What happens to NFL players once they hang up their helmets? While many become analysts or simply bask in the glory of retirement, some seek a second act in Hollywood. Join Wonderwall.com as we check out which NFL stars left the field for a spot in front of the camera… starting with TV host and actor Michael Strahan. After 15 years with the New York Giants, Michael retired in 2008 only to pop up the same year as the new co-host of "Live! With Kelly and Michael." In addition to his daytime television role, Michael began working as an actor, appearing on shows like "Chuck," "Brothers" and "Black-ish." In 2016 — the same year Michael voiced Teddy in "Ice Age: Collision Course" — he announced he was switching gears to take on a full-time co-anchor position with "Good Morning America," officially (and controversially) ending his tenure on "Live!" Michael also became the host of the popular game show series "The $100,000 Pyramid." Today, the Daytime Emmy-winning host headlines the third hour of "GMA," dubbed "Strahan & Sara," while also serving as an executive producer for the docu-series "Religion of Sports." Keep reading for more…
OK, so maybe Tom Brady hasn't quite retired, but that hasn't stopped the Patriot's celebrated quarterback and six-time Super Bowl winner from dabbling in a few Hollywood projects. Tom, seen here on a 2005 episode of "Saturday Night Live," has also appeared as himself in several films including "Ted 2" and "Entourage." He even took on a minor role as a computer geek in the 2003 comedy "Stuck on You." Tom's also working as an executive producer, joining forces with Michael Strahan on the TV documentary "Religion of Sports."
RELATED: Best football movies of all time
After playing for the Rams, Redskins, Chargers and Eagles, Terry Crews retired from the NFL in 1997 to pursue an acting career. Some of his earliest roles were in films like "Training Day," "Friday After Next" and "Starsky & Hutch." Terry's film career gained traction in 2005 after he landed a recurring role on the Chris Rock comedy series "Everybody Hates Chris." Today, Terry is known for his role as Terry Jeffords on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and as Bedlam in 2018's "Deadpool 2." He's also made headlines for speaking publicly about being a victim of sexual assault in Hollywood.
RELATED: Young black stars you should know
Four-time Super Bowl champion and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw left the NFL in 1983 to begin his long and legendary career in front of the camera. Terry, who already had several acting and TV appearance credits to his name, kept his feet firmly in the world of sports by continuing as a commentator for "The NFL on CBS" for more than 15 years and later as an analyst for "FOX and Friends" and "FOX NFL Sunday." Since 1995, Terry's served as an on-site analyst and announcer for "NFL on FOX" and has had numerous supporting roles in films and TV shows like "Failure to Launch" and "Married with Children." In 2019, Terry was the country-singing deer on "The Masked Singer."
"Rocky" fans will recognize Carl Weathers as lean, mean boxing machine Apollo Creed, who appeared opposite Sylvester Stallone in the first four films in the franchise. After retiring from the NFL in 1974 after spending four years with the Oakland Raiders, Carl appeared in numerous movies and TV shows including "Bucktown," "Friday Foster," "Predator" and "Action Jackson." Carl's more recent projects include "Happy Gilmore" and recurring roles as Mark Jefferies on "Chicago Fire," "Chicago PD" and "Chicago Justice." Up next for Carl is a role on the sci-fi TV series "The Mandalorian."
Years before Joe Namath's 1977 retirement from the NFL, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback had ventured into the limelight, landing minor roles in Hollywood. Immediately following his departure from the field, Joe landed a recurring role on the 1978 TV series "The Waverly Wonders." Although Joe was cast in several films, including "Avalanche Express," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (seen here) and "Going Under" and guest-starred on several TV series like "Fantasy Island" and "The Love Boat," he was never able to match his football success in Hollywood. In 2015, Joe took on his last film role to date, playing a football legend in "The Wedding Ringer." Thankfully, his fans won't have to search too hard to find him as he's set to appear in the upcoming sports documentary "The Kicker."
