Saturday Night Live’s history of NFL players as hosts

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 12: Host Peyton Manning speaks onstage at The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 12: Host Peyton Manning speaks onstage at The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) /

Houston Texans’ star J.J. Watt is set to become the 13th NFL player to host Saturday Night Live.

Saturday Night Live answered the question many fans were asking leading up to last week’s episode: Who’s on deck to host in February? The answer starts with National Football League star J.J. Watt who comes to Studio 8H this week.

Watt was a surprise pick and certainly not some one who was on many people’s radar when it came to predicting hosts for 2020. It does make sense with the Super Bowl being held the next night albeit on NBC’s competitor Fox. But perhaps Saturday Night Live is looking to cash in on football fever one more time before the season ends.

SNL fans unfamiliar with Watt don’t have too much to worry about. The Houston Texans’ defensive end has appeared in a handful of commercials and demonstrated his sense of humor in social media posts and in podcasts.

It is also important to remember that Saturday Night Live has a fairly successful history of picking NFL players to host. It started all the way back in 1977 with Fran Tarkenton and happened most recently in 2012 with Eli Manning.

SNL fan-favorite Amy Poehler once said that athletes make some of the best hosts. They are used to taken directions, working as part of a team, and completing their responsibilities to get the job done. Nobody knows that better than football players, especially J.J. Watt.

So with that in mind, let’s look back at Saturday Night Live‘s history with NFL players as hosts. Not every player has his sketches available on the show’s official YouTube channel (Deion Sanders, Alex Karras, O.J. Simpson) but that problem will be solved when NBC launches Peacock.

Fran Tarkenton

Jan. 1977

As the first NFL player to host Saturday Night Live, Fran Tarkenton got the honor of appearing with some of the show’s absolute legends. This sketch from 1977 features Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris and more.

In 1977, Tarkenton was at the end of his NFL career that began in 1961. As quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, Tarkenton was a nine-time Pro Bowler, MVP in 1975, and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1986.

John Madden

Jan. 1982

For fans of a certain age, John Madden is much more synonymous with video games than anything he did on the field or in the broadcasting booth. And while the Madden franchise has made a massive cultural impact, there has been much more to Madden’s career.

Madden was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958 but an injury suffered in training camp derailed his playing career. That put him on the coaching path where he was hired as the Oakland Raiders head coach in 1969. Madden’s Raiders won Super Bowl XI in 1977.

When he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1982, Madden was at the start of his broadcasting career. Madden would spend 1979-2008 as one of the most popular and recognizable voices in all of broadcasting as a color analyst for CBS, Fox, NBC, and ABC.

Walter Payton and Joe Montana

Jan. 1987

Saturday Night Live turned to two of the NFL’s biggest stars to host in 1987. Joe Montana and Walter Payton teamed up for the rare two-man hosting gig.

In Jan. 1987, Montana already had two Super Bowl championships under his belt with two more in his future. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback was largely considered the best football player of all-time until Tom Brady arrived on the scene.

Payton was two years removed from winning Super Bowl XX with the Chicago Bears. 1987 was also the final year of Payton’s career and at the time he retired as the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

In this sketch, Montana and Payton face off against Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” character. Not surprisingly, Church Lady is no fan of football. One could only imagine how she feels about the game in 2020 if this was her take in 1987.

Tom Brady

April 2005

Tom Brady followed in the footsteps of his idol Joe Montana when he hosted Saturday Night Live in April 2005. It was two months after Brady’s New England Patriots had defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXIX for Brady’s third championship.

For NFL fans, the clip is another remind that Tom Brady has been around for a long, long time. And he’s been on top of his game for a long, long time. Although, his throws in this carnival sketch alongside Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, and Rob Riggle are a little more reminiscent of 2019-2020 Brady.

Peyton Manning

March 2007

It’s hard for NFL fans to talk about Tom Brady and not have Peyton Manning’s name come up. The two were rivals and the consensus number one and two quarterbacks in the league for a long time. And while Brady may have more rings, there is no denying that Manning was the better Saturday Night Live host.

Manning appeared to be the most natural on stage of all the NFL players. It was probably the seemingly hundreds of commercials he’s appeared in over his career. This “SNL Digital Short” has to be considered one of the best sketches featuring an athelte from any sport in Saturday Night Live history.

Eli Manning

May 2012

It’s hard to bring up Peyton Manning’s name without mentioning Eli Manning. The younger Manning quarterback didn’t exactly have the career his brother or Tom Brady had, but he did turn in an impressive performance hosting Saturday Night Live.

Eli Manning came to SNL a few months after defeating Brady in the Super Bowl for a second time. He received a warm welcome from the New York audience and deservedly so.

This sketch, the best of the episode, is also worth pointing out for the fact Manning was asked to play a version of himself or a football player like the other hosts. He may not have the on-screen charisma of his brother, but Manning played the failed pickup artist on trial perfectly.

Saturday Night Live's top Super Bowl sketches. light. Related Story

Who was your favorite NFL player as Saturday Night Live host? What about your favorite sketch? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to catch J.J. Watt hosting this Saturday, Feb. 1.