9 Greatest Simpsons Sports Cameos
The Simpsons’ charm is the fact that it’s a topical geeky show. And geeky shows aren’t the type to treat athletes reverentially. Rather than treat legends like Namath, Frazier, Madden, and Pele like brightly burning stars, they grant them no exception to the ribbing they give everyone else on God’s green earth. Not sure you follow? Keep reading.
1. Don Mattingly – “Homer at the Bat”
“Homer at the Bat” is almost certainly the first stop on this ride. This third-season episode has Mr. Burns wagering with a rival billionaire on the outcome of the company softball game. Monty Burns, being the champion of fair play that he is, decides to hire myriad stars from the MLB to seal the deal.
The collection is a strange cross section of baseball players including Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Ken Griffey Jr., who is pictured above. But one of the most memorable cameos in the episode is Don Mattingly, to whom Mr. Burns plays a foil to him in a very Steinbrenner-esque fashion. The famous row between Mattingly and Steinbrenner stemmed from Donnie Baseball’s collar-length hair, which caused George to bench Mattingly until the hair was fixed.
Burns goes similarly ballistic when it comes to Mattingly’s nonexistent “sideburns,” which Burns makes him trim before he is allowed to take the field. This goes on all episode until Mattingly has essentially shaved half his head, at which point Burns insists that Mattingly can’t follow directions and bans him from the team.
2. Joe Namath – “Bart Star”
The only thing better than a practical cameo are strange cameos that are more humorous for their random nature than their ability to move the story along. Well, Broadway Joe’s appearance in “Bart Star” accomplishes both. He shows up in Bart’s backyard with car trouble, but manages to send Bart a message to help him grow as well. Which is great, I guess.
But Namath’s real ace up his sleeve during this episode is his appearance in Bart’s recurring dream sequence in which he drones on and on about the car having vapor log, a problem that probably hasn’t plagued car owners since the Edsel.
3. The Denver Broncos – “You Only Move Twice”
When Homer gets hired by evil genius Hank Scorpio, he gets a promotion, more money, and a nicer neighborhood. We also find out that he gets one step closer to realizing another dream we never knew Homer Jay had: owning the Dallas Cowboys.
His first step in that direction is his acquisition of Tom Landry’s prized fedora, which enables Homer to become some sort of super-manager at his new gig. However, when project Arctyryx ends and Scorpio’s diabolical plan comes to fruition, Homer gets a parting gift from the magnanimous Scorpio. In an effort to get him one step closer to owning the Cowboys, Scorpio gives Homer ownership of the Denver Broncos, who just appear on his Evergreen Terrace doorstep.
Although this isn’t a cameo in the strictest sense (none of the Broncos speak or are even called out by name), their appearance does virtually nothing to appease Homer, leading to this exchange:
Homer: Awww! The Denver Broncos?
Marge: I think owning the Denver Broncos is pretty good.
Homer (As footballs bounce off their heads and the Broncos look generally inept): Marge, you just don’t understand football.
4. Darryl Strawberry – “Homer at the Bat”
Who knew Darryl was such a delicate soul? Just because someone has crippling drug and legal problems doesn’t mean they’re dead inside. And no where is that made more clear than our second favorite cameo from “Homer at the Bat”.
The Straw gets signed up by Burns for the company softball game and ends up usurping Homer’s place in the line-up. Understandably, this irks the Simpson children to no end. They decide to take their frustrations out on Daryl with the most innocuous chant possible, droning “Dar-yl…Dar-yl”. After a quick discussion, they decide that he’s a pro and he can take the ribbing. Cut to a close-up of Darryl Strawberry, a single, lonely tear streaming down his face. Gold.
5. Mark McGwire – “Brother’s Little Helper”
While Big Mac’s chops in this episode aren’t exactly great, the retrospective of having Mark McGwire appear in an episode the rampant social condoning of drugs is pretty effin’ funny. Bart gets prescribed an adderall-like drug for his bad behavior, and appears to go insane, constantly insisting that Major League Baseball is watching all the denizens of Springfield.
Later in the episode, Bart’s suspicions are confirmed as Mark McGwire shows up for no apparent reason to “hit some dingers”. Springfieldians don’t ask any questions and eat it up with a spoon as we discover they are being taped for some reason by the evil corporate juggernaut that is the MLB.
6. Pele – “The Cartridge Family”
During soccer’s nadir of popularity during the 90’s, ANY reference to the sport was seen as offbeat and borderline hilarious. The Simpsons ran with the gag for the first five minutes or so of “The Cartridge Family” in which a soccer riot causes Homer to fear for his family’s security, causing him to get a little too gun crazy for his own good.
Before the wildly anticipated Mexico-Portugal match (to decide once and for all which nation is the greatest in the world!) Pele comes out to welcome the crowd and remind them that he is king of the soccer field, but to be “king of your kitchen, to use Crestfield wax paper”. He then proceeds to wear the biggest smile on his face of all time and gets handed a giant bag of money.
A quintessential Simpsons cameo. Self-deprecating, random, and funny. Was the voice really Pele? Who the hell cares? It’s just as funny if it’s not.
7. John Madden and Pat Summerall – “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday”
Now anyone who has listened to a Fox NFL broadcast from five years ago or even a single game of the Madden franchise of video games would know that these guys aren’t exactly ringers of comedy, but they are the ONLY saving grace of this episode.
In what essentially a FOX co-promotional device, the two announcers run through the story the same way they would an NFL game. They even offer their critical analysis of the terribly substandard B-stories (Senor Ding-Dong, anyone?) to offer at least moment of candor and humor in an otherwise abysmal episode.
8. Lee Carvallo – “Marge Be Not Proud”
Once again, the satire of a Lee Trevino character is in fact, miles funnier than his actually appearance. The Simpsons offer a refreshingly twisted take on golf with “Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge”, the antithesis of “Bonestorm”, the must-have game of whatever year you happen to be watching the episode.
Rather than recite the nuances of scene, here is a rarely-seen-in-syndication live action credit sequence that spells out exactly what Lee Carvallo is all about.
The show always seems to stand a little taller when they take their own spin on celebrity, rather than just let the (often lifeless) celebrities speak for themselves. The actual delineation between Carvallo and Trevino is razor-thin, so don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy the absurdity.
9. Joe Frazier – “Brother Can you Spare Two Dimes?”
As has been proven in later series by woefully unfunny and irrelevant cameos, a star’s appearance on the show has little to do with the starpower of the celeb and more to do with the quality of the writing the celeb gets to read.
Take for instance Joe Frazier. Does Fraizer watch The Simpsons? Does anyone who watches The Simpsons know or care about Joe Frazier? The answer to both questions is almost certainly “no”. But when you get a respected boxing legend up there to present the “Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence”, and the more dignified the presenter, the bigger the laughs.
Sometimes the station of the cameo is incidental, but, as with everything else in The Simpsons, everything is a product of the writing. Sorry, Tony Hawk, LeBron, Yao, and all the other guys that were shoehorned in, this list don’t concern you.