Fred Williamson, who was nicknamed "The Hammer," played for one season with the Steelers as a defensive back before moving to the Raiders for the remainder of his career. He retired in 1967 with his sights set on Hollywood. His debut onscreen role came the following year on an episode of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and an episode of the series "Ironside," which led to his first recurring role on the TV series "Julia" beginning in 1969. A year later, Fred landed his first big-screen role in the war comedy "MASH," but it was his 1972 starring role in the blaxploitation western "The Legend of N—– Charlie" and a later sequel that launched Fred's career as a leading man in Hollywood. More films followed including "Black Caesar," "Death Journey" and "The Inglorious Bastards" as well as TV shows like "CHiPS," "Half Nelson" and "Fast Track." Incredibly, the former athlete — who's now in his 80s — is still going strong: He has a recurring role on "Being Mary Jane" and is slated to appear in a slew of upcoming films including "Beyond Control," "Old School Gangstas" and "The Last Hit Man."
Another former NFL star who left the Oakland Raiders for Hollywood is Howie Long (center). Howie already had a few acting credits to his name, including a small part in the 1984 film "In 'n' Out," when he retired in 1993 following a 13-season career. It wasn't long before the former defensive end found more work, beginning with a 1994 appearance on the hit teen drama "Beverly Hills, 90210" (seen here). To date, Howie's film credits include "Broken Arrow," "Firestorm" and "3000 Miles to Graceland." He's also appeared on TV shows like "Married… With Children" and "Malcolm in the Middle." Like many former professional players, Howie found more consistent work in front of the camera on sports-oriented programming. Since his retirement, Howie's worked as an analyst and co-host on programs like "FOX NFL Sunday" and "NFL on FOX."
Hunky Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez left the field in 2013 to make a touchdown in Hollywood. Before his retirement, Tony made his acting debut in the 2006 sci-fi TV movie "A.I. Assault" and followed that with a recurring role on "NCIS" and a co-starring role in 2017's "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" alongside Vin Diesel. Along with being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019, Tony will continue his run on "NFL on FOX" as an on-site analyst.
Bubba Smith, who retired from the NFL in 1976, enjoyed a Hollywood career that lasted more than 30 years. He appeared on shows like "Wonder Woman," "Good Times," "Open All Night" and "Blue Thunder" but Bubba's best known role would come in 1984 as Moses Hightower in the movie comedy "Police Academy." Bubba went on to reprise the role five more times on the big screen and once on a TV spinoff in 1998. Bubba's other notable roles included Kurt on the TV series "Half Nelson" and Harold in "Blood River." Bubba died in his Los Angeles home from acute drug intoxication in 2011 when he was 66. It was later discovered that he also suffered from Stage 3 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — a degenerative brain disease found in people who've suffered chronic head trauma, like football players.
Former New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams defensive end Fred Dryer retired in 1981 after 13 years in the NFL. After being bitten by the acting bug early on thanks to appearances on "Laverne & Shirley" and the big-screen comedy "Gus," Fred wasted no time transforming himself into a Hollywood star. Though he worked consistently since the early '80s on shows like "Cheers," "Land's End" and "Diagnosis Murder," today, Fred is best known for his role as Lt. Rick Hunter on the long-running series "Hunter," which he also produced. The series was briefly rebooted in 2003, allowing Rick to reprise his famous role for a five-episode run. More recently, Fred appeared on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," "NCIS" and "Agent X" and had a role in the 2018 "Transformers" prequel "Bumblebee."
O.J. Simpson is less known today for his post-NFL Hollywood career than he is for his alleged involvement in the 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. Following his 1979 retirement from football, O.J. pursued acting — a profession he'd already dabbled in since 1968 — full time. Appearing in films like "The Towering Inferno," "Firepower" and "The Naked Gun," O.J. was a beloved supporting star whose popularity amongst fans made his murder trial one of the most viewed courtroom events in history. Following his acquittal in his criminal trial, O.J. — who was found liable for the deaths by a civil court jury — was not able to renew his Hollywood career, landing just two small roles on the small screen. In 2008, the former running back was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas and sentenced to 33 years in prison, although he ultimately only served nine.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian "The Boz" Bosworth (who's definitely not related to actress Kate Bosworth — we checked) retired from the NFL in 1988 after just three seasons following a shoulder injury and reemerged three years later as a Hollywood action star. His onscreen debut came in the 1991 action-drama "Stone Cold" and led to later roles in similar films like "One Tough Bastard" and "Back in Business." Unfortunately, Brian was never able to tap into the same level of fame as similar stars of the decade, like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Sylvester Stallone, leading to a decline in headlining roles. Following his portrayal of Hawg in the post-apocalyptic trilogy "Revelation Road," Brian returned to the big screen in the 2015 Christian family drama "Do You Believe?" After co-starring in 2019's "What Men Want," Brian is slated to appear in the action flick "The Reliant."
