On any credible Venn diagram of high-school social groups, the circles labeled “jocks” and “theater geeks” overlap even less frequently than the ones tagged “girls” and “that creepy kid with the samurai sword.” But in Hollywood, professional athletes routinely cross over into the acting realm, and sometimes even dominate it, as anyone familiar with the ouevre of former Oakland Raiders linebacker Carl Weathers could tell you.
Sadly, the door doesn’t usually swing both ways. As uplifting as it would be to watch Adam Sandler use a putter shaped like a hockey stick to embarrass Tiger Woods at the Masters in real life, the odds that any celebrity will enjoy a second career as a professional athlete are slimmer than the chances that Academy voters will retroactively grant Weathers the Oscar he so richly deserved for portraying tragic golf pro Chubbs Peterson in "Happy Gilmore."
For now, we’ll just have make do with the knowledge that not all theater geeks suck at sports. Here are a few notable actors whose athletic prowess probably spared them from persecution of the swirlie kind.
"Woulda, coulda, shoulda" applies to George Clooney’s failed audition for the Cincinnati Reds in 1977. If the future actor, then 16, woulda been better at hitting, throwing and catching, he coulda earned a shot at playing alongside his idols Johnny Bench and Dave Concepcion, but clearly he shoulda practiced more. You totally blew it, Clooney.
As a midfielder on the College of William & Mary varsity soccer team in the early 1980s, the honcho of "The Daily Show" racked up 10 goals and, more impressively, never wavered in his duty to gorge on the all-you-can-eat orange slices dispensed during matches.
Before she was a pop superstar, the lead singer of No Doubt was a member of her high school's swimming team. According to AceShowbiz, Gwen was "on her high school's swimming team because she was chubby." We guess we now know how she got her rail-thin figure.
The ambiguously metrosexual "American Idol" host, who cameoed as himself in "Knocked Up" and does occasional voice acting, played strong safety on his Atlanta-area high school’s football team. Even more improbably, he was known, according to his former coach, as a “feisty” defensive specialist prone to “kicking the crap out of people.” But video confirmation is sorely needed, as this is what Seacrest looked like as a freshman.
On "30 Rock" Fey plays an awkward writer who prefers food on the couch and cheese on the toilet, but she's no stranger to athletics. Before she started serving up one-liners on TV, Fey was serving aces as a tennis star at Upper Darby High School in Pennsylvania.
Sport: Obstacle course
Scott Baio has been "45 and Single" and "46 and Pregnant," but we liked the actor best when he was 19 and freaking awesome at the obstacle course on "Battle of the Network Stars." After establishing a course record on his very first try in May 1980 primarily by employing a bold strategy on the monkey bars, Chachi spent the next two years effortlessly humiliating a steady stream of sadsack C-listers as if he were Secretariat in his prime or Apollo Creed at the beginning of "Rocky." But much like Baio’s cultural relevance circa the fourth season of "Charles in Charge," all things must end. His record time of 18.38 seconds fell, on a gloomy afternoon in May 1982, to former UCLA star quarterback Mark Harmon, whose 17.5-second time Baio would never manage to top. The world hasn’t been the same since.
The guy who would later warm hearts as Fox Mulder mostly warmed benches during a freshman-year stint on the Princeton junior varsity basketball squad. But Duchovny will always be able to say that he rained a smooth jumper over Reggie Miller at the 1994 MTV Rock N’ Jock basketball game.
Long before he played one-on-one street ball with Ray Allen in "He Got Game," Denzel played junior varsity hoops at Fordham University under future NBA coach (and Latrell Sprewell choke victim) P.J. Carlesimo. Which brings up an interesting question: in their respective primes, how badly does Denzel Washington trounce David Duchovny?
As a novice sculler on the Yale crew team, Norton didn’t have much occasion to cox. By all accounts, the budding Method actor was no coxswain. Forced to quit the sport prematurely after throwing his back out, he will never again know the joy of participating in coxless pairs and fours. Thus begins our quest to employ juvenile rowing innuendo at least once per day.
One minute, he’s playing Jungle Boy on an amazing episode of "Gilligan’s Island," and the next, he’s fielding grounders as a switch-hitting second baseman in the California Angels' minor-league system. We shudder to contemplate a Russell-free "Tango and Cash," so we’re selfishly relieved that he and his rotator cuff were taken out by some goon while trying to turn a routine double play.
A lost scene from "Magnum, P.I."
Thomas Magnum, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, is dribbling a basketball while also contemplating his impressive mustache.
Higgins: Must you dribble, Magnum? You’ll wake the lads.
Magnum: The dogs? What do I care? I was a third-string forward on the USC men’s basketball team in the mid-1960s! And I have a mustache!
Higgins: You leave me no choice. Zeus! Apollo! Attack this mustachioed, ex-Trojan athlete who loves sports so much that he finagled cameo appearances by Detroit Tigers star infielders Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell in a recent episode! Attack him this instant!
We hear growling, followed quickly by flesh-ripping noise and high-pitched screams. A basketball bounds pathetically past Higgins, who succumbs to an uncharacteristic smile.
If Greg Louganis in a Speedo is still the first thing that pops into your head whenever the subject of competitive diving comes up, it should benefit you to learn that Jason Statham was a member of the British national team before he started wailing on bad guys in the movies.
Somehow, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame is allowed to exist despite not having a single exhibit dedicated to the Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka or the Iron Sheik. But the shrine has at least drunk deeply from the river Baldwin, honoring the "Backdraft" star, a former varsity standout at Binghamton University, for his tireless support of sweaty dudes who just want to grapple with each other.
We find it endlessly uplifting that 6-foot-4 "Community" stud McHale was a walk-on tight end (read: tackling dummy) for two Washington Huskies football teams in the early 1990s. That's probably because it gives us the opportunity to make a nonsensical crack about husky tight ends who love to catch balls.
The diminutive Nerdist overlord, who has dabbled in acting ("Terminator 3," "Johnson Family Vacation"), is the son of Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame inductee Billy Hardwick. 10-pin talent must be genetic because Chris’ score of 205 in a recent smackdown of Jon Hamm and other "Mad Men" luminaries is PBA-caliber.
Thanks to a 1988 novelty mashup by the Timelords, the unofficial chorus to stadium anthem “Rock and Roll Part II” forever changed from “Hey!” to the far more idiotic “Doctor Who Hey! Doctor Who.” This is relevant only because Matt Smith, the English actor currently wearing the BBC cult hero’s time-traveling pants, was a teenage phenom in football (pronounced "soccer") until a back injury scuttled his plans to turn pro.
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Currently appearing on the sports-centric USA Network drama "Necessary Roughness," but best known as Riley Finn, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s post-Angel boyfriend on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Blucas is legitimately skilled at basketball. As a starting guard during his senior year at Wake Forest, he got to experience Tim Duncan’s freshman year first-hand, and wasn’t too shabby himself, averaging 6.4 points per game and knocking down threes at a solid 48-percent clip. But the closest he ever got to the NBA was playing a New York Knicks benchwarmer in the 1996 Whoopi Goldberg stinker, "Eddie."