NFL Stars and Hollywood Celebrities battle on the gridiron in Malibu

Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice was a fan favorite at the Pro-Am. Photo by Sam Rubinroit

Teams comprised of celebrities and former NFL stars went head to head in the Madden NFL ‘11 Pigskin Pro-Am flag football game last Thursday at Bluffs Park. The game promoted the Aug. 10 release of the EA Sports video game “Madden NFL ’11.”

“We were searching for an iconic location with a great view that people would love to come to and this was it,” said Tracy Perlman, the NFL’s vice president of entertainment, marketing and promotions.

The game featured Pro Football Hall of Famers Marcus Allen, Michael Irvin, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Rod Woodson, as well as NFL legends Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe and Kurt Warner.

The Pigskin Pro-Am also featured actors that have played football players, including Quinton Aaron from ‘The Blind Side,’ which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Jesse Plemons from the television show “Friday Night Lights.”

“In this game, I do not get to play the position that I played in “’The Blind Side,’” Aaron said. “It is not really about size; it is about the skill and the speed because in this game there is no contact. You have to be able to catch.”

Craig Robinson, an actor from “Hot Tub Time Machine” and NBC’s “The Office,” was not intimidated competing against so many Pro Football Hall of Famers. When asked before the game for his MVP prediction, Robinson joked, “Me! You can take that to the bank. It is not going to get you anything, but you can take it there. I am actually pretty bad, so we will see what happens.”

Other celebrities included “American Pie” actress Shannon Elizabeth, Joe Manganiello from “True Blood” and “Access Hollywood” correspondent Maria Menounos.

Despite being retired, many of the former professional football players were still in terrific shape. When asked to assess his level of fitness, Sanders, who played both professional football and baseball, asked, “Do you want me to take off my shirt and show you? I look fly, I look good.”

Kurt Warner, the Super Bowl XXXIV MVP who retired in January after 12 seasons in the NFL, explained why so many former players maintain such great fitness levels.

“When you are done playing, you do not stop something you have done for a long time, so I continue to workout and stay in shape just for personal benefit,” Warner said. “I feel great. It is fun to be out here and it is fun to pick up a football again because I have not picked up a football in a long time, so it is going to be a good time.”

Despite still being in incredible physical shape, there was little talk among the former players about potential comebacks to the NFL.

“I have been on fumes since I retired in 2004,” said former Denver Broncos tight end and three-time Super Bowl Champion Shannon Sharpe. “It is easy to look good, but it is hard to get out here and play and go through training camp and a season. I know I could not do it. I am not going to fool myself and say for the sake of cameras that I could go out and play. I could not play anymore, and I know that. But I can look good.”

The game was played on a 40-yard field rather than a typical 100-yard football field. There was some debate among the former athletes about whether a smaller field was a positive feature.

Former running backs, such as Marcus Allen, liked the idea of a smaller field because they could score more touchdowns. Allen, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1981 at USC and is enshrined in both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame, said “I excelled in a smaller area, so when you condense the field, I know how to perform in that area.”

Former quarterbacks preferred a longer field that was harder for the defense to defend. Joe Montana, a three-time Super Bowl MVP, said that a shorter field “makes it a lot harder. The closer you get to the end zone, the tougher it is to score, especially when you are playing against 11 guys.”

Current NFL players served as head coaches. Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons, who holds the NFL record for career touchdown receptions by a tight end, coached the red Gamers team. Terrell Owens, an unsigned free agent and six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, coached the blue Famers team.

Tony Gonzalez’s team included former San Francisco 49ers teammates Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, who won two Super Bowls together. “I could not ask for a better tandem. That is probably the best tandem ever,” Gonzalez said. “We are going to do some trick plays and mix it up. My son is nine-and-a-half years old, and I helped coach his team, and we won the championship, so I know what I am doing out here.”

The thousands of fans that packed Bluffs Park were separated into two sections, with one area supporting the blue Famers team, and the other cheering for the red Gamers team. With a free copy of Madden NFL ’11 on the line for the winning-team’s fans, the supporters cheered rabidly during every snap. Malibu High School cheerleaders were on hand to perform for the fans.

The Madden NFL ’11 Pigskin Pro-Am, as well as the pregame performance of the national anthem by American Idol finalist David Archuleta, will air on NBC at 4 p.m. on Aug. 8.