Controversial NFL star Terrell Owens, more commonly known as T.O., unofficially retired from the league in 2010. Known for sharing his unfiltered opinions off the field, T.O.'s larger-than-life personality landed him his own reality series, "The T.O. Show," which ran from 2009 to 2011. The year his series ended, the former wide receiver found his way to the small screen on two episodes of the romantic dramedy "Necessary Roughness." Other acting credits include a small role on "90210" and a part as a supporting character in the erotic thriller "Bound." More frequently, T.O. has appeared on reality TV, competing on "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Wife Swap" in 2015 and "Dancing With the Stars" (seen here) in 2017. Although T.O.'s continued to make one-off appearances on the small screen, he has yet to tackle any roles in 2019, which might be because he reportedly hopes to make an NFL comeback in the near future.
No, Will Ferrell wasn't in the NFL, but the guy standing next to him — Mike Ditka — sure was. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys tight end left football in 1972 but remained associated with the sport as a coach for the Chicago Bears and, later, the New Orleans Saints. Mike, who served as a commentator for more than two decades on shows like "The NFL on NBC" and "The NFL Today," wouldn't make his official leap to Hollywood until 1990, which is when he appeared as himself on an episode of "L.A. Law." Perhaps bit by the acting bug, Mike soon landed more guest-starring roles on shows like "Cheers," "3rd Rock From the Sun," "Becker" and "Entourage." Mike's even appeared in a few films like "UP! Michigan" and "Kicking & Screaming" (seen here). The former athlete and coach will soon appear in two sports documentaries: "The Kicker" and "Bull in the Ring."
Former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus (right) retired from the NFL in 1973 and found renewed fame as a TV and film star. Dick — seen here with former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner (then known as Bruce) and TV actress Angela Lansbury — appeared on numerous hit TV shows like "Murder, She Wrote," "Blue Thunder," "Half Nelson," "My Two Dads," "MacGyver" and "Hang Time." Dick also racked up an impressive roster of movie roles with appearances in films like "Gremlins 2: The New Batch," "Necessary Roughness" and "Any Given Sunday." In 2002, he landed what would be his last Hollywood role — he played himself — in the comedy "Teddy Bears' Picnic."
Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier (center) — a former New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman and member of the "Fearsome Foursome" — retired from the NFL in 1967 and quickly landed in front of the camera as a Hollywood star. Rosey's early roles included spots on shows like "I Dream of Jeannie," "Daniel Boone" and "Movin' On" and film roles in movies like "Carter's Army," "Skyjacked" and "The Thing With Two Heads" (seen here). In 1968, Rosey even landed his own variety program, "The Rosey Grier Show," that was canceled after just one season. Although Rosey continued to act, his true passion was his faith and in 1983, he became an ordained minister. From 1981 to 2014, Rosey took on his best known role as the host of the religious program "Praise The Lord." In 2017, Rosey announced his intent to run for California governor but withdrew just months later.
If you grew up in the '70s and '80s, then you likely remember former NFL defensive lineman Alex Karras as lovable adoptive dad George Papadopoulos on the family comedy "Webster" (seen here). After retiring from the Detroit Lions in 1970, Alex quickly landed roles in TV movies like "Hardcase" and "The 500 Pound Jerk." His star continued to rise when he landed the role of Mongo in the 1974 western "Blazing Saddles." In 1978, Alex was cast in the TV miniseries "Centennial" and co-starred in the films "FM" and "Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang." By 1983, Alex had landed the role of George on the ABC series "Webster," making him a household name. After the show ended in '89, Alex continued to pick up small roles. His last official gig was on an episode of the 1998 comedy "The Tom Show." In 2012, Alex passed away at 77.
In 1966, Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown retired from the NFL after his coach forbade him to continue filming in Hollywood — so he chose acting over professional football. The movie "The Dirty Dozen" premiered a year later and marked the beginning of Jim's long career in front of the camera. For more than 40 years, he's appeared on the big screen in films like "The Running Man," "Mars Attacks" and "Any Given Sunday" while also landing roles on TV shows like "CHiPS" and "Soul Food." In 1970, Jim was presented the NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor for his work in the motion picture "El Condor." Although the star has been out of the limelight for a while, he's slated to appear in the upcoming sequel "Old School Gangstas."
