If J.J. Watt was an actor, who would he be?
What about James Harden? What if he was a musician?
I don’t know if anybody really thinks about that sort of thing, but I do. Or at least I did yesterday. In the middle of a Twitter war with Cody Stoots about how (a) Will Ferrell is Tim Tebow: dominant on the lower level (college, SNL), but on the big stage, outside of one or two moments (six-game winning streak, Anchorman and Step Brothers), the skill set never translated, leaving us with hype and truthers, and (b) if you consider the careers of Ferrell and, say, Adam Sandler, they’re actually pretty comparable. And yet, one is loved, the other loathed. Go figure.
Either way, the creative juices were churning. What if we were to take all the top sports personalities here in the city, and put their past, present and future in terms of the career arcs actors, musicians, and comedians? What would that look like? And would it help steer the conversation about what we have seen and will see? Who knows. Maybe I even get punched in the face by Brian Cushing for saying he’s one of the guys from that really bad Daredevil movie. Or stomped out by 15 guys for saying that Harden, while I love his work, is kind of a carbon copy of one of the least likable artists on the planet. Guess we’ll have to see.
So, since I happened to think of it, and to lighten the mood, here goes.
Houston coaches and athletes as Hollywood celebrities. Part One.
J.J. Watt — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Dominant as an athlete. But even at his peak, you know there’s a second career coming in Hollywood. Much like Watt has condensed an NFL career’s worth of accolades (three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, four first-team All-Pros, two 20-sack seasons, one sack title) into five seasons, Johnson didn’t need long to take over pro wrestling, doing things from 1995 to 2004 that I would know about if I followed/cared about pro wrestling. Now, Johnson is one of the highest paid actors in the game, pulling in $64.5 million in 2016, which makes him, at least for this year, the highest paid actor in the game. That’s what I see for Watt. Four or five more years in the NFL, before getting into show business full time, and raking. Has enough edge for action movies (could see him finding a way in an upcoming Marvel or D.C. Comics super hero flick), humor for bit parts in comedies and who knows what else. Maybe he gets into TV. Broadcasting. Daytime TV. Given the way he’s crafted his image, in an industry where it’s next to impossible to be and sell “clean cut,” the sky really is the limit. But not before he gets the Texans to a Super Bowl. 2017. Calling my shot.
Bill O’Brien — Bill Burr
Gruff. Intense. Honest. From Boston. Enough resume material that you feel OK calling him one of the better ones. But one of the absolute best? Can’t go there yet. Burr’s early success is undeniable. Huge podcast numbers. Viral live reads. Thoroughly relatable. But you’re still waiting for him to take that next step. Netflix is a great platform, and Burr’s stand-up special there is top notch. But an HBO special feels bigger. Makes more of an impact. Even in these changing times, it’s just something of a rite of passage for comedians. (See, Amy Schumer). I’m buying stock, and feel really good about it, but I can’t guarantee he makes good on the bet. I just can’t. Same thing with O’Brien. Love what he’s done in Years 1 and 2. Love how that projects for Years 3 and beyond. But we have to see it happen. Good job getting the Texans to the playoffs. Now go win playoff games. I’ve said he’s a Super Bowl caliber head coach. Don’t make me regret saying that, please.
Brock Osweiler — Daisy Ridley
Relative unknown. Entrusted with a huge franchise. Panned by critics for getting such big opportunities. If they bomb, everybody gets fired, and fans are gonna be pissed. American movie goers wouldn’t know it, but Ridley was actually groomed for stardom. Four years at the Tring Park School for Performing Arts — the Peyton Manning of English arts schools — located about an hour outside of London. Then, she got her shot. With a $4 billion movie franchise whose fans haven’t gotten a good episode in 30 years. Hashtag, pressure. Fans and media didn’t like the move initially. Because, you know, people. But she delivered. Not only a great movie, but a great Star Wars movie. Can Osweiler be that? Not just a good QB, but a good Bill O’Brien QB? Execute the scheme? Bring the vision to life? And stick it to Sam Freaking Monson and Pro Football Focus? Especially since, like Ridley, he doesn’t have to do it alone. He’s got a lot of help around him. Batter up, Brock. There really aren’t any excuses.
DeAndre Hopkins — Michael B. Jordan
Even when they finally start to get credit, do they really? Fruitvale Station was a masterpiece. (And, obviously, prescient lately). That Awkward Moment was pretty solid too. And in both movies, despite the glass ceiling of an indie movie and a bro comedy, Jordan transcended his circumstances. Then, Creed. But even if he gets the Oscar nom, he doesn’t win the award. Because let’s be honest. You don’t view Michael B. Jordan as a great actor. You should. You have more than enough supporting evidence. But you just don’t buy it yet. Nor does the Academy. That’s NFL fans and media with Hopkins. Nate Washington penned a piece for NFL.com that called Hopkins “one of the best pass catchers in the NFL.” But if you put it up to vote, and fans power ranked WRs (and Gronk) today, you and I both know, Hopkins doesn’t crack the top 5. Which is laughable. He’s easily top 5. If not top 3. In fact, for all the reasons I wrote here, if given the choice, I’d take Hopkins over any WR in the league. There. I said it. Unapologetically. If 2014 and 2015 were Hopkins’ Fruitvale Station, I really do think 2016 is his Creed. But is he ever going to crack the upper echelon of Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Gronk in the eyes most NFL fans and media? I’ll believe it when I see it. (Oh? You wanna go all Fantastic Four on me? OK, WELL HOW ABOUT Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden IF YOU GET THE POINT THEN WHY DID YOU BRING IT UP. Seriously. Stop talking and read this about FF. All you need to know about the mess Jordan and Hopkins have had to deal with).
