Believe it or not, famous people had lives before their fame came to claim them. Some of these lives were even interesting. Indeed, not all famous people were grown in a lab (like Tila Tequila) or sent from hell to be harbingers of the coming Apocalypse (like the Kardashians.) Most of them grew up, went to school and did the same things most of us do – or try to do anyway – things like playing sports. And some of these pre-famous people were even good enough to legitimately call themselves “star athletes.” And it’s to this select group that this list is devoted. The following nine famous folks all have one thing in common – before they were famous, they were star athletes.
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It makes sense that Mark Harmon was a star athlete, given that his father was Tom Harmon, who won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan in 1940, but it also makes sense that he became a movie star (well, television star and occasional movie participant, but let’s not split hairs here, okay?) since his mother, Elyse Knox, was a model and movie star in the ‘30s and ‘40s. So I suppose it was destiny that Mark Harmon managed to do both, first as a star quarterback at UCLA and then as an actor. I’m pretty sure that this means that Tim Tebow is destined to star in something called NCISCINCSCI on CBS in the year 2052, chasing bad guys, throwing tight spirals (well, maybe not if it’s Tebow) and checking corpses for semen stains all within a neat 60 minute window. Truly, Mark Harmon is a trendsetter. His parents would be so proud.
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We’re stretching the definition of the term “star athlete” a bit here, since Joel McHale was only a walk-on tight end at Washington in the early/mid ‘90s, but still, that makes him more of an accomplished athlete than 99% of the population. Even before McHale managed to play his way onto the football team, he was recruited to be on the rowing team at Washington, which is sort of like being a football star, only nobody cares and people think you’re an enormous douche-bag like the Winklevoss twins or that other dude with the giant rowboat, Noah. But thankfully for McHale, he managed to escape first into the world of football, where he spent two years getting bashed in the head by 300 pound men, and then into the world of stand-up comedy and then acting, where he has made a name for himself first as the host of Talk Soup on E! and then as the lead in NBC’s Community, which is basically the fame equivalent of being a walk-on tight end at Washington. By the way, hosting a show on Bravo is the fame equivalent of being a member of the rowing team, just in case anybody was wondering, and I know you were.
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Elsa Hosk, Swedish Victoria’s Secret model was once a professional basketball player in Sweden. I’d say something interesting or funny here but I know you stopped reading and began picture hunting after the phrase “Swedish Victoria’s Secret model.” Don’t ever say I don’t understand how your mind works, you degenerates.
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Long before Dr. Jack Shephard was stranded on Lost, he was stranded on one of the worst college football teams of all time. Yes, while playing at Columbia, Shephard (well, Matthew Fox, but in my mind, they’re the same dude, just like we know that Khloe Kardashian is actually Hurley) was a member of a team that lost 44 straight games at one point. That’s a lot of losing. I guess the Smoke Monster must have played linebacker for Princeton. Who knows?
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Following his service in World War II, the elder Bush enrolled at Yale, where he soon found himself the captain of the baseball team. A left-handed hitting first baseman, Bush, Sr. found himself leading his team into appearances in the first two College World Series. Some historians speculate that this is where the first Gulf War actually began since everyone knows that Saddam Hussein was a flame-throwing pitcher for Harvard around that same time and a vicious bean-ball incident in 1947 triggered a massive brawl which saw Bush and Hussein wrestle on the pitcher’s mound until they were separated by teammates. Hostilities lingered for years. Some might call me a liar and note that Saddam was only ten years old in 1947, but what can I say? The man was a child genius, like Wormser in Revenge of the Nerds. And some might say that it was undignified for George Bush, distinguished war veteran and captain of the Yale baseball team, to brawl with a ten year old, but I say it just proves that patriotism runs deep and had his teammates just let him finish the job, we could have all avoided some nasty business years later.
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Long before he became the coolest dude alive, Burt Reynolds was a college football star at Florida State. Indeed, way back in the 1950’s, when Bobby Bowden was only in his third decade as Florida State head coach, Reynolds was a star halfback and the roommate of future ESPN analyst/weirdo/imbecile Lee Corso. Sometimes, I like to imagine a world in which Lee Corso went on to star in Gator and Smokey and the Bandit while Burt Reynolds went on to a career arguing with Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN. Okay, not really, but I’m definitely going to start thinking about it now. At the very least, I’m guessing Burt would have been fired once or twice for going on the air drunk, missing his pants. And he definitely would have been fired after sexually harassing Erin Andrews. I’m sure we can all agree on this. Also, you can now picture in your head Lee Corso making out with Sally Field and posing nude in Cosmo. You’re welcome.
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Did you know that the Macho Man, Randy Savage, played minor league baseball for four years? Ooooooooh yeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhh! Ahem, sorry. I had to do it. Anyway, long before he was dropping elbows on Hulk Hogan and slapping around Miss Elizabeth, the Macho Man was a middling baseball prospect, signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school. Over 4 seasons, Savage managed to hit .254 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI, so… yeah, maybe it was for the best that he went into another line of work. Then again, he’s dead now, just like 96% of the professional wrestlers from his generation (an exact scientific figure) so, uh, maybe not. After all, being a mediocre and alive baseball player is probably better than being a dead man best known for fighting other men in his underwear. Probably, anyway. Then again, it’s worked out okay for the Undertaker, so who knows?
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You bet your ass that Ed O’Neill is on this list. Not only did he score four touchdowns in a single game for Polk High as Al Bundy, he also was a star defensive lineman for Youngstown State in the 1960’s. He was good enough to even get signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969. Sure, they cut him during training camp but that’s all for the best. Otherwise we might have been robbed of the Al Bundy experience, and I for one shudder to think of what our culture would be like without institutions such as NO MA’AM or the inspirational Bundy creedo: “Hooters, hooters yum yum yum. Hooters, hooters, on a girl that’s dumb”, which has inspired many of the best and brightest of America’s young minds and which I understand is being considered for Illinois’ new state motto. So let’s all be thankful that Ed O’Neill’s football glory was confined to his college days and didn’t go any further. After all, scoring four touchdowns in a single game for Polk High means a hell of a lot more than winning Super Bowls with the Steelers, right? Right.
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That’s right, not only was George S. Patton a badass general who strangled Hitler with his own belt (If I remember my history correctly and I think I do.) he was a bona fide Olympic athlete. And not just any athlete, but a pentathlete. That means he competed in five different events in one race. Take that, you pansy Triathletes. During the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Patton finished fifth overall in the Pentathlon. He placed 20th in shooting, 7th out of 37 in the 300 Meter freestyle swimming, 4th in fencing, 6th in the cross-country steeplechase, and 3rd in the 5 Kilometer footrace. That means that he shot some guns, jumped in the water, swam faster than a bunch of Eurotrash, got out of the water, fought a dude with a sword, jumped on a horse and did some tricks before running a 5K. He then kept running all the way to Berlin where, as I said, he strangled Hitler with his own belt. Now that’s an Olympian. And that’s why, for badassery on the field of battle and on the field of play, General George S. Patton is number one on this list.
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(Originally published on February 7, 2012.)