Jeff Jarrett is a WWE Hall of Famer and third-generation wrestling promoter whom ESPN approached in the run-up to WWE SummerSlam on Saturday for his thoughts on pro football players who had success crossing over into pro wrestling.
That’s right, it’s me. Good ol’ Double J. That’s J-E-double F, J-A-double R-E-double T, world’s greatest singer, world’s greatest wrestler and, today, world’s greatest pro football writer. Ha-HA!
ESPN reached out to me on the eve of WWE’s SummerSlam and with NFL training camps in full swing to ask me about two of my favorite subjects: wrestling and football. “Double J, no one knows the wrestling business like you do, and we know you’re a huge football fan. We want you to give us your top 10 pro wrestlers of all time who played professional football.”
Good of ESPN to turn to a real expert. Haha! Damn right I know wrestling and I know football. I’m the third generation of my family in the wrestling business, and I’ve been a football fan ever since I can remember.
Wrestling long has attracted great athletes from other sports, and I can tell you it is as popular in NFL locker rooms as football is in wrestling locker rooms. I’ve been fortunate enough during my Hall of Fame in-ring career to come across a number of great athletes, but football obviously lends itself to the ring. It produces guys with speed, power and agility as well as guys of various sizes. What other sport could give you a guy as big and rugged as Ron Simmons and a highflier such as Brian Pillman?
The rules ESPN gave me are these: Only guys who took snaps in professional games could be included. A lot of guys participated in NFL, USFL and CFL training camps who never made those leagues for various reasons. So you won’t find superstars such as Vader, The Rock or Brock Lesnar on my list.
Here are my top 10 wrestlers who played pro football, many of whom I was in the ring with myself:
1. Bill Goldberg
Football credentials: Atlanta Falcons, NT, 1992-94. Played in 14 games, with one start.
Goldberg’s undefeated streak, on that stage on the worldwide scale, will never be duplicated. And it’s still paying dividends to this day. I wrestled Bill on a Monday Nitro in Milwaukee with Green Bay Packers players surrounding the ring. I took a spear and a jackhammer. And, of course, a 1-2-3. And you’ll see Bill on SummerSlam this weekend in the co-main event.
2. Roman Reigns
Real name: Joe Anoa’i
Football credentials: Edmonton Elks, DT, 2008. Played in five games, with three starts.
I’ve known the Anoa’i family since the 1970s. Roman’s father and uncle were the Wild Samoans, multiple-time WWE tag team champions. Rikishi was another of his uncles, and of course Rikishi’s sons, the Usos, are Roman’s cousins. So to say Roman has the business in his blood is an understatement. And ever since he became the “Tribal Chief” and the “Head of the Table,” we’ve really seen him take his game to another level. Now, when you call yourself the head of the table in a family that includes The Rock, that’s a bold statement in this business. We’ll just have to see where that leads.
3. Wahoo McDaniel
Football credentials: Houston Oilers, RG, 1960; Denver Broncos, LB, 1961-63; New York Jets, LB, 1964-65; Miami Dolphins, LB, 1966-68. Played in 105 games, with 91 starts and 13 interceptions.
I grew up a fan of Wahoo, but my family liked to talk about his football success more than his wrestling success. Legitimately one of the toughest guys on the field and in the ring. And man, that chop of his — the best in the business. I’m glad I was a little too young ever to take one of those. It’s too bad he didn’t get to use that with pads on.
4. Lex Luger
Real name: Larry Pfohl
Football credentials: Montreal Alouettes, OT, 1979-81; Tampa Bay Bandits, OG, 1984; Memphis Showboats, OG/OT, 1984-85; Jacksonville Bulls, OT, 1985. Played in 14 games for the Alouettes and an undetermined amount of games in his USFL career.
I’m not sure Lex gets the credit he deserves. He drew money for a very long time. There was a period when he was as big a star as anyone in the business. He stepped right off the football field and became a main eventer. We wrestled many, many times. I’ve taken many a press slam. A very powerful guy who threw me around with ease.
5. Ron Simmons
Football credentials: Ottawa Rough Riders, DT, 1981; Tampa Bay Bandits, DT, 1983-85. Statistical data not available.
Any list like this has to include Ron, the first Black world heavyweight champion. And, I mean … DAMN! He definitely left me saying damn after getting hit with one of his clotheslines. He’s another guy who for his size had such incredible agility, quickness and speed. He worked a little snug too. You knew when you’d been in the ring with Ron.
6. Ernie Ladd
Football credentials: San Diego Chargers, DT, 1961-65; Houston Oilers, DT, 1966-67; Kansas City Chiefs, DT, 1967-68. Played in 112 games, with 76 starts, and registered 33.5 career sacks.
“The Big Cat” was a little bit before my time. But you look up his football credentials and have to say he is as good a football player as anybody on my list. Three-time All-Pro? Wow! He was listed at 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds. I know he feuded with Andre the Giant and with Wahoo. He was one of the few guys back in the day who was anywhere near comparable in size to Andre. Ladd is in the Chargers Hall of Fame as well as the WWE Hall of Fame. That’s plenty good enough for me.
7. Steve “Mongo” McMichael
Football credentials: Chicago Bears, DT, 1980-93; Green Bay Packers, DT, 1994. Played in 213 NFL games, with 171 starts and 95 sacks.
Without a doubt, “Mongo” had the most upper-body strength of anybody I’ve ever been in the ring with, and I ain’t kidding! He really could throw you around. I worked with him and against him in the ring many times. And nobody told football stories like Mongo. You’d just be glued. I don’t recall where we were, but I can remember being in a wrestling locker room in WCW and he and Kevin Greene were spinning yarns about offensive linemen and sacking quarterbacks. Mongo had so many stories about the great Bears defense in the 1980s. You could listen all day.
8. Brian Pillman
Football credentials: Cincinnati Bengals, LB, 1984. Pillman appeared in six games.
“Flyin’ Brian” was a mercurial talent. He was great in the ring and probably left a bigger mark with his work on the mike. It’s a tragedy he suffered a motorcycle accident that cut his career short, so we’ll never completely know where his loose cannon character would have gone. But you can’t argue he had a big impact on the business in a relatively short time.
Real name: Quinn Ojinnaka
Football credentials: Atlanta Falcons, OG, 2006-09; New England Patriots, OG, 2010; Indianapolis Colts, OG, 2011; St. Louis Rams, OG, 2012. Played in 62 games with 20 starts.
I first met Moose at a tryout camp in Windsor, Ontario, in 2014. I was like, this is a diamond in the rough. He had all the tools. He still had the body of an offensive lineman at that time. You see him now and he’s lean, but he still has all that power and explosiveness. The sky is the limit for him. If we do this list again in five years, he could be at the top.
T-10. Monty Brown
Football credentials: Buffalo Bills, LB, 1993-95; New England Patriots, LB, 1996. Brown played in 43 games with 13 starts. Seven of his NFL starts came under coach Bill Belichick with the 1996 AFC champion Patriots.
“The Alpha Male!” Monty became a big star for us in TNA. A very charismatic guy who worked hard and became an excellent in-ring performer. He had a presence about him that you either have or you don’t. His finisher, “The Pounce,” was basically a flying football tackle. What a physique.
T-10. Pacman Jones
Football credentials: Tennessee Titans, CB, 2005-06; Dallas Cowboys, CB, 2008; Cincinnati Bengals, CB, 2010-2017; Denver Broncos, CB, 2018. Appeared in 146 games with 104 starts, 17 interceptions and five punt returns for touchdowns.
My buddy Pacman! He had about a dozen matches in TNA and actually was a world tag team champion with Ron “R-Truth” Killings. Pacman had a skill set not many guys could match. Incredible speed and leaping ability. Bad Bunny got so much credit for how well he performed at Wrestlemania, and he deserved it; but I promise you, he couldn’t have kept up with Pacman.
Honorable mention (listed alphabetically): Dick the Bruiser, Kevin Greene, Tito Santana, Steve “Dr. Death” Williams
Jeff Jarrett is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame and the Impact Hall of Fame. His “My World with Jeff Jarrett” podcast can be downloaded wherever you get your podcasts.