Bill Goldberg played defensive tackle for the Rams and, later, the Falcons before retiring from the NFL in 1995 due to an injury. Once healed, Bill didn't just head to Hollywood — he also made his way to the wrestling ring, joining WWE and WCW as the professional wrestler known as "Goldberg." Along with raging in the ring, Bill also made appearances on the big and small screens in films like "The Longest Yard" and TV shows like "The Flash." After retiring from wrestling in 2017, Bill was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018. Fans can catch him today as Coach Nick on "The Goldbergs" and in the upcoming holiday comedy "Holly, Jingles and Clyde 3D."
After 15 seasons as a defensive tackle and member of the "Fearsome Foursome" with the Los Angeles Rams, Merlin Olsen retired from the NFL in 1976 to pursue a career in Hollywood that had begun years before with his appearance in the 1969 western "The Undefeated." With several acting credits to his name already, it wasn't long before Merlin landed the role he's most famous for — Jonathan Garvey on "Little House on the Prairie" (seen here). After leaving the series in 1981, Merlin picked up another recurring role as the lead actor on the TV western-drama "Father Murphy." The show ran for two seasons before being canceled, but Merlin wasn't out of work for long. In addition to appearing in several TV movies, the former football star appeared on several episodes of "Fathers and Sons" and later landed the lead role of Aaron Miller on the family drama "Aaron's Way" — a character he reprised for the TV movie "Circle of Love" in 1988. Throughout his onscreen career, Merlin also worked regularly as an expert commentator for "The NFL on CBS" until he retired in 1991. In 2010 at 69, Merlin died from complications of mesothelioma.
NFL running back Ed Marinaro left professional football in 1976 and just two years later began a long career as a TV and occasional film star. Ed's debut role came in 1978 with the musical crime-drama "Fingers." By 1980, he'd landed his first recurring TV role as Sonny St. Jacques on "Laverne & Shirley," and just a year later, he took on one of his longest running roles as Officer Joe Coffey on the TV drama "Hill Street Blues." Over the years, Joe had supporting roles on shows like "Falcon Crest," "Dynasty," "Sisters" and "Blue Mountain State," but it was his portrayal of Joey Buttafuoco in the 1992 TV movie "Amy Fisher: My Story" that stands out. In 2019, Ed was back on the small screen in the football-themed romance "SnowComing."
Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino earns a mention on our list despite having only a few Hollywood credits to his name. Years before retiring from the NFL in 2000, Dan made his big-screen debut alongside Jim Carrey in 1994's "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." Since then, Dan's lent his voice to "The Simpsons" and "The Magic School Bus" and has appeared as a guest on several sports-news programs. While Dan's remained fairly low-key since his retirement, he's been campaigning to recruit ambassadors for Super Bowl LIV, which will take place in South Florida in 2020.
OK, it's a stretch to say former NFL quarterback Brett Favre "transitioned" into Hollywood, given he only had a few minor roles in the late 1990's — long before he retired from the league. However, Brett did appear as himself in the 1998 hit comedy "There's Something About Mary" (seen here) and appeared on an episode of "Arli$$" the year before that. Since leaving the field in 2010, the Super Bowl champ has worked almost consistently as a presenter, guest star and documentary subject. Most recently, Brett appeared on seven episodes of the documentary series "A Football Life." He'll also appear in the 2019 sports documentary "Concussed: The American Dream." In 2018, Brett opened up about his stints in rehab to conquer a drug addiction and shared that he probably suffered "thousands of concussions" throughout his football career.
Don Meredith was a Dallas Cowboys quarterback who retired in 1968 and turned his sights to Hollywood. One his earliest post-NFL gigs came that same year as the team captain for the popular game show "The Match Game," which led to his first acting role in the 1973 series "Police Story." His other credits include "Sky Heist," "Mayday at 40,000 Feet!" and "Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid" (seen here). Although Don's career tapered off in the '80s, he was a regular presence as a commentator on "NFL Monday Night Football." Don made a return to the small screen in the '90s with guest roles on shows like "Midnight Caller" and "Evening Shade." In 2002, Don made his final onscreen appearance in the film "Three Days of Rain." He passed away in 2010 at 72 following a brain hemorrhage.