These 10 actors excelled at the tough task of playing an athlete


“Creed III” opened earlier this month. It’s the directorial debut for Michael B. Jordan, which is another splendid line on an increasingly brilliant résumé for an actor most of us came to know years ago as the ill-fated Wallace on Season 1 of “The Wire.”

It is also a reminder that Jordan firmly belongs on the rarefied list of Hollywood actors who have proven their chops as athletes by giving more-than-passable performances in more than one sport. Jordan, you recall, is not only believable as the heir to the original Apollo Creed in the boxing ring, he was also excellent as quarterback Vince Howard in the final 26 episodes of “Friday Night Lights.”

We don’t ask a lot of actors who play athletes, just be good enough to make it all seem believable. God bless Gary Cooper, who is great in “The Pride of the Yankees” though it stretches credulity to think that swing would hit 493 career home runs. Robert De Niro was mesmerizing as Jake La Motta in “Raging Bull,” but less so as doomed catcher Bruce Pearson in “Bang the Drum Slowly.”

These lists, as always, are highly subjective and, as always, will require you, dear reader, to correct any omissions or errors in judgement. But for me, these are the 10 best:

Michael B. Jordan made his directorial debut in "Creed III."
Michael B. Jordan made his directorial debut in “Creed III.”
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1. Kevin Costner: It’s hard to think of a better performance as a baseball player in a movie than Costner as Crash Davis in “Bull Durham” and Billy Chapel in “For Love of the Game” (not to mention when he plays catch in “Field of Dreams”), and he sure looks like he could win a few satellite tour purses as a golfer with the golf swing he showed off in “Tin Cup.” Add in his highly believable turn as a cyclist in “American Flyers” and you have your gold standard.

Kevin Costner's appearance in "Field of Dreams" doesn't even compare to Crash Davis in “Bull Durham” and Billy Chapel in “For Love of the Game."
Kevin Costner’s appearance in “Field of Dreams” doesn’t even compare to Crash Davis in “Bull Durham” and Billy Chapel in “For Love of the Game.”
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2. Burt Reynolds: He’s so good playing football as both Paul Crewe in “The Longest Yard” and Billy Clyde Puckett in “Semi-Tough” that it would have been a shame to leave him off the list for want of a second sport; thankfully, there’s “Stroker Ace” in which he plays a perfectly believable NASCAR driver.

3. Paul Newman: His signature role may be Reggie Dunlop in “Slap Shot,” but he also can go grand slam on you with pool legend Fast Eddie Felson (“The Hustler,” “The Color of Money”), race car driver Frank Capua (“Winning”) and boxer Rocky Graziano (“Somebody Up There Likes Me.”)

4. Wesley Snipes: Snipes is so good as Willie Mays Hayes in “Major League” and as Sidney Deane in “White Men Can’t Jump” that we’ll forgive him for Bobby Rayburn in “The Fan.”

5. Michael O’Keefe: A sleeper in the top five! But not only was O’Keefe perfect as Danny Noonan in eternal classic “Caddyshack,” don’t sleep on his work as basketball player Ben Meechum in “The Great Santini,” despite what his old man, Bull, may have thought (honorable mention: Darryl Palmer in “The Slugger’s Wife”).

Michael O'Keefe played Danny Noonan in the eternal classic “Caddyshack."
Michael O’Keefe played Danny Noonan in the eternal classic “Caddyshack.”
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6. Sly Stallone: Yes, he is and forever will be “Rocky,” which had some of the most realistic boxing scenes ever. But if he didn’t make you forget Shep Messing, he was still a damn good soccer goalie in “Victory,” and don’t forget arm wrestler Linc Hawk in “Over the Top.”

7. Robert Redford: Second only to Costner in baseball skills (and he went full Ohtani as both a pitcher and a slugger with Roy Hobbs and “The Natural”). But he’s the Costner of skiers as David Chappellet in “Downhill Racer.”

8. Dennis Quaid: He is genuinely great as pitcher Jim Morris in “The Rookie” which adds to a terrific sports résumé that includes football player Gavin Gray in “Everybody’s All-American” (and Cap Rooney in “Any Given Sunday”) as well as cyclist wingman Mike in “Breaking Away.”

9. Chadwick Boseman: He only really looks the part as Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack in “Draft Day,” and he’s only got a small part as Floyd Little in “The Express,” but add those to his brilliant turn as Jackie Robinson in “42,” and the late actor deserves a part of this list.

10. Adam Sandler: Sure, he goes for laughs as a golfer in “Happy Gilmore,” and a football player in “The Longest Yard” sequel and “The Waterboy.” But he also looks like he has played the game before. And you can also tell he’s a good hoopster in his best sports movie of all, “Hustle.”

Vac’s Whacks

The Knicks have been a manic team all year — at times overachieving, at times underachieving, at times enjoyable and at times maddening. They have two weeks two figure out which one they really are.

Looking forward to the upcoming MLB documentary “20 K” on the four pitchers — Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood, Randy Johnson and Max Scherzer — who’ve struck out 20 in one game. An exec-producer: ex-Met pitcher Glendon Rusch.

I admit, I was an easy mark for “Daisy Jones & the Six,” but it’s been everything I’d hoped it would be.

I fervently hope it is this Thursday, but whenever it is I am very much looking forward to seeing Anthony Volpe’s first at-bat at Yankee Stadium.

Anthony Volpe has starred for the Yankees at spring training.
Anthony Volpe has starred for the Yankees at spring training.
Charles Wenzelberg

Whack Back at Vac

Robert Feurstein: For all the magic in Jordan Spieth’s game, he seems to have lost the ability to close the deal. What’s worse, his demeanor after blowing another tournament seems to indicate he doesn’t really care. Another fat check, a ride on a private jet to his next stop: What, me worry?

Vac: The PGA Tour in the worst way needs either him, Justin Thomas or Rory McIlroy to have a monster year. There is a crying need for stars to act like stars.

Tony Giametta: Very unsettling to see Julius Randle lose it on the court, especially against teammates. As the games become more and more meaningful, it’s not a good look. Thought that was behind us from last season.

Vac: Sadly, I think everyone did. But this has become a real and troubling issue.

@TomPenders: I remember when the great Lou Rossini coached at St. Francis. What a legend he was. He took NYU to the Final 4 in 1960. The Violets had Satch Sanders and Happy Hairston on that team. Then NYU dropped basketball a dozen or so years later. This is almost as bad!

@MikeVacc: Listen to the coach. He knows.

Willis Reed
Willis Reed

Mark Cerrone: Thank you for your wonderful article Wednesday on Willis Reed. I could feel your affection for the man and his teammates. I also believe the tunnel should have been preserved and remained a part of MSG forever as the Captain will.

Vac: Credit due — it was Frank Isola, now with YES, who first railed at the stupidity of doing away with the tunnel about two minutes after the renovation was unveiled. It remains a travesty.

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