Before 'Rocky,' Carl Weathers was a Raiders linebacker with acting aspirations

Beloved actor Carl Weathers, who died Thursday, was known for many roles throughout his career, from Apollo Creed in "Rocky" to Greef Karga in "The Mandalorian" to himself in "Arrested Development."

What most fans didn't know, however, was that a professional football career preceded all of them.

Before crossover stars such as Dwayne Johnson and Terry Crews, Weathers played in two seasons with the NFL's Oakland Raiders and three seasons for the Canadian Football League's BC Lions. Both teams paid tribute to him after his death was reported.

Weathers was a multi-sport star in high school and began his college football career at Long Beach City College before transferring to San Diego State, where he played as a linebacker under Hall of Fame coach Don Coryell. The Aztecs were undefeated in Weathers' time with the program, going 20-0-1 and winning the 1968 championship in the NCAA's lower college division.

While there, Weathers majored in theater arts. He kept his football career going but never found stardom or even stability in professional football. He went unselected in the 1970 NFL Draft and landed with the Oakland Raiders, for whom he played eight games across two seasons.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 23: Actor and former Oakland Raiders player Carl Weathers stands on the Las Vegas Raiders sideline before the team's game against the Houston Texans at Allegiant Stadium on October 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Carl Weather's professional life started with the Oakland Raiders. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Like in San Diego, Weathers played under a Hall of Fame coach for the Raiders: the late John Madden, who provided some very blunt advice. Per Sports Illustrated, Madden went to see Weathers play the lead in Shakespeare's "Othello" and told him he should pursue an acting career because the coach didn't believe he was tough enough to last in the NFL:

“I was good enough to fool ’em, but never dedicated enough to become a great player,” Weathers recalled of his pro career. “Up to a point, everybody can capitalize on the fact that nobody knows what’s going on. I could make coaches believe I could do what they wanted me to do, but that’s not the same as pushing yourself. The great ones are willing to work harder.

“I was still looking to hop out of football as soon as I made some headway with acting. I forced the issue by exaggerating a little. In L.A., I lied about having acting credits up in San Francisco. How can they bother to verify your claim that you studied at ACT (the American Conservatory Theater) or worked as an extra in ‘Dirty Harry’? They can’t. But if you run scared, you’ll never get what you want.”

That wound up being very good advice. Weathers was cut by the Raiders in 1971 and moved north to play for the Lions, but he spent the offseason studying drama at San Francisco State University.

After graduating with a B.A. in 1974, he retired from football to pursue acting full-time. After a few small parts, he got called in to play Creed, and we all know what happened from there.