INDIANAPOLIS -- Some of America's highest-paid athletes are squaring off without benefit of shoulder pads in high-profile bids to win another kind of game.

The line between show business and sports blurred long ago, but the proliferation of National Football League players bullying their way through the television and movie landscape may be at an all-time high.

Former players such as Jim Brown, Joe Namath, Lyle Alzado, John Matuszak, Merlin Olsen, Ed Marinaro and Alex Karras achieved varying degrees of acting success. Mostly though, their roles came in low-budget party flicks or in television series.

A Serious Acting Career

Indianapolis Colts placekicker Dean Biasucci is out to change that trend. The Pro Bowl kicker wants an acting career in the most serious of theatrical forms, the stage.

Earlier this summer, Biasucci completed his role as Marc Antony in the Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of "Julius Caesar." Michael Gross of TV's "Family Ties" headed the cast.

"I've been playing football since I was 9 years old, and it's just so natural to me. Acting is becoming more comfortable to me," Biasucci said. "After close games, I'm mentally exhausted. After you give a good performance, you're that way too."

Tackling Shakespeare was scarier to Biasucci than getting rushed by a bunch of burly defensive linemen.

"I was kind of afraid of it because I'd never done it before. I didn't start getting a hold of the Marc Antony thing until two weeks into the role," he said. "Now I feel like I can be good. You know when you have it."

The 27-year-old shared a dressing room with veteran Broadway actor Michael Lipton, who played the title role.

"As Antony, I said to him nothing will be as difficult to you again. He's got guts, he's a very talented young man," Lipton said. "At the moment, he has a wonderful honesty on the stage and he's simple. He certainly has the actor's gene."

Biasucci's passion for acting blossomed when he took a drama class during his sophomore year at Western Carolina University.

"I was going to major in business like everyone else. I took an acting class and it was fun. I decided I may as well do something I like," said Biasucci, who acted in about 10 college plays while on a football scholarship.

His college thesis analyzed a play called "The End of the World," and early in his pro career he returned to do summer stock at Western Carolina.

With his muscular build and dark good looks, Biasucci seemingly would be a natural for lucrative commercials. Instead, he is pursuing roles in humble local productions.

He made his professional debut last season in the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre's production of "Six Characters in Search of an Author" and drew favorable notices for his portrayal of the angry son. This time, critics praised him in Antony's famous funeral oration ("Friends, Romans, countrymen"), but criticized his monotone voice.

"At first my plan was to be in the NFL for four years and then I could act. Now I want to play longer and I want to still pursue a career as an actor," said Biasucci, who is just now trying to get an agent.

His goal is simple: "To be a well-respected actor where you have steady work and you call the shots; that's probably all any actor wants."

But for now, he must sandwich his love for acting around his football career. He's been with the Colts since 1985.

"It's a disadvantage to doing one show a year because you're just getting the rust off for the first two weeks. When my football career is over, that will change," he said.

Despite his success on the field, Biasucci prefers the nightly polite applause of a small theater audience to the once-a-week roars of 60,000 fans at Colts games.

'Dumb Jock' Stereotype

"If I could only do one, I think I would act. As an actor, you have a script. You're using your imagination to create their voices and their actions. You have to have a creative mind."

But he still battles the stereotype of a dumb jock who knows his sport and little else.

"They say he's not going to be that good. They say he's another one of those football players trying to act and I'm fighting it all the way," he said.

The 27-year-old Biasucci has plenty of company in his suffering.

Former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth currently is shooting a $10 million movie in Florida called "The Brotherhood." He plays an FBI agent seeking to stop a political assassination.

"I see in him Marlon Brando, James Dean and Gary Cooper, all rolled in one package. He's got the same appeal of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger," director Bruce Malmuth enthuses.

Former Los Angeles defensive end Fred Dryer recently completed his seventh season starring in the television cop series "Hunter."

"You have to kill that football guy off because he can't help you. The mistake a lot of athletes have made is they don't get rid of that guy," Dryer told the Los Angeles Times.

"They march that ego, their fame, their name right in there and they expect to be given work because they are famous football players," he said.

Biasucci shudders at such shoot 'em up examples. "I don't want to do anything stupid," he says.

Biasucci's summer acting stint was to end July 26 when he was due to report to training camp. He actually returned to camp on the 28th, after signing a two-year contract that will pay him $462,500 a year, the second highest salary for a kicker in the NFL, behind Morten Andersen of New Orleans.

His lucrative career in professional football explains why Biasucci squirmed slightly as other members of the "Julius Caesar" cast worried aloud about their next job. He performed for free.

Biasucci says the challenge of translating a script into riveting dialogue equals the thrill of successfully executing a move from the Colts' playbook.

"You can act until you're 75 and never stop learning. You're always finding new things even in one particular show," he said.

"I've got a long way to go. I started late, but I don't think that's going to hurt me too much."