Although his days playing football were long past him, John Wayne was jokingly drafted by the Atlanta Falcons during the 1971 NFL draft.
According to Sports Illustrated, the Atlanta Falcons drafted John Wayne due to his past football experience. The actor was 63-years-old at the time. And an Atlanta Falcons representative on-site described him as a “big strong guy. Who has also had some success in a couple of movie roles.”
At the time, the Atlanta Falcons head coach Norm Van Brocklin asked his staff: “Do we want the roughest, toughest S.O.B. in the draft?!”
Obviously, most people understood that the whole thing was in fact a joke. However, it was reported that at least two people were fooled by the Atlanta Falcon’s plan to draft John Wayne. One Georgia Tech fan told a reporter at the time, “I think that it’s a pretty sick joke when they select John Wayne and leave [defensive tackle] Rock [Perdoni] sitting here.”
Sports Illustrated further revealed that John Wayne picked up football at an early age due to his father. Who was a former college player. He later earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California as a 170-pound offensive lineman.
Sports Illustrated revealed that after suffering from a surfing accident that left him with a broken collarbone, John Wayne lost his football scholarship at the University of Southern California. The accident happened right before his junior year season. Although he ended up working for Fox Film Corporation afterward and got his big start in film, he never forgot what football gave him.
“Football put me on that stagecoach and sent me on my way,” John Wayne stated. “I found out early in life that football gave me an unusual understanding of the other fellow. You don’t care what color or religion he is, or what he thinks. But if he hits you hard, he gets your attention. And usually your respect. I’ve tried to live by that all my life.”
John Wayne also spoke about football in a 1933 interview. “No matter how much you may seem to be losing ground, no matter how often you lose the ball, you play just as hard–maybe harder–than if you were making first down with every play. And every time you get the ball into your hands, there’s a chance you may breakthrough for a length-of-the-field run–and a touchdown.”
John Wayne also stated that he heard himself be described as a “flash in the pan.” He then said from there he made up his mind that what was true of football was true of pictures. “So I started playing football.”