Movie Imitates NFL Life – Sort of

Fake Chiefs GM Brent Reichert talks with fake Cleveland GM Kevin Costner in Draft Day

On Thursday the movie Draft Day will hit theaters around the country. The film will give the ladies a chance to ogle Kevin Costner, who is the big Hollywood star in this production. It also gives the guys a chance to ogle Jennifer Garner, one of the co-stars. And, it will give football geeks a chance to drool over an early taste of the NFL Draft.

The real 2014 NFL Draft remains a month away, the selection meeting pushed back two weeks this year for reasