As most people probably already know, when you are looking to make it big (or find some decent success) in sports, it’s always a good idea to have a well thought out Plan B. This is simply because most of the top high school and college prospects aren’t able to land a full-time spot in the pros.
Worried you won’t make it as a star athlete? Why not just fall back on Hollywood stardom? It’s good work if you can get it… Right? With that said, here is a list of eleven big-time Hollywood performers who almost made it as pro athletes.
11. Dwayne Johnson
Depending on your opinion of pro wrestling, Dwayne Johnson is one of the most high-profile professional athletes to make the transition into acting. But if we’re limiting consideration to the top 4 American pro leagues – NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB – the star of Pain & Gain just missed the cut.
Johnson, who would go on to fame as The Rock in the WWE, was a standout defensive lineman on the University of Miami football team. He was a member of the 1991 national championship squad and went on to a brief career in the Canadian Football League. His football career would eventually peter out, leaving the door open for wrestling and then Hollywood stardom.
10. Ed O’Neill
We think of Ed O’Neill as a lovable loser. His first step into stardom came as the put-upon husband Al Bundy on Married…With Children. Now he’s the aging husband to feisty younger wife Sofía Vergara on Modern Family.
But O’Neill was a jock in his younger years. He earned a college football scholarship and eventually signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He never made the team, however, and returned to college after he was cut. It was here that he began his career as an actor, eventually landing some high-profile roles in the 1980s, culminating in an 11-year run as Al Bundy on Married…With Children.
9. Burt Reynolds
When he was one of Hollywood’s top stars in the 1970s and 1980s, Burt Reynolds was known as an athletic actor, with one of his best-known roles coming as a star quarterback in The Longest Yard.
Reynolds’ reputation as an athlete was well earned. He was an all-state running back in high school and went to college at Florida State University on a football scholarship. It looked like NFL success might be in his future, but injuries ended his football dreams.
Like Ed O’Neill, Reynolds discovered theater in college and turned to an acting career once his athletic hopes died.
8. Master P
Master P is one of the all-time great hip-hop entrepreneurs. He was also an elite athlete, who tried to make it as a pro basketball player even after scoring big in music.
Master P rose through the hip-hop ranks in the early 1990s, finally scoring it big with 1996’s Ice Cream Man. By the end of the 90s, he was trying to make it in pro basketball as well, trying out for the Charlotte Hornets in 1998 and the Toronto Raptors in 1999. He would eventually play for the Continental Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association.
7. Jason Lee
Jason Lee breaks a couple of the informal rules of this list: 1) he didn’t play one of the four main U.S. sports, and 2) he actually was an accomplished professional in his chosen field before becoming an actor. But given his chosen sport, a little rule-breaking makes sense.
In his younger days, the star of My Name Is Earl and Alvin and the Chipmunks was a professional skateboarder. In 1991, he starred in Video Days, a short skateboarding film (made by future Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze) that has become a classic. A few years later, he was cast by Kevin Smith for his Clerks follow up Mallrats, which would launch Lee’s trip toward stardom.
6. Geena Davis
Geena Davis also breaks a lot of the rules of this list. While she proved herself to be a top-flight athletic competitor, she was never close to a professional career. Her sport isn’t one of the “big four” American sports, or even one with a strong professional league. Also, she only became interested in her sport later in life. Still, with few opportunities for women professional athletes until very recently, Davis will have to stand in for all the athletic women who never had the chance to get close to professional success, despite their talent.
In 1999, Davis had already been an established Hollywood actress for almost two decades, with star turns in Tootsie, Thelma & Louise and Beetlejuice, as well as an Oscar for The Accidental Tourist. She had even played a professional athlete in the baseball movie, A League of Their Own. However, Davis set aside her Hollywood resume to take a shot (literally) at Olympic glory, trying out for the U.S. archery team. She missed making the team for the 2000 Olympics, but finished in the top 10% of the 300 hopefuls who competed for the squad.
5. Mark Harmon
Now best known as the head of the team of investigators on NCIS, Mark Harmon was once a promising football prospect.
Harmon was a quarterback at UCLA in 1972 when the team, coming off a losing season the year before, scored one of the biggest upsets of the era, beating a powerhouse Nebraska team early in the season. Harmon never played pro football and turned to acting after college. Harmon does have some pro athlete in his blood, however. His father, Tom, won the Heisman Trophy in 1940 and played briefly for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.
4. R. Kelly
Like Master P, R Kelly made a late attempt at a pro basketball career. He played on his high school team, but quit the sport to pursue his singing career. Kelly would eventually become one of the biggest R&B acts in the world, fittingly scoring his most enduring hit with “I Believe I Can Fly” from the Michael Jordan movie Space Jam.
In 1997, Kelly won a spot on the Atlantic City Seagulls, part of the United States Basketball League. He played for three seasons, winning the league championship all three years. The league folded after the 2007 season.
3. Dean Cain
Dean Cain made a name for himself as Superman on the sexy TV version of the superhero. The casting of Cain as a superhuman specimen would have come as no surprise to people who knew him in his younger days.
In high school, Cain played baseball with, Charlie Sheen (who would later impress his co-stars on Major League with his real-life pitching chops). In college, Cain excelled at football and signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills following graduation.
His football career was derailed by an injury and he drifted into acting, eventually landing the star-making role opposite Teri Hatcher in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
2. Kurt Russell
When Ron Shelton was casting the lead character in his baseball classic Bull Durham, he wanted an actor who would be believable as a near-major league level player. The choice came down to Kevin Costner, who eventually won the role, and Kurt Russell.
Russell would certainly have brought a rare combination of acting experience and baseball talent. Russell was a child actor who appeared in a number of Disney projects and TV shows in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Russell flirted with a possible baseball career, spending some time in the minor leagues. An injury eventually ended his sports career, allowing him to move back to acting and famed performances in movies like Backdraft, Tombstone and The Hateful Eight.
1. George Clooney
George Clooney had a long climb to the top of the Hollywood pyramid. He labored in low-budget movies (Return of the Killer Tomatoes) and in second-rate TV roles (a stint on Facts Of Life) before breaking through to the big time in E.R.
Before his acting career began to take shape, the future Oceans Eleven star had his sights on a baseball career. In 1977, a 16-year-old Clooney tried out for the Cincinnati Reds, who were coming off a World Series season. Clooney told The Enquirer that he was a great outfielder, though he had a weak arm. Obviously, the tryout didn’t lead anywhere, and the teenage Clooney turned his attention to acting.