Peyton Manning's Children's Hospital fundraiser took a fun turn last weekend when the Denver Broncos quarterback took the stage with headliner Dierks Bentley to perform a cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Manning's musical dynamism was about as weak as you might expect, but as it was strictly for-the-kids, we'd be jerks to mock him for it. He wasn't the first NFL player to take a crack at country music however...in fact, players such as Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman have done the deed in a more professional setting. Here are five country releases from acts that got their start on the gridiron:
The '70s-era Steelers were not reputed for being flashy off the field. "Mean" Joe Greene, Jack Lambert and the rest of the team's defense became known as the "Steel Curtain" for its smash-mouth approach. Terry Bradshaw, of course, was the antithesis to that. After six years in the league, the quarterback decided to pursue his love of country music with I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, an album named after and featuring the classic Hank Williams hit. The title track even managed to snake its way up the country charts, peaking at no. 17, while getting to no. 91 on the Hot 100 as well. This made head coach Chuck Noll nearly flip his wig (as he had done numerous times with his star) but the pair clearly made it work, winning four Super Bowls together as part of one of the greatest teams in NFL history. Bradshaw kept at it, releasing two more albums during 1981, and then another pair during 1996 after he had retired, including Terry & Jake, a collaborative effort with soul singer Jake Hess.
The Super Boys
Can you imagine how the world would have exploded in self-righteous indignation if the Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh had released a hip-hop album after winning a championship? Somehow the Dallas Cowboys, easily the most flashy franchise in the NFL, did virtually the same thing after winning the 1994 Super Bowl. The Super Boys (rub it in much?) was a collective featuring quarterback Troy Aikman, tight end Jay Novacek, special teams coach Joe Avezanno and a number of other Cowboy collaborators...singing country classics such as "Everyone Wants To Be A Cowboy." Bradshaw has taken his lumps over the years for his country music forays but let it be said that he can at least emote-Aikman can hit Michael Irvin with a football from 60 yards but he sure can't strike our fancy with songs such as "Oklahoma Nights."
The NFL is all about profit margins...which is why you should think twice before buying into their breast cancer support scheme. But, less importantly, that mindset has also pushed the league to dabble in popular media when it seems apt. Around the time that the Dallas Cowboys were branding themselves as a country music act, the NFL jumped in and released NFL Country, a ten-track album that features NFL players performing duets with bonafide country musicians. Both Bradshaw and Aikman makers their returns: The former teams with Glen Campbell for "You Never Know Just How Good You've Got It" while the latter joins Toby Keith for "Two Pair of Levis and a Pair of Justin Boots." The highlight however is Jason Sehorn and Texas swing band Asleep at The Wheel performing "Boogie Back to Texas" together (despite playing for the New York Giants at the time). The NFL also offered NFL Jams that year...a collection using the same formula with hip-hop.
If any of the aforementioned examples trike you as being a little too mainstream audience/profit oriented for your liking, don't worry: The NFL has turned out some outlaw countrymen as well. Kyle Turley was always a live wire on the field-famously remembered for removing an opponent's helmet and flinging it across the field after a fight, as well as allegedly threatening the life of his head coach-so it's no surprise that he ended up on the raw end of country music as well. His first album was titled Anger Management and led to a tour with Hank Williams III, a renowned figure in the outlaw scene. Before you rush to any judgments, consider that all of the profits from his second album, Fortune and Pain, went to the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps former NFL players suffering from debilitating injuries from their times in the league.
Most of the coverage we've given to the aforementioned acts has had at least an ounce of snark wrapped up in it. To be fair, we give you the case of Mike Reid, a man who ended up finding much more fame and fortune in the studio than on the field. Reid retired after five years in the NFL, making two Pro Bowls but sustaining injuries to his hands and knees. He formed a band and moved to Nashville, looking to make it as a songwriter. He met Ronnie Millsap and provided the country star with "Stranger In My House," a single that would peak at no. 23 on the Hot 100 and win Reid a Grammy for Best Country Song. Throughout the next two decades he would pen 12 country no. 1 hits. He would be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame during 2005. He may not have made Canton but he can still get to sleep at night.