Lamar Miller — Tom Holland
Soft-spoken, but lovable. And even in a star-studded cast, poised to absolutely steal the show. If you think back to the early marketing of Captain America: Civil War, Holland’s Spider-man was hardly discussed. Only once was his character teased in a trailer, and even then, it was only ever so briefly. It was all Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man. Chris Evans and Captain America. Even Sebastian Stan and the Winter Soldier got more run than Holland and Spidey. But when the movie finally dropped, who was everybody talking about? Holland. Miller has the chance to be that for the Texans in 2016. There’s gonna be a lot of talk about Watt and the defense, and Osweiler and the passing game, but the running game is quietly more important than ever in this NFL, and O’Brien’s record shows, he likes to roll up his sleeves and punch people in the face with his play calling. In what is a monster-sized project for this franchise, can Miller deliver? I say yes.
Brian Cushing — Colin Farrell
You like them, and you like a lot of their work, but their career never really took off the way you thought it would. There was a time where Colin Farrell felt like, The Next Big Action Star. Debuted with American Outlaws. Followed up with a pivotal role in Minority Report, plus solid showings as a lead in Phone Booth and The Recruit. Then, his performance as Bullseye in Daredevil. Bad character. Bad movie. After that, he never really got back on track. Brief bounce back with S.W.A.T. Then, Alexander. Rinse and repeat. Instead of putting his time and energy toward building off his pre-Daredevil momentum, it was like he had to focus all of his efforts toward getting it back. Same thing with Cushing. He’s spent years trying to recover from various injuries and regain his 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award form. Forget getting better. Forget being one of the best MLBs of this generation (absolutely on the table when he entered the league). Just back to that. A really good rookie season. Kind of a bummer. Not his fault. Still love him. Really wish Hard Knocks was here so I could see him brutalize Alfred Blue in a blitz pickup drill again. But I don’t know. There’s a part of me that feels robbed. Like we’ll never get to see what could’ve been.
Vince Wilfork — Liam Neeson
Dynamite in their early work. Specialty players at specialty positions. But at a certain point, they just kinda lose it. No one’s fault. Just the reality of life as an action star and NFL defensive lineman. Time wins. Neeson was masterful in Taken. Also quietly really good in Dark Knight Rises as Ra’s Al Ghul. Great personality, too. Goofy and self-deprecating when need be. Quality cameos. But all of a sudden, you blink, and we’re getting A Walk Among The Tombstones. Run All Night. The Prophet. Like, what the hell is happening? Where’s the guy with that perfect accent that isn’t quite English or Irish or Scottish, but kind of his own original brand of U.K. drawl, who’s making the most calm yet most sinister threats over the phone and then making good on them? Where is he? WHERE IS THAT GUY?! Even returning to the Taken franchise can’t save him. That’s kinda where we’re at with Vince. Hall of Famer. Arguably the greatest nose tackle ever. Great bit character in ESPN: The Magazine‘s “Body Issue.” But kinda sorta not the same, dominant force that he used to be. Almost makes you kind of want him to stop before it gets any worse.
George Godsey — Tobey from “The Office.”
Romeo Crennel — Morgan Freeman
Maybe the best supporting actor of all time. Probably not a lead. But he doesn’t have to be. Every movie he’s in — it’s a good movie, and more importantly, his movie. Crennel’s time with Belichick’s Patriots in the early 2000s was his Shawshank. Belichick may have had the vision, but he needed someone to bring it to life. Enter RAC. Just like Freeman did in Glory, and Gone Baby Gone, and Milion Dollar Baby and probably 100 other movies with “baby” in the title, because this guy’s been that good and that relevant for, like, ever, so has Crennel throughout his career as an assistant. So what if he bombed with the Chiefs as a head coach? All things considered, most probably do. Still one of, if not the best, coordinators ever. Also, their voices. They both kind of sound like lit professors at small, liberal arts colleges. Sipping cafe lattes and reading novellas. We know about Freeman’s pipes. But listen to this. If that voice starts talking about cold fusion, I probably listen. (Granted, I probably listen anyway, but… Nevermind).
Mike Vrabel — Jon Favreau
Underappreciated on-camera. But on the other side? Too big to ignore. It’s easy to forget — Swingers made only $4.5 million in the box office. $4.5 million. Which is only marginally more than that FIFA documentary. For Swingers. (To put it one way, that movie — “it’s SO money“). And Favreau’s character, the ever-lovable underdog who finally realizes his potential after spending the first hour and 30 minutes being afraid of greatness, is the backbone. Kind of like Vrabel as a player. The centerpiece of a cult classic. Swingers. Catching TDs in Super Bowls for eventual dynasties. Six one. Half dozen, the other. But even if nobody gave Vrabel his due as a player, as a coach, they’ll have to. Defensive coordinator in two years. Head coach in four. And a good one too. I really think that when we look back on his career in 30 years, he’ll have a couple of Iron Mans. Maybe even a Jungle Book or a Chef. Plus, you can TOTALLY see Vrabel running around like a verifiable crazy person, screaming to Belichick, “I GOT THE BAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.”
No, Texans rookies. You don’t get comps. Or busts in Canton. Until you actually do something. NOW TAKE A LAP. Signed, Bill O’Brien.
Matt Hammond hosts Saturdays from 11-3 pm on SportsRadio 610 and fill ins during the week. You can, and totally should, follow him on Twitter @MattHammondShow.