When it comes time to invent a character's backstory, it seems sometimes the writers can't help but inject a bit of sports heroism. It's not enough to simply have them be a typical scrub player on a high school team (which still generally requires above-average athleticism); they'll have been the star player, or have played on the team that was in contention for the national championship. If it was a football team, they'll probably have been the quarterback. If it was a basketball team, they'll probably have been the high-scoring team captain. There may even have been talk of them going pro, often cut short by a career-ending injury.
Such a sports-hero backstory may in turn be used to justify the character having specific skills, or superior athleticism generally, which may result in I Know Madden Kombat. This can also lend a bit of pathos to a character who could have been a contender. This may lead to a character being Famed In-Story, as well, although it is occasionally a headscratcher because the character's backstory makes them somebody who ought to be more famous in the story than they are generally presented as being. May overlap with Real Award, Fictional Character.
Note that it's very common for pro wrestlers to have played non-staged sports professionally earlier in the life (football players are especially common in US circles), so examples should be limited to when this is made relevant to their wrestling persona.
- In Remote, the female lead was a track medalist in school—she's not in as good shape now, but can still run fast.
- The title heroine of Cross Ange was a semi-professional player of hoverbike "polo" before being enlisted as a Humongous Mecha pilot, which allows her to grasp the basic flying controls much faster than anyone expected.
- Aoi from You're Under Arrest! was a basketball player (golf player in the manga) in high school. Her skills is what helps an old classmate in trouble recognize her, even though she looks way different than she used to.
- Booster Gold was originally a football player from the future who received a lifetime ban after betting on his own games. His original motive for travelling back in time was to stop himself from making the mistakes that ended his career.
- Marvel Universe:
- MVP from Avengers: The Initiative was a rising college athletic star who also happened to be a descendent of Dr. Erskine, the scientist who created the Super Serum that gave Captain America his powers. When his heritage was discovered, people began to suspect that his above-average stats were the result of such a serum, and he was stripped of his scholarship, banned from competing, and forced to register under the Superhuman Registration Act. Adding injury to insult, he was killed during a training accident, and his body was cloned multiple times to be exploited for black ops work.
- In one telling of his backstory, Daredevil villain Bullseye was an amazing baseball pitcher in high school and was even offered a scholarship but opted to go to the Minor Leagues. He was so impressive that after a few games he went right to the Major League, where after doing amazingly, he got bored and decided to kill a player on the opposing team with a baseball. A big part of Bullseye's character is that he's Ax-Crazy and doesn't care about money (even his work as an assassin is just a means to the end of killing people).
- In The Order (2007), James Wa was an up-and-coming college baseball player before losing both his legs in a car accident.
- In Runaways, prior to discovering that his parents were supervillains and being forced to go on the run, Chase Stein was a varsity lacrosse player.
- Fred Meyers, who is the B-list Spider-Man supervillain Boomerang (sort of a poor man's Bullseye), grew up loving baseball in his native Australia and was for a time a Major League player known as an amazing pitcher. Unfortunately, he got into Hookers and Blow — after getting caught taking bribes to throw a game, was banned from the sport.
- In Before Watchmen, Dollar Bill is revealed to have once been a star football player in college before suffering a career-ending knee injury.
- Flash Gordon the comic strip had Flash be a "world-renowned polo player" before travelling to Mongo.
- In The Phantom, part of Diana Palmer's Action Girl credentials is that she won an Olympic medal in diving.
- Femme Fatale Elsa Schneider (introduced in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) is asked by the younger Dr. Jones if she can swim; her response is not simply "yes" but that she was an Olympic silver medalist in the 50-meter freestyle in the 1932 games.
- Bill Hannity, a Pompous Political Pundit featured in chapter seven of The Mysterious Case of Neelix's Lungs (Admiral Leyton makes an appearance on his show to announce that the Federation has found out what happened to USS Voyager), was apparently an Olympic boxer in his prior career. His nose never quite healed right.
- "The Silence Ends": When listing off Tyria Sark's backstory from her dossier, Henry Wake mentions that she was captain of the Starfleet Academy women's basketball team.
- In Point Break (1991), Johnny Utah's backstory as the quarterback of the Ohio State Buckeyes footballs team is an important plot point, because the bad guys recognize him as a celebrity, enabling him to infiltrate their circle.
