Sports movies are an important part of what might be called the "culture" of sports. As much as we love to debate who should be the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, or whether or not a player should be in the baseball Hall of Fame, there's nothing quite like getting into an argument over which sports-themed motion pictures are the greatest of all-time.
Of course, those movies don't get the reputation they have today without the masterful performances by the actors cast for the movies. A lot of the time, these actors have little to no experience with the sport that they are being cast to play - which means a lot of hours of training and becoming an expert on the sport they have to depict being great at in the movie.
On the other hand, there are plenty of actors and actresses who have long and impressive resumes in sport, and could have just as easily become pro athletes (or something close to it) had their acting careers not worked out as well as they have up to this point - and who knows, it might not be too late for some.
There's also a category of actors who simply look like athletes - chiseled, in remarkable shape and looking like they conquer mountains as casually as some of us go for jogs on the weekend. No matter what category these actors fall into, one thing is for certain - it might be more entertaining watching them compete in a pro sport than it is to watch them in a movie.
15 Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey already spends a lot of his time making the Average Joe feeling mediocre as it is, so skip past this entry if you're easily rattled (and play golf). McConaughey grew up a golfer and a tennis player at his Texas high school, but it was on the course where he was at his finest. No one can truly confirm the story, but McConaughey claims to have four hole-in-ones on his record. McConaughey has a reported 8.6 handicap, which ranks in the top 25 of Golf Digest's latest ranking of celebrity golfers.
14 Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones has received plenty of accolades over his career, but his sporting achievements might be some of his more coveted mantle pieces. Jones was a standout offensive lineman during his time with the at Harvard, and became well-acquainted with future vice-president Al Gore during his time with the Crimson. He earned a first-team All-Ivy League selection in 1968 and was a part of the legendary 1968 game that featured an improbable last-minute comeback against Yale. He moved to New York to become an actor once he finished college, but what wonders what might have happened had he pursued his football career.
13 Jason Statham
While most know and remember Jason Statham as the hard-nosed actor, water-sport enthusiasts over the pond might remember a young Statham standing at the top of a diving board. Statham spent several years on the British national diving team, competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games and in the 1992 World Championships, where he finished 12th. Obviously the acting career has been much more lucrative, but one can wonder whether or not Statham ever wishes he'd gotten a shot at a different type of golden glory.
12 Dean Cain
Before Dean Cain was flying around Metropolis fighting crime and saving Lois Lane from peril, he was busy terrorizing opposing offences as a defensive back for Princeton University. Cain was a ball-hawk, picking off passes as frequently as he locked up criminals as Superman. Cain intercepted a record 12 passes in 1987 and impressed enough to earn a contract with the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately for Cain, a knee injury ended his football career, but he seems to have rebounded from it quite nicely.
11 John Amos
John Amos might tell you that the fame he earned from his roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Good Times are sources of great pride to him, but he came close to referring to the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs as the directors who cast him and turned him into a star.
Amos played for Colorado State University during the '60s and ended up trying out for both the Broncos and Chiefs, but was unable to stick with either American Football League franchise. He bounced around on a couple of "minor league" teams, but ultimately pursued his career in the arts once he realized he didn't have what it took to go pro.
10 Ed O'Neill
If you watch Modern Family, you wouldn't find yourself hard-pressed to believe that gruff, lovable grandfather Jay Pritchett spent time in the trenches of a competitive football game.
Alas, Pritchett - better known by his real name, Ed O'Neill - was quite the defensive lineman in his heyday, suiting up for Ohio University and Youngstown State before getting a shot with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately for O'Neill, it was nothing more than a shot - he was cut in training camp.
9 Kate Upton
It shouldn't surprise anyone to see Kate Upton on this list - the woman seemingly does it all, and is one of Hollywood's hottest stars at the moment. For as up-front, charismatic and outgoing Upton appears to be in the spotlight, she happened to specialize at one of the sporting worlds more understated activities - equestrian. Upton was an equestrian champion when she was younger and competed at the national level with her horse "Roanie Pony."
8 Lou Ferrigno
Besides the fact that Lou Ferrigno is a behemoth of a man and would probably be able to handle himself in a couple of different sporting arenas, his background includes a very brief stint trying to break into professional football.
Ferrigno logically tried his hand at football, but was cut by the New York Jets in the mid-70s due to a lack of experience. He joined the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts but only last a month there due to his lack of ferocity, of all things.
7 George Clooney
No ladies, we didn't forget George - how could we?
Clooney has conquered Hollywood, although it certainly wasn't a breeze. Like most young actors, Clooney had to pay his dues and took his fair share of rejection before landing a job in the industry. One of those rejections happened in a completely different field - on an actual field, as a matter of fact. Clooney was a gifted ballplayer when he was younger, and tried out for the Cincinnati Reds when he was 16, but he was ultimately let go by the organization.
Seems the career he ended up pursuing was the right one.
6 Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart is known for kicking around politicians, celebrities and fools in general on his popular nightly show, but before he became a renowned comedian and talk-show host, Stewart was busy kicking around soccer balls for William & Mary's, a college located in Virginia. Stewart earned his way onto the varsity roster and led the underdog club to an upset victory over UConn to win the ECAC Tournament Championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. A knee injury ended Stewart's dreams of going pro, but he at least had a moment of glory to bask in for the rest of his days.
5 Marisa Miller
Marisa Miller was everyone's celebrity crush/imaginary soul mate at some point or another, specifically for her incredible looks and heart-melting smile. We know you didn't really need another reason to love Miller, but here it is - she knows her way around a surfboard, and we don't just mean carrying one around on a beach for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot. Miller spends a lot of her spare time shredding waves, and arguably could have taken it further had she not pursued her modeling career.
4 Mark Harmon
The son of Heisman trophy winner Tom Harmon, Mark already had football coursing through his veins - even though he didn't turn out to be quite as good as his father was. The younger Harmon did lead the UCLA Bruins to a 17-5 record over his two seasons quarterbacking the team, but he only threw 100 passes over those 22 games. He did average 5.7 yards a carry and rushed for 14 scores over the two years, but it wasn't enough to warrant a look from the NFL.
3 Burt Reynolds
It should come as a surprise to no one that Burt Reynolds could have had a shot at professional sports - he's Burt Reynolds, he can do what he wants.
Of course, our image of Burt Reynolds in pads comes from The Longest Yard, but Reynolds was actually quite the halfback in his younger years. He earned a scholarship to play for Florida State University, but an early season injury and a car accident later that year put an early end to his football dreams.
2 Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone not only played a professional boxer, he looked the part. It wouldn't have surprised anyone to hear that Stallone had been dragged out of one boxing ring and thrown into the one where the producers of Rocky were filming the movie. Stallone isn't a one-trick pony, though - he played football and threw discus in high school, and if he put as much effort into those sports as Rocky did training for his fights against Apollo Creed (and others), we might be fans of Stallone for completely different reasons.
1 Kurt Russell
The name Kurt Russell kind of has a baseball ring to it, doesn't it?
The Russell's baseball roots run quite deep, and Kurt had a good shot of going pro when he was in his early twenties. The Angels, Twins, Cardinals and Giants were among the franchises who reportedly showed interest in the young second baseman. Unfortunately for Russell, his initial waffling between acting and baseball scared off several teams from committing to him, since he couldn't commit to them.