Johnny Mack Brown made his name on the field and screen

sports@macon.comDecember 18, 2012 

The Alabama Crimson Tide will be going for national championship No. 15 when they meet Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

Their first came in 1925 with a future movie idol leading the way.

If you are a child of the 1940s or 1950s, you have to remember Johnny Mack Brown. From 1927 to 1966, he appeared in more than 160 movies, with 127 of those low budget westerns. He was one of the silver screen’s top B-movie cowboy stars and was right up there with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy.

Brown got into the film industry as a result of his football career at Alabama. In his senior season, he led the Crimson Tide to a perfect 10-0 record and a national championship, scoring a pair of touchdowns in a 20-19 win over heavily favored Washington in the 1926 Rose Bowl. He was the game’s MVP. Following the Rose Bowl, his image was displayed on a Wheaties cereal box, and as a result he was invited for a screen test that resulted in a long and successful film career.

He started out in silent films and advanced to talkies in dramatic roles while starring with the likes of Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow. He was Mary Pickford’s love interest in her Oscar winning performance Coquette in 1929.

Brown, who hailed from Dothan, Ala., was known as the “Dothan Antelope” during his collegiate playing days. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame is 1957.

Brown is one of many college football stars who has gone on to stardom on the big screen. Mark Harmon, who currently plays Leroy Jethro Gibbs in the hit CBS series “NCIS,” was an outstanding quarterback at UCLA in the early 1970s, leading the Bruins to a 17-5 record in his two seasons. Included in those totals is a 20-17 upset of two-time defending national champion Nebraska.

He turned down the opportunity to play in the NFL for the New England Patriots, opting for television and movies. He has appeared in numerous television series as well as movies. Among his movie credits is “Presidio,” in which he starred alongside Sean Connery.

Harmon comes from a high profile family. His father, Tom, won the 1940 Heisman Trophy while playing at Michigan. His sister, Kristen, was married to teen idol Ricky Nelson, and his other sister, Kelly, was once married to car magnate John DeLorean.

Jim Brown is another former player who made the transition from football to films. Brown, an All-American at Syracuse in both football and lacrosse and an All-Pro with the Cleveland Browns, is considered by many to be the greatest running back to ever play the game.

In just eight seasons in the NFL, he rushed for more than 12,000 yards. He has appeared in more than 50 movies. His role as Robert Jefferson in the 1967 film “The Dirty Dozen” is one of my favorites.

Alex Karras, who passed away in October, has 38 movie/television titles to his credit. The Iowa All-American played professionally with the Detroit Lions and was an All-Pro. He had the role of Georgia Papadapolis on the TV series “Webster,” which ran from 1983 to 1989. His most memorable film role came as the slow witted Mongo in the Mel Brooks comedy classic “Blazing Saddles.” His knockout of the horse is an all-time hit.

Fred “The Hammer” Williamson has had a long and successful television/movie career after leaving football. Williamson, who played collegiately at Northwestern and was the No. 2 overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1959 played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs during a nine-year career. His résumé includes 112 television/movie roles.

Among others who have gone from the gridiron to successful stints in the entertainment industry are Burt Reynolds, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Bubba Smith, Merlin Olsen, Dean Cain, Rosey Grier, Woody Strode and O.J. Simpson.

Contact Bobby Pope at

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