Orson Welles and the NFL

One night in the ’30s, Shipwreck Kelly, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner/running back/party animal, was at the El Morocco with a group of friends. In walked a big fellow with a beard — at a time when such adornments were confined mostly to sheepherders.

“Do you know who that guy is?” the nightclub’s owner asked Shipwreck.

Shipwreck didn’t have a clue.

“It’s Orson Welles, the actor.”

The owner brought The Actor over to the The Football Player’s table for introductions, Shipwreck recalled in Richard Whittingham’s oral history of the NFL’s early years, What a Game They Played.

I tried to be a smart aleck, like I did a lot of times in those days. I said, “Gee, Mr. Welles, it’s nice meeting someone like you.” He didn’t know who I was or that I played football or anything about me. But he was very pleasant. Then I said something like, “Why do you cultivate something on your face that grows wild on your ass?”

“Mr. Kelly,” he said, “you are fresh in New York, and if I were you I wouldn’t tell my friends how much you know about my ass.”

It was one of the rare occasions Shipwreck was out-wiseguyed.

Fast forward to 1979.  Jets legend Joe Namath — who, like Kelly, enjoyed the nightlife — is serving as the victim for one of Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts. Who should take the podium to add to the merriment but Welles, still sporting a beard but now built like a nose tackle.

What followed was the five cleverest minutes in NFL Films history (which is saying a lot). Watch: