For 30 years,The Simpsons has brought the world’s most famous family into the homes of billions across the globe. Along the way, it has established a new standard for celebrity cameos—the show’s exhaustive and wide-ranging list of notable guest stars is simply without rival. And nowhere is that more evident than in the impressive collection of appearances from the world of sports.
We asked four long-time producers share their favourite athlete cameos. Their choices ran the gamut from the obvious (Darryl Strawberry and the cast from the legendary episode “Homer At The Bat”) to the near-forgotten (‘70s track star Edwin Moses) and everyone in between.
1. MIKE SCIOSCIA A really terrific, down-to-earth guy, he has done the show twice (we said exposure to radiation had given him super managing skills) and stayed after he finished to talk baseball with us. A pleasure.
2. MAGIC JOHNSON In my view the greatest basketball player ever. It meant a lot to me personally as I grew up in Michigan where he won high school and NCAA championships.
3. WAYNE GRETZKY He has a cameo in [the episode] airing Dec. 4. He’s smart, funny and we felt like he must have when he met Gordie Howe as a kid.
4. MICHELLE KWAN Very funny and came in to record the same day as Warren Sapp, who was also terrific. It was quite a picture to see the two side by side.
5. PETE SAMPRAS Very nice guy; a lot of fun to record and was so pleasant you almost forgot what a sensational player he was.
1. DARRYL STRAWBERRY I’m a dyed-in-the-wool New York Mets fan. As a Simpsons fan who had no clue he’d ever end up writing for the show, I fell in love with the classic episode “Homer At The Bat” and, of course, Darryl Strawberry’s hilariously deadpan and ultimately poignant performance in it. As someone who raged at the Boston fans when they taunted him with “Darryl! Darryl!” in the 1986 World Series, that single tear he sheds when Bart teases him always made me feel even more protective of “Straw”.
2. KEITH OLBERMANN: I’d been a fan of Keith’s work on Sportscenter and was a devoted viewer of his MSNBC show Countdown. So when it came time to find a way for a sleep-deprived Marge to be shamed into watching commercials (this was in the first heady days of DVRs), I thought of having a nightmare version of Keith call Marge “The Worst Person In The World!” We recorded his voice over a satellite patch from New York, but a month or two later, he came to LA to broadcast a week of shows and visited us to sit in for a table read of another episode. He’s a big fan of the show and was so very happy to be there with us. And he graciously invited any of us who were free to come down and sit in while he broadcast his show from the NBC Studios in Burbank. As it turned out, I was the only writer who could get away that afternoon, so I wound up sitting about six feet away from Keith as he did Countdown from a studio the size of a walk-in closet.
3. EDWIN MOSES I never met Mr. Moses, but I’m very glad to have come up with the bit he did in the show where, as a former winner of Springfield Elementary School’s Field Day Race, he stood with Principal Skinner, who asked him if the “biggest hurdle” he ever faced was leaving his beloved hometown. To which the Olympian replied, “All hurdles are the same size. Man, who is this loser?” I hope I made my gym teacher proud.
4. MIKE SCIOSCIA As a Simpsons fan, I’ve always loved Mike’s appearance in “Homer At The Bat.” And as a Mets fan who still hasn’t gotten over his devastating home run off Dwight Gooden in Game 5 of the 1988 NLCS, I secretly celebrated when his animated self got sick from radiation poisoning. When we got Mike to return to the show for “MoneyBart,” I was happy to sit in on the [recording session] and toss in a reference to Oscar Gamble’s Afro that prompted Mr. S to tell a few tales about the real Oscar Gamble and his real afro. I’m still mad at him for hitting that homer off Doctor K, but he’s okay in my book.
5. JOE NAMATH My late father was a long-suffering Jets fan, and my first ever visit to a pro game was seeing Joe Namath lead the Jets at Shea Stadium when I was nine years old. So I was proud to have pitched this bit and played a small part in bringing “Broadway Joe” back to Springfield—if only to have his famously fragile knees get destroyed by Bart when he pulls a church kneeler out from under him at a funeral.
We’ve had so many superstar athletes on the show, so I narrowed it down to athletic greats whom I actually directed in the studio. So if you don’t like the way these superstars said their lines feel free to blame me!
1. TOM BRADY I flew out to record Tom Brady in 2004 at Gillette Stadium. I was thrilled, because Tom Brady is one of my favourite quarterbacks and Gillettes are some of my favourite razors. Tom was incredibly generous with his time, even though he was in the middle of a game week. For the record, the Patriots beat the Seahawks that Sunday, so I must be awesome.
2. PEYTON MANNING I flew down to New Orleans to record Peyton, Eli and Cooper Manning in 2009. All were incredibly nice, as was their father, Archie Manning, who tagged along as well. The morning of the recording session, I told the front-desk lady at my hotel that I was going to meet the Mannings. From her shocked reaction, I might as well have told her I was going to meet the Pope AND the president AND the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. The Mannings are popular everywhere, but in the Big Easy they are living gods.
3. RONALDO I traveled all the way to Madrid, Spain, to record this Brazilian soccer superstar, making this the most awesome business trip ever. Bonus points for the fact that Ronaldo recorded his lines in four languages, and gave me a free Barcelona jersey. My job does not suck.
4. JOE NAMATH I didn’t actually get to meet “Broadway Joe,” as he read his lines in a recording studio in Florida as we listened over the phone, but Joe couldn’t have been nicer, regaling us all with tales of the 1969 Jets and his tenure as America’s coolest bachelor in the early 1970s. Because we didn’t meet in person, I can neither confirm nor deny that Joe was wearing panty hose, as in this famous ad:
5. GENE TENACE Maybe not the most famous athlete ever to appear on the show, but he had one of my favorite lines ever: “Hey Sal Bando, give him a ’74 A’s victory honk!” You don’t even need to know the context—I just find the rhythm of the words exquisite.
1. WAYNE GRETZKY In case there’s any confusion, I mean Wayne Gretzky the hockey player. He came in recently to record for an upcoming episode and meeting him was a huge thrill for me (probably somewhat less of a thrill for him). I’m a Calgary native and consequent Oiler-hater, so 99 and I had a lot to talk about, and even more to trash-talk about— Semenko, Fuhr, Steve Smith bouncing the puck off Fuhr, we covered a lot of ground. Through it all, he was as classy and generous as you hope an icon can be. It was almost enough for me to forgive him for repeatedly demolishing my Flames’ playoff hopes. Not quite, but almost.
2. GORDIE HOWE’S FACE When you’re Gordie Howe, you don’t need to say a word—and he didn’t. His face alone played an integral part in “Bart the Lover,” creating a whole new Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal, an assist and an unlicensed use of your image.
3. MATT LEINART Years ago, when Matt Leinart’s career was struggling, he came into our writer’s room to tell us he really wanted to be on the show. It didn’t happen until just recently when we recorded him for an upcoming episode and he turned out to be really funny. Anyway, a nice guy, a good guest star and it was nice to see a super-handsome, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback finally have something go his way.
4. CLUBBER LANG I choose to believe the real person is the “Rocky 3” boxer Clubber Lang [and he] lives amongst us under the pseudonym “Mr T.” It was this same Mr. T that guest starred in “Today I Am A Clown” and famously delivered the line, “I wish I’d invested my money better,” while being humiliated at Krusty’s Bar Mitzvah. He turned out to be not only a great guest star, but also a sound reminder of the need for financial prudence–now that’s what I call a double threat. Congrats, Clubber.
5. RANDY JOHNSON I never met him in person but in “Bart Has Two Mommies” I love watching him forcefully sell his left-handed teddy bears (Southpawz) at a left-handed convention. If they were real, I would own a hundred by now.
The Simpsons airs Sunday nights at 7:30 PM ET/PT on Global.
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