Ed O’Neill doesn’t do Twitter. He doesn’t enjoy taking photos with adult fans. Even his Facebook profile was “automatically generated based on what Facebook users are interested in.” Perhaps O’Neill himself was automatically generated by the Universe, based upon what guys who watch television at 2 a.m. are interested in. The only evidence I’ve found that he uses a computer at all is his admission that he checked Google while preparing for a speech at Youngstown State University last year.
So that guy consenting to a match against Joe Rogan at Metamoris the other day wasn’t Ed.
“Ed doesn’t have a twitter account,” Rogan said on the Underground Forum. “It’s fake. Ralek tweeted that it’s fake yesterday.”
Oh what a simultaneous letdown and relief. The Pride-style freak show must not go on, even though we probably wouldn’t mind if it did.
But Ed is sixty-eight years old, Joe’s elder by over twenty years. And unlike Rogan, he’s not exactly sculpting a physiological shrine these days. Even though Joe “[hasn’t] rolled in many months” because of a back injury that is “much improved,” the match would not be competitive. It just wouldn’t. No matter how much we want it to be in a comic book crossover sense.
If this brief hoax has had any value, it at least has us talking about Al Bundy and Jiu-Jitsu. So as the Gracies are fond of saying, let’s turn some lemons into an alcohol-free lemon, broccoli, avocado and acai berry smoothie.
True to his television role, O’Neill really did play football in his twenties. He was even a linebacking 15th-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, until he was cut during training camp. Three years later, he delivered a single line as a police officer in the movie Deliverance. To his credit, he didn’t tell anyone to squeal like a pig. He landed the Married With Children role in 1987.
Over two decades ago, O’Neill began studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Rorion Gracie. John Milius, author of the screenplays for the movies Conan the Barbarian and Apocalypse Now, introduced the men. O’Neill received his black belt in 2007. And in the documentary I am Bruce Lee, he called it the “greatest achievement of my life, apart from my children.”
O’Neill described his first day at the Gracie Academy in this video.
As is customary in Jiu-Jitsu introductions, he makes an implied reference to perceived homosexuality, the great initial hallmark of the sport. “[They are] rolling around on top of each other. The place is very clean. I’m thinking, it’s very clean, nice. So now I’m thinking I’ve got to get out of here.” But Rorion challenged the 230-pound O’Neill to hold him in mount. And when he couldn’t, he enrolled. 16 years later, he earned his black belt.
“I didn’t expect to get it.”
“But I said,” he smiled. “Sixteen years. This must come naturally to me.”
Now, Rorion calls Ed, “As tough as they come.”
“In real life, he’s a major headache.”
Still, O’Neill appears to be a man of fewer words. In fact, when he received his black belt from Rorion, he was “speechless.” He took his belt and left the stage.
And that speech to Youngstown State University in 2013 was the first he had ever given. “I sat down to write the speech,” he said. “I had never written a speech before.”
“I got cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon,” he said. “Good day for him. Not too good for me. So for the next several years, I was a bit lost.”
He tried selling used cars, selling steel, and then he started drinking too much. But after he became interested in acting, he quit a job as a “horseshit manager” for a bar, and relocated. It was a difficult experience. He remembered being surprised by his own groans while he was walking down a cold street.
“I didn’t want the city to beat me.”
He finally secured a role as an understudy on Broadway. The man he was backing up was fired two weeks into rehearsal. “So I go from a busboy, $40 a shift, I’m co-starring in a Broadway play. Don’t ask me how that happens, but that’s how that happens.”
When he read the script for Married With Children, he didn’t think it would work. “Who wants to see a show about a family as screwed up as yours and mine?”
“Now I’m in my 60s . . . my that went quickly . . . and I’m playing Jay Pritchett on Modern Family . . . When they told me that Sofia Vergara was going to play my wife, I said, ‘Well that makes perfect sense.’”
In retrospect, all the groans he was making on the cold streets of Ohio sound different now. “I think now of those little sighs as happy moans . . . because I was trying, and it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t quit.”
“I suppose if there is any lesson to be learned from all this . . . just never give up on yourself. Find a way or go down swinging.”
It seems certain now that O’Neill won’t be doing that in a literal sense against Rogan at Metamoris. But that’s no knock on him. He’s an accomplished and, apparently, contented man. And as he says at the close of his speech to the graduates of Youngstown State, he's too smart for that.
“Never bring a knife to a gun fight.”