s done that he turns and sees what’s happened, the ball falling out of his hand in shock.
The player is Hines Ward as it's only natural one of the Steelers’ biggest stars would be showcased for the Pittsburgh fans, his helmet covering his face and while fans may not know him, he sure makes his mark in the film.
1 Sammy Sosa - On The Line
In 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire captivated America with their race to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Today, both men have seen their legacies shadowed by PDA use and their records seen as tarnished. But Sosa still has fans in Chicago who help keep his favorite year alive. At the height of this success, Sosa landed a cameo in the comedy “On the Line.” The movie attempted to turn singers Lance Bass and Joey Fatone into movie stars which did not go well. The movie is set in Chicago to have them run around and enjoy the city. Among the sights is a Cubs game where Fatone gets a nasty blow to the head from a Sosa pop fly. Sosa himself is seen wincing at it and remarking that it’s the third time he’s hit the guy. It’s brief and forgettable like the movie itself and shows Sosa may be great at baseball but acting not his forte.