Joel McHale makes a living cracking jokes as the star of NBC’s “Community” and the host of E!’s clip show “The Soup.” But a couple decades ago, he was cracking skulls as a member of the University of Washington football team. Or trying to, at least. McHale spoke to ESPN.com this week about his secret jock past, and how his sense of humor won him respect in the locker room.
This fantastic photo of McHale (provided by the UW Vault on WhoSay) was taken outside the Rose Bowl in 1993, a year after the future TV star first joined the Huskies football team as a walk-on to play tight end. McHale reveals he was actually brought into UW to play another sport: “I had been recruited to row, and I only played one year of football in high school. I got into a fight with the crew team over not pushing in a chair properly… That was pretty much the end of that.”
McHale never got to play in an actual game, but he spent a year and a half on the Huskies scout team, helping the starters prepare for their next opponent, and earned a reputation as a tough competitor. Fellow tight end Ernie Conwell, who went on to have a decade-long NFL career, remembers: “We kind of prided ourselves on being tough-nosed and hard-working, and he fit right in there perfectly with us… He was tough, he could catch the ball, and he wasn’t afraid to put his body on the line.” But former Huskies linebacker Chico Fraley damns McHale with faint praise: “He didn’t have any memorable hits or anything like that. But he was good enough not to be remembered for how bad he was.” (Alright, Joel, way to go!)
McHale found his niche, though, when the team held its annual talent show. When his turn came, he parodied the team’s trainer, who was notorious for treating every injury the same way. “A player would come in with a hurt ankle and it was just like, ‘We’ll ice it and give you some Advil,’” McHale recalls. “Then we dragged this body in and it was, ‘Let’s ice him up and give him some Advil and he’ll be fine.’ Then of course the kicker came in -- kickers never get hit -- ‘I jammed my thumb,’ or something very small. That’s when I said, ‘Bring the cortisone shot! Bring the gurney!’ They very much appreciated that.” You know, that football player might have a future in comedy after all.
And here I thought his recent super-fit look was a new habit brought on by popularity.