Yesterday column: Athletes turned actors, singers
Do you remember Mike Reid?
The former Penn State and Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle was a concert pianist. Reid had a stellar five-year All-Pro career with the Bengals that was cut short due to hand and knee injuries. He then embarked on a successful country music song-writing, composing, and acting career.
In this week’s version of my Yesterday column - reminiscing about the sports world in the 1960, 70s, 80, 90s and sometimes beyond - I will look at pro athletes who took the route as actors and singers.
Also, I will look at some memorable March moments, as well as some other memories along the way.
Who was George Plimpton, and what iconic superhero show of the late 1960s ended this week?
And There Was Mongo, Plimpton, Merling, and OJ ... Former Detroit Lions All-Pro defensive tackle Alex Karras was one of the first NFL stars to be recognized on the big screen. His role as “Mongo” - the muscular-bound, hired hand - in Blazing Saddles is legendary, especially when he knocks out a horse in the 1974 cult classic.
But Karras made his acting debut back in 1968 starring as an actual member of the Lions in the movie and book, “Paper Lion,” which was based around sports writer and author George Plimpton (remember him?), who wanted to participate in an NFL training camp.
I remember Karras in his role in “Against All Odds,” one of my all-time favorite movies with Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward. Karras played a hitman for villain James Woods.
You may also remember him for his role as a sheriff in “Porky’s,” and he had a successful run in an ad for Lay-Z-Boy recliners in the 70s. Karras has made plenty of TV show appearances.
Plimpton, whose role was played by Alan Alda, was frowned upon by the players, but Karras intervened for him. Plimpton actually played a series of downs in a 1967 exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was sacked three times and ran into a goal post.
In the movie, there were appearances by Vince Lombardi, Lions’ head coach Joe Schmidt and players Mike Lucci, Karl Sweetan, Pat Studstill, and Roger Brown. I will always remember Lucci as a fiery middle linebacker who wore No. 53, and Studstill, a punter who wore No. 28 with the Rams.
Three years later, Plimpton had a similar experience, this time as a member of the Colts against the Lions. He also boxed against Archie Moore, and played goalie for the Boston Bruins.
You probably remember Merlin Olson for his 14-year, All-Pro career as a defensive tackle for the Rams. But Olson was equally successful off the field as well.
In the late 1970s, he began a broadcast career for NBC, usually teaming with the legendary Dick Enberg for NFL broadcasts. I remember Olson distinctly for his broadcasts with Enberg on the Rose Bowl games from 1980-88. Olson was soft-spoken, well informed, and a perfect complement for the always lively Enberg. Olson had a soothing, confident voice that kept your attention.
Olson also had a great acting career, highlighted by the shows “Little House on the Prairie” and “Father Murphy.”
O.J. Simpson made his mark in films with his “Police Academy” appearances, and he also did his share of TV shows. But do you recall O.J. commercials for Hertz Rent-A-Car, as he would run, dodge, and weave his way through airports?
One lost pro athlete TV series was “Ball Four,” based on the best-selling novel that aired in 1968. It starred writer and former Yankee Jim Bouton, and former Raider defensive end and “bad guy” Ben Davidson. The series only lasted a few months before it was canceled.
But Davidson also had a career in films and TV shows.
No Green Day for the Tugger ... For the first time since 1986, the Phillies won’t don their St. Patrick’s Day jerseys.
Nike took over MLB’s jersey production in 2020, and they have now limited teams to four jerseys. Unfortunately, the Phils’ St. Pat’s jersey was the victim.
Tug McGraw has been associated with the jersey since its inception. However, the late relief pitcher never played for the Phillies past 1984, his last year in the majors. His strong Irish connector has still made the jersey a hot sell on the holiday.
Unbeknownst to many, McGraw was a member of the Marine Corps reserves while he was a member of the Mets.
When Did It All Begin? ... For years, we have been glued to our TV sets on “Tournament Sunday” for the “Selection Sunday Show” to see how the esteemed field of 48 (back then) was selected.
It started in 1982 when CBS rolled out Brent Musberger and Gary Bender to host the show, and it began with scores of the conference games still in progress.
One of the main highlights was the large physical board with the brackets filled in. Bender would gradually announce the teams and their next matchup as the camera would hover over them. Rather than showing their entire region in the bracket, teams were shown in groups of three - with a first-round match-up, then the top-four seed that would await the winner after receiving a bye.
There also was former Providence head basketball coach Dave Gavitt - the NCAA Basketball Chairman - and he, along with other committee members, were in a room filled with reporters.
Jim Kelly (remember him?) had a live interview between the coaches of Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, which was unique.
Finally, Vern Lunfquist had an interview with UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian, whose team didn’t make the tournament. Musberger and Bill Packer discussed the picks to close out the show.
It certainly didn’t have the high-tech look of today, but it was - if you recall - pretty interesting and engaging.
End of an Iconic Run ... It was March 14, 1968, and the 120th episode of “Batman” aired on ABC’s Channel 6. That show ended a run that began on Jan. 12, 1966.
If you were a die-hard fan like I was, there wasn’t anything that matched the two-night shows in 1966 and ‘67 with the cliffhanger at the end of the first night. When we were young, we didn’t realize how campy the show really was, and we took it seriously.
Thanks to my streaming service, I am still able to watch the episodes, and they never get old. If you watch them today, you can realize the campy nature and the innuendo that was passed along.
By the way, the last episode - if you recall - featured Zsa Zsa Gabor as “Minerva,” who sought to steal the riches of Gotham City’s millionaires.
Yesterday Item of the Week ... Every week, I’ll bring back an item that played a role in our past, and either has a minor or extinct role in today’s world.
Remember when we physically had to use a key to open a hotel room or a closet? They were the big brass or gold ones that were on a huge keychain, and we couldn’t risk losing it.
How about the photo cubes that would attach to the “streamline” cameras that would fit in our pocket or jacket pocket. The cube would turn and flash when we took a picture.
Memory Lane ... Every week, I will look back at a player, coach, manager, or announcer from our yesterday.
Do you remember Artis Gilmore? With the NCAAs under way, I can think back watching him as a member of the Jacksonville State team that made it to the NCAA championship game in March of 1970. The 7-foot-3 Gilmore led his unheralded Jacksonville Dolphins to the NCAA championship game to face three-time defending champion UCLA.
Jacksonville dropped a 80-69 decision to UCLA, and they remain the smallest school to enter the tournament (3,000 enrollment).
Gilmore went on to a stellar NBA career with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, before he ended it with a one-year stint with the Boston Celtics. He is a member of the Hall of Fame.