- In Thirteen Days, it's noted that Ken O'Donnell and Robert Kennedy, two key figures in resolving the crisis, were teammates on the Harvard football team, with O'Donnell having been captain. Also Truth in Television.
- Victor/Victoria: The Armored Closet Gay bodyguard was an All-American football player in school.
King: But, you were all-American! I never saw a rougher, tougher, meaner, son-of-a-bitch football player in all my life.Squash: Boss, if you didn't want the guys to call you queer, you became a rough, tough, son-of-a-bitch football player.
- And as can be seen a few moments later in the same scene, the French Middlewight boxing champion is also gay.
- Flash Gordon the movie has Flash be a football star before becoming a hero to Mongo.
- In Unbreakable, David Dunn was a football star in his younger days, until a car accident puts an end to that career; it is later revealed that he is largely invincible to injury, and faked being injured in the car accident as an excuse to quit the sport, because his girlfriend loathed it.
- Essentially the entirety of Forrest Gump is backstory being exposited — which includes having been an All-American football player at the University of Alabama under Bear Bryant, and being an Olympic-level ping pong player.
- Napoleon Dynamite has a character caught in his high school glory days
- Belle's history as a competitive swimmer becomes a plot point in The Poseidon Adventure.
- Lord Peter Wimsey: Wimsey used to be a top cricketer in college. It becomes plot-relevant in Murder Must Advertise, where he is working undercover, and his cover is almost blown due to the sports fame of his younger days.
- Jesse Stone: Jesse was on track to become a professional baseball player until a career-ending injury led him to law enforcement.
- In Sir Henry Newbolt's poem He Fell Among Thieves, the protagonist's memory of school is of his triumph at athletics.
- In 24, President David Palmer is referenced as having not only been a college basketball star, but having hit a game-winning shot in the NCAA Final Four.
- In Criminal Minds, when Derek Morgan's heretofore unexplored history is revealed, it is noted that he was the starting quarterback for the Northwestern University football team (until, inevitably, a career-ending injury steered him into police work).
- Trivette, Chuck Norris' best friend and partner on Walker, Texas Ranger, played football for Penn State and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys before a career ending shoulder injury.
- Nash Bridges. First season opening credits sequence visually informs of highlights of Nash's past, including a "high school MVP" award gliding across the screen with apparent football team photo in background.
- Miami Vice has Sonny Crockett as a former star player for the University of Florida Gators football team (until his athletic endeavors were sidelined by an injury).
- According to Al from Married... with Children, his defining moment was when he scored four touchdowns in a single game as a fullback at Polk High School. He now is a shoe salesman.
- In Magnum, P.I. it is noted that lead character Thomas Magnum played on his high school football team — which won the Virginia State championship — and that he went on to quarterback the U.S. Naval Academy football team. (And lost to Army.)
- On Cheers Sam was a Major League baseball player before he retired and bought the bar. Coach was actually Sam's old baseball coach and now works at the bar.
- On NCIS Tony was a college basketball player who made it to the Final Four, losing to UCLA, before he decided to become a police officer. He also played in a college football game against Michigan where his leg was broken by a player from the Michigan team - a player that would go on to become the doctor who treated Tony for the plague.
- One episode of NCIS: Los Angeles plays this for laughs. A Marine who's a person of interest in the case of the week throws Sam a football that the Marine has been throwing through a hanging tire (practice for being quarterback). Sam throws it at the tire and misses, and grumbles to Callen that he was a wide receiver.
- From The Office (US) A hidden depth of Jim in early seasons is that he's a great basketball player. It's also a way that he proves his dominance over Roy.
- On The Unusuals Detective Jason Walsh used to be a professional baseball player until some gangsters killed his girlfriend while trying to force him into throwing a game.
- On 30 Rock Pete Hornberger was an archer who was selected for the Olympic team but never got to compete because of the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
- Flash Gordon the TV series has Flash be a champion triathlete before the portals from Mongo and Ming's minions start to cross over.
- Gotham adds to the backstory of Commissioner Gordon that he was formerly a college football star.
- In Carnivàle, Jonesy was a star pitcher in the major leagues until he is knee-capped as retribution for refusing to throw a game.
- The reality TV series The Biggest Loser often has at least a few contestants who have athletic backgrounds, and so who are supposed to have a better workout ethic; but the 2014 "Glory Days" season is all former athletes, including several Olympic gold medalists and a two-time Super Bowl champion.
- Smallville's series concept is to fill out a version of Clark Kent's backstory before he became Superman. Among other things, he quarterbacks the Smallville High football team, something complicated by his powers as he explains to Jonathan Kent in "Jinx". He treats it as something of a Self-Imposed Challenge:
"Every handshake, every hug, every time I'm out on that field, I make a conscious decision to fall when those guys hit me so they don't get hurt. No matter how hard you try, you can't understand that. That's why it's my decision, not yours."
- In Jason Michael Carroll's song "Where I'm From", it turns out that the rich businessman for whom the small-town protagonist has been an airliner seatmate is from a similar small town background, including quarterbacking his high school football team to a state championship in 1963.
- Kurt Angle is a legitimate olympic gold medalist, and while wrestling gimmicks don't have to be based on real events, wrestling scenario writers do not let such plot devices slip.
- Goldberg was a professional football player for the Los Angeles Rams, and this background was worked into his wrestling.
- In Journey's End, Osbourne mentions that he once played rugby for England. The scene in question establishes Raleigh as a compulsive Hero-Worshipper of sorts and Osbourne himself as a Cool Old Guy.
- Tidus, the Supporting Protagonist of Final Fantasy X, was a star blitzball player before the circumstances forced him to go adventuring, which explains his top physical condition and reflexes at the start of the game.
- Logan Carter from Dead Island used to be a football star. Then he took part in a street race and crashed, injuring his knee and killing his female passenger. His efforts to escape his demons lead him to travel to Banoi for a vacation, right when it becomes the epicenter of a Zombie Apocalypse. His past as a quarterback is represented in gameplay as a preference towards throwing weapons.
- Gears of War: Augustus Cole was an all-star player of Thrashball, a sport heavily based on American Football.
- Metal Gear has several, although usually for peculiar sports.
"Coulda gone Pro if I hadn't joined the Navy."
- In Metal Gear, Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter Ellen Pettrovich is a former Bolshoi ballerina.
- Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake has Running Man, an Olympian who had a world-record time at the Men's 100m Sprint, but when the sports world kicked him out for doping he became a mercenary; and Natasha/Gustava, who was a former Olympic ice skater who became a secret policeman in order to reunite with a soldier she met at the Olympics in Calgary.
- Metal Gear Solid gives one of these to Solid Snake himself, who, after quitting the military, became a dog sled musher who was about to compete in the Iditarod before being called back into service. Vulcan Raven is an Eskimo-Indian Olympics champion and a master of the Stick Pull, the Four Man Carry (which he does with six men) and the Ear Pull. (And, as Woolseyism has it, "the muktuk eating contest.")
- In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Senator Armstrong was a former college football champion quarterback from Texas State University.
- Megatron from Transformers: War for Cybertron started out as a simple gladiator in Kaon and eventually became the dreaded leader of the Decepticons.
Megatron: (while fighting in the Kaon arena) You forget, Starscream! It was within this gladitorial arena that I proved myself worthy to lead!Starscream: That day has long past, Megatron!Megatron: That day will live forever!
- Overwatch: The heroic Zarya and the villainous Doomfist respectively were an Olympic weightlifter and MMA fighter before the Omnic Crisis.
- Sam Gideon of Vanquish was an NFL quarterback before he became a DARPA researcher testing out a prototype Powered Armor.
- In Buriki One, the representants of Judo and Greco-Roman Wrestling, Jacques Ducalis and Ivan Sokolov, are gold medalist in their disciplines.
- Also various of the fighters have the main titles of their leagues, like being Heavyweight Champion, or at least being well-known in their countries' disciplines.
- Parodied in the Duck Dodgers episode "Quarterback Duck" in which Commander X-2 travels back in time and discovers that Dodgers' sports hero backstory is entirely fictional.
- In an episode of King of the Hill, it is revealed that Hank, Bill, and Boomhauer played high school football together (a big deal in Texas) — and that Boomhauer was the starting quarterback and Bill a star linebacker who set several records. Dale wasn't on the team, but he took his duties as towel-boy very seriously.
- Molly of Denali: In "Have Canoe, Will Paddle", Connie, the town mechanic, is revealed to have raced in the Olympics and won a gold medal in the Women's C-1 200 meter race.
- On The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, whenever any sport is mentioned, Penelope claims to have excelled in it.