Skip to main content

He’s known for his boxing. More specifically, he’s known for his bouts against the legendary Rocky Balboa. Before actor Carl Weathers played Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, he had a brief career in the NFL as a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders.

Carl Weathers’ early days

When Carl Weathers was a junior in high school, he moved from Louisiana to California and was blown away by the West Coast. “I was knocked out by California,” Weathers told The Washington Post in 1979. “The parks! I’d never seen anything like the parks they had. There were all these kids, they had all different colors. You could check out a game, or a ball, and they’d actually trust you to return it after you were through. It was green and sunny and I was just one of the kids.”

Weathers was big, strong, and athletic. He played multiple sports in high school, but he excelled in football. After one year of college at Long Beach City College, he transferred to San Diego State on a football scholarship and played for Don Coryell. Academics weren’t his favorite, but he did enough to get by. His other love was theater and he had to find a way to juggle them both.

“I finally thought I was a jock,” he said, “and owed myself a shot at pro ball. At the same time, I didn’t want to study the things you had to if you wanted to be a P.E. major. So I found myself thinking of the theater arts department. I started doing a few small things in class and discovered I had a proficiency for it. My reading was awful, but I got a walk-on in ‘A View from the Bridge.’ For the rest of school, I kept on cultivating football on one hand and acting on the other.”

Weathers’ brief stint in the NFL

In college, Carl Weathers found himself playing defensive end. He wasn’t drafted by an NFL team after leaving San Diego State but signed a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders in 1970. There, he made the switch to linebacker. While playing football, Weathers was also working as an extra in films.

“I was good enough to fool ’em, but never dedicated enough to become a great player,” Weathers said in The Washington Post. “Up to a point, everybody can capitalize on the fact that nobody knows what’s goin’ 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.”

He played a total of eight games for the Raiders and was released in 1971. He played sparingly in the Canadian Football League before retiring from football in 1974 to pursue acting full time.

Weathers gets his big break in ‘Rocky’

Actor Carl Weathers on set of the United Artist movie “Rocky II” in 1979. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Lyle Alzado’s Tragic Story of Lies, Steroids, and His Untimely Death at Age 43

Carl Weathers said his ‘exaggerating a little’ – otherwise known as fibbing – helped open the door to his acting career. “By discreetly stretching things, I got an agent and then a dramatic coach and then the chance to audition for a real part,” he told The Washington Post. “One thing led to another. After finally getting that first commercial, I held out for commercial assignments in which I’d be prominently featured. The same thing with bit roles and supporting parts.”

He caught his big break with Rocky, playing Apollo Creed in 1976. He was then in the next three Rocky movies in 1979, 1982, and 1985.

“With (Rocky), it was breaking new ground and we delivered something that was so magical in so many ways,”  he said in The Hollywood Reporter. “In (Rocky IV), there was this extravaganza that was built all around this (Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren) fight.”