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Athletes who "Jumped the Shark"
by: Shawn Griffin from
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I have no idea who came up with the phrase "Jump the Shark," but it is totally brilliant. 

It is used to describe pivotal moments when television shows started to go downhill -- the point where they overreached and started their descent to ratings oblivion.

The phrase comes from the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie, in his patented leather jacket, jumps a pool full of sharks (while on water-skis, no less) in front of Al's place. I will never forget that episode. At the time, even at a young age, I knew I was witnessing the end of Happy Days. I remember thinking to myself, "This is somewhat strange. Why is Fonzie jumping over a pool of sharks?" All they had to do was stick with what got them there. Instead, the writers at Happy Days overstepped their bounds and came up with this ridiculous episode. 

It marked the beginning of the end for the 1950s-based sitcom. 

Why I am writing about this and what the hell does it have to do with sports? 

Well, think about the first time you saw one of your favorite athletes doing something other than what he or she is most successful at or known for. Didn't you feel differently about that person? 

I will never forget the first time I saw Dick Butkus hawking grills on some beach. This wasn't just a commercial. It was an infomercial. Dick had a tank-top and shorts on, and he was running around the beach like a complete idiot, in total awe of these cheap grills in which charcoal is not needed...yes, boys and girls, you grill your grub using old newspapers. I guess this made the food taste better or something. Anyways, every time I see Butkus, all I think about is him running around a beach trying to sell grills…. I don't think of the bone-crushing hits he used to unleash on opposing players. This is unfortunate. But it's true. 

Many athletes have "jumped the shark" for a quick buck or a quick high (thanks, Kareem). Some have appeared in sit-coms, some have come out of retirement and played with a team other than the one they spent their careers with, and others have done ridiculous commercials or television shows...all to make a some extra dough.

Although there are many, here are some of my personal favorites: 

Sports Personality - Joe Dimaggio
Jumped the Shark when: he decided to sell Mr. Coffee machines

The Yankee Clipper won nine World Series Championships. He was in 11 All-Star games. He won the MVP three times. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955...and then decided to get into the coffee business. In 1974, Joe DiMaggio became the spokesman for the Mr. Coffee brand coffee makers. He was the pitchman for Mr. Coffee between 1974 and 1985, and then again briefly in 1990. Who will forget Joe's smiling mug next to one of those cheap coffee machines? I won't.

Sports Personality
- Steve Carlton
Jumped the Shark when: he decided to keep playing after the 1986 season

The lanky lefty had an unbelievable career that started with the Cardinals in the 1965 season. He was later traded to the Phillies, and from 1965 through the 1986 season, he compiled six 20-win seasons and won at least 15 games in 12 of those years. He also won over 300 games in that span. So what does he do after the 1986 season? At the ripe old age of 41, he decided to hang on to the glory by playing for FOUR different teams from 1987-1988. These teams included the White Sox, Indians, Giants and Twins. He had a stellar 11-21 record and an ERA that is not fit to print. Mercifully, he finally was forced to hang it up in 1988 when the Twins changed the locks to the Metrodome. 

Sports Personality
- Joe Namath
Jumped the Shark when: (1) He made a cameo appearance on the "Brady Bunch" and (2) when he played for the L.A. Rams in 1977

This guy is almost as bad as Butkus. Nicknamed Broadway Joe, who will ever forget watching the NFL Films highlights of him prancing around the Jet sideline in a fur coat in a game in which he was not playing? Besides his cameo on the Brady Bunch, he also made cameo appearances on "The Sonny and Cher Show" and "Kate & Allie." It gets worse. He was a cast regular on the 1970s TV series "The Waverly Wonders" and he was the star of the short-lived "Joe Namath Show" in 1969. To top it off, he played one final season with the L.A. Rams in 1977, while barely able to walk due to bad wheels. After all of that, you almost forget that three days before the 1969 Super Bowl, he appeared before the Miami Touchdown Club, tossed a few footballs into the audience, jested briefly and then, growing serious, announced: 

"The Jets will win on Sunday, I guarantee it." And win they did in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game. 

That's what I want to remember about Broadway Joe, not his bad acting.

Sports Personality - Mike Ditka 
Jumped the Shark when: he coached the New Orleans Saints 

Ditka did a lot of strange stuff when he coached New Orleans for three forgettable seasons in the mid 1990s. First, he traded his entire draft for the rights to pick a RB when his team needed talent at just about every position, then he pulled out some phony dreadlocks and donned them for the cameras...and to top it off, he posed with Ricky Williams, who was dressed up as a bride, for "ESPN the Magazine." Remember, this is the same hard-nosed TE who had a Hall of Fame playing career and led the Bears to a Super Bowl victory. He tops that off by acting like a buffoon in the Big Easy. Thanks, Iron Mike.

Sports Personality - Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Jumped the Shark when: he was arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana in 2000 

The 7-2 center led the UCLA Bruins to three consecutive NCAA championships before joining the pros. He played in 19 All-Star games and won six MVP awards. He played on six championship teams during his 20-year NBA career, including one with the Milwaukee Bucks and five with the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired in the mid 1980s. That's how we are supposed to remember him. But then he is arrested for smoking reefer while driving. Strange. When I first heard this, I was stunned. It was almost like hearing that Rosie O'Donnell gave up chocolate donuts for a day. The guy is in his 50s, he's a "Muslim"...yet he also enjoys pot. How can we ever forget this? I won't.

Sports Personality - Carl Lewis
Jumped the Shark when: He sang the national anthem at an NBA game

There's no question nine-time Olympic track-and-field gold medalist Carl Lewis can run. He can run VERY fast. What happens when he decides to belt out a tune for some extra cash? Let me tell you. 

On January 21, 1993, before a Chicago Bulls-New Jersey Nets basketball game, in front of a sellout crowd in East Rutherford, N.J., the track champ ventured into the entertainment field by attempting to sing the national anthem. Lewis orchestrated the musical equivalent of a 40-car pile-up. He faltered during the lyric "…rockets red glare," and then mid-song told the fans, "I'll make up for it." Did he? Of course not. 

Needless to say, when I think of Carl Lewis, I don't see him beating the field in the 100-meter dash...but I do hear the screeching moans and utterances of a frustrated singer.

There you have it, folks. This is what happens when athletes stop being athletes. It's a sad fact of life that we have to learn to live with, if we can stop laughing about it for a few minutes.…

See more of Shawn's columns at!

Other Columns By Shawn Griffin

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