Posted: Friday April 15, 2005 9:32AM; Updated: Wednesday July 20, 2005 5:42PM
Jeff Gordon knew that donning a mullet would get him some laughs.
When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hosted Saturday Night Live in April, he followed in a long tradition of sports figures who have taken on that role. That tradition has been sometimes proud, sometimes painful. Here are our picks for the top 10 hosting jobs by sports figures.
1. Chris Evert, Nov. 11, 1989: Who knew that the stone-faced backhander who wore down opponents with her will could play the cut-up so well? Evert opened the show by playing against her stoic image, trashing her locker room after losing at Wimbledon to archrival Martina Navratilova. But the most memorable skit was one in which Nora Dunn, playing Navratilova, follows Evert around during retirement and quickly surpasses her in whatever field Evert tries, from real estate to growing tomatoes. Classic stuff.
2. George Steinbrenner, Oct. 20, 1990: Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball at the time, but a game effort on SNL helped rally public support for his reinstatement. (One PR maven later ranked it the year's best effort to turn around a public image.) The show debuted minutes after one of Steinbrenner's former Yankee skippers, Lou Piniella, had clinched the World Series with the Reds. The Boss cleverly referred to that fact in the monologue by saying, "I just bought the Cincinnati Reds." His best turn, though, came in playing against type as Carl, a convenience store manager who can't bring himself to fire underperforming employees. "Where is it written if you don't get results right away, you fire people?" Steinbrenner's Carl asked. "What kind of asinine policy is that?" Steinbrenner even dropped his pants during the show, but it was his willingness to play the butt of jokes that made the episode work.
3. Charles Barkley, Sept. 25, 1993: Sir Charles deserves a prominent spot on the list solely on the strength of his monologue, in which he went one-on-one with Barney, the perplexingly popular purple dinosaur. Barkley showed Barney the same amount of respect as an Angolan player at the Olympics, talking trash and dunking fiercely in Barney's face until the dinosaur was literally coming apart at the seams. Barkley also confessed to Stuart Smalley (Al Franken) that he felt incomplete without a title, whereupon Muggsy Bogues, in a terrific cameo, came out and gave him a hug .
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4. Billy Martin, May 24, 1986: Martin was a natural in a sketch in which he played a high-rolling drunk at a casino, cradling a huge drink while telling a woman, "It doesn't matter how much you drink, as long as you drink as much as you can." The fiery manager was no natural actor, though, which SNL honcho Lorne Michaels played to great effect by "firing" him during the show. Martin then burned down the cast party in the last scene, which was also ended the show's season. The faux fire helped build offseason drama as Michaels remade a ho-hum cast, as only Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller and Dunn survived the "blaze."
5. Derek Jeter, Dec. 1, 2001: Jeter's most memorable turn came when he donned drag to play the wife of Alfonso Soriano, watching the game with the other Yankee "wives." It's Jeter's character, Candy Soriano, who disses Jeter the player, saying, "He looks like The Rock had sex with a muppet." The sketch ends with David Wells and David Cone also appearing in drag as Skank No. 1 and Skank No. 2. Jeter also played the owner of a taco store and Roberto Iglesias, the older and less attractive brother of Enrique.