Sunday, April 20, 2003

Athletes and sitcoms: Real shining moments


Guest appearances provide the 'very' for special episodes

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Over the next six months, cable television will add five new sports channels devoted to everything from figure skating to karate. That will bring the total number of sports channels on a standard cable package to 10. All sports, all the time. Athletes will be on camera more than those kids from Real World.

But athletes have never had trouble getting airtime away from their games. For years, they have appeared on sitcoms, cartoons and dramas.

Usually, they play themselves, primarily for two reasons: A) Someone blessed with the athletic talents of Barry Bonds is blessed with little or no theatrical talent; and B) No one is going to buy 7-foot-7 Manute Bol as a bellhop. Although - and nobody likes a bragging showoff - that premise in itself is ridiculously funny and probably could carry a show for an entire season.

Athletes have always made cameos to spice up our favorite shows. The following is a look at some of the best.

Deacon Jones, Joe Namath and Don Drysdale on The Brady Bunch: Drysdale showed Greg how to be a big-league pitcher; Jones showed Peter that you can be in the glee club and play football; and Namath showed Bobby that if you lie about having a terminal illness, you can meet celebrities. Classics, all of them.

Larry Johnson playing Grandmama on Urkel: We know, we know. The show wasn't technically called Urkel, but he was the straw that stirred the drink. Urkel was Sinatra; the rest of the cast was a bunch of Peter Lawfords.

Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky in the cartoon series Pro Stars: Jordan and Jackson were athletes in the truest sense of the word. They could run, throw, jump or tackle in pursuit of bad guys. Gretzky's shoes turned into roller blades. That's it.

Patrick Ewing on Webster: When Ma'am and George needed help parenting, they enlisted the help of a 7-footer who consistently folded like a lawn chair in the postseason.

The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, Scooby-Doo, and The Love Boat: Who else could beat a team of robots to win the integrity of the isle, meddle with ghosts and foil their plan, all the while entertaining with a variety of ball-handling tricks? All aboard, it's looooove!!!! ... and basketball.

Manute Bol on Saturday Night Live: Cruiseline commercial. Manute's sickly spindly limbs. Making us all laugh.

That was haiku.

Reggie Jackson: Jackson started his acting career in the golden age of sitcoms - the '80s - appearing in The Jeffersons, Archie Bunker's Place, Diff'rent Strokes, Mr. Belvedere, The Love Boat and MacGyver. In the '90s, with acting rival O.J. Simpson out of the business, Jackson tackled roles on Blossom and Suddenly Susan.

Can you get to Sesame Street: The show has ties of one sort or another to Michael Jordan, Terrell Davis (who sang "My favorite letters are M ... V... P), Jeff Gordon and O.J. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong.

Steve Sax and teammates on Square Pegs: This is the quintessential '80s-athlete-on-TV moment. They should have added an A Flock of Seagulls music montage, a Pong reference and a Rubik's Cube prop placement.

Barry Bonds on Beverly Hills, 90210: Bonds played himself, but an actor played his dad in this 1994 episode that pitted Steve and his dad in a golf match against the Bonds boys. The show was shot after Bonds' arrival in California but before he trimmed down that huge mustache and high-top fade. Great early-90s Americana, like a Jordan fade-away - little black knee-brace folded down at the top, tongue in the air.

Kevin McHale on Cheers: He appeared twice, both times playing himself. As an actor, he's a great pasty power forward.

The Simpsons: Over the years, the show has featured more than 20 athletes, from Gerry Cooney to Darryl Strawberry.

In a 1996 episode, Homer gets golf tips from Tom Kite. Later Mr. Burns suggests Homer use an open-faced club for a shot, maybe a sand wedge. The tip prompted this mouth-watering response from Homer: Mmmmmmm. Open-faced club sand wedge. That Homer - simply incorrigible.

Paul O'Neill on Seinfeld: A number of athletes appeared on this show, many of them Yankees, but the writers knocked this cameo right out of the park. Kramer's promise to a hospital-bound boy leaves Cosmo sweating. So it's up to O'Neill to hit two home runs. Apologies to Keith Hernandez.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Diff'rent Strokes: Muhammad Ali, Dorothy Hamill and Ed "Too Tall" Jones also appeared on the show. But Kareem's role as a substitute teacher falsely accused of hitting Arnold took the cake. Watching that episode was like watching that guy at the party who breaks out his guitar for an impromptu singer-songwriter performance. You're just embarrassed for everyone involved.

Florence Griffith Joyner on 227: Brenda focuses on becoming an Olympic runner. Flo Jo stops by to show her how to be a winner on the track ... and in life.

And isn't that the role of the athlete cameo?

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E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




REDS SUNDAY GAME
Reds 7, Expos 5
Reds box, runs

REDS SATURDAY GAMES AND NEWS
Reds off course in the Caribbean
Career takes another left turn
Reds chatter
Reds Q&A
Down on the farm: Hamilton regroups
Reds notebook: Boone tinkers with lineup

OTHER BASEBALL
Braves encounter unknown
Wrigley epitomizes what's best about baseball
MLB power rankings
NL: Benitez blows fourth save
AL: Yankees' starters now 12-0
Notes from Saturday's games
Players vow they'll defend their turf
Everett struck by fan's thrown cell phone
IL: Louisville 3, Durham 2

BENGALS
Last No. 1 pick didn't help Bengals
Daugherty: Pick Palmer, pray he doesn't play
Where are they now?
Bengals Q&A

OTHER FOOTBALL
Swarm put on show - and a game, too
Reading grad Wynn in running at Florida
All draft options have Rogers smiling
Getting to know: Zach Thomas
Early guide to the NFL draft

UC BEARCATS
Ex-Bearcat held on weapons charges

NBA
Nets' Kidd shows up mentor
Three Bucks players surrender on assault charges
Wizards in need of major repairs

HOCKEY
Stars finish off Oilers, eye Ducks

PREP SPORTS
KHSAA considers change of FB venue
Neltner, Hanser will lead local All-Stars
Prep results

GOLF
Kung wins first LPGA Tour event

HORSE RACING
Scrimshaw's victory sends Lukas to Derby

AUTO RACING
NASCAR's All-Star event to pay $1 million to winner
Formula One: Brothers qualify 1-2 in Italy

SUNDAY SPOTLITE
Athletes and sitcoms: Real shining moments
Page Two power rankings