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Scoring again

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Hall of Fame baseball greats from Lou Gehrig to Mickey Mantle didn’t exactly hit home runs when they tried their luck in feature films. In fact, for most baseball stars, it was a swing and a miss. But that hasn’t been the case with some pro football players.

The reasons?

Perhaps it has to do with the sheer physicality of the game -- football players seemed to fit easily into the action genre. And surprisingly many, including Terry Bradshaw, Bubba Smith, Alex Karras and O.J. Simpson, found a home in comedy.

Of course, not every football giant repeated his gridiron success in movies and TV. Hollywood lured New York Jets superstar quarterback Joe Namath during his “Broadway Joe” heyday, but 1970’s “Norwood” and “C.C. and Company” died on the vine. Even New York Giants legend Frank Gifford tried his luck in Hollywood in the 1950s but never achieved stardom.

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But there were gridiron greats who made the transition to film and TV. With football season in full swing, here’s a trio of players who made it in Hollywood.

Fred Dryer

Position: Defensive end

Teams: New York Giants (1969-71); Los Angeles Rams (1972-81)

Stats: Played in 176 games and had 104 sacks. Once scored two safeties in one game.

Acting: Originally one of the three actors considered to play Sam Malone on NBC’s “Cheers.” After Ted Danson got the role, Dryer had a guest role playing Sam’s former Boston Red Sox teammate who comes out of the closet. Achieved TV stardom in “Hunter” playing the no-nonsense Los Angeles homicide detective Rick Hunter. His subsequent syndicated series, 1995-96’s “Land’s End,” in which he played a former L.A. cop, didn’t fare well. Dryer and “Hunter” partner Stepfanie Kramer reunited as Hunter and McCall in a series of NBC movies in 2002-03.

Jim Brown

Position: Running back/fullback

Teams: Cleveland Browns (1957-65)

Stats: Hall of Famer and named by Sporting News as the greatest pro football player of all time. Selected nine times for the Pro Bowl. During his career he rushed for 12,312 yards, scoring 106 rushing touchdowns.

Acting: Brown made his feature debut while still playing in the 1964 western “Rio Conchos” but made his first big splash as an action star in 1967’s “The Dirty Dozen.” Brown appeared in thrillers such as 1968’s “Ice Station Zebra” and Westerns like 1969’s “100 Rifles.” He starred with fellow NFL player Fred Williamson in several films, including 1974’s “Three the Hard Way.” His more recent films include Oliver Stone’s 1999 football flick, “Any Given Sunday,” and Spike Lee’s 2004 drama, “She Hate Me.”

Woody Strode

Position: Wide receiver

Teams: Los Angeles Rams (1946); Calgary Stampeders (1947-49)

Stats: At UCLA, he was a champion decathlete and played with Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson on the 1939 Bruin football team. Strode and Washington were two of the first African Americans to play integrated college football and were the first since 1932 to play in the NFL. No blacks had played for the NFL from 1933-46.

Acting: He made his film debut in John Ford’s 1939 “Stagecoach” but found more work in the 1950s -- in 1956’s “The Ten Commandments” and 1959’s war drama “Pork Chop Hill.” Strode didn’t just flex his muscles on the screen; he also was a superb actor, earning a Golden Globe nomination as the Ethiopian gladiator Draba in 1960’s “Spar- tacus.” During the same year, Ford cast him in the starring role in “Sergeant Rutledge.” He also appeared in Ford’s 1961 “Two Rode Together,” 1962’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and the director’s final film, 1966’s “7 Women.” He continued working in such films as 1968’s “Black Jesus” until his death in 1994.

His final film, the 1995 western “The Quick and the Dead,” is dedicated to him.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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Gridiron classics

This trio of football-centric films has won plenty of fans over the years:

‘Knute Rockne, All American’

There is a lot of Hollywood fiction mixed into this 1940 true story of the famed Notre Dame coach (Pat O'Brien). Ronald Reagan shines as the Gipper.

‘Heaven Can Wait’

Warren Beatty stars in, produced, co-wrote and directed this charming 1978 comedy fantasy about a football player who dies and comes back to life in another body.

‘Remember the Titans’

Denzel Washington stars in this 2000 true-story hit based on a newly appointed African American high school coach in the ‘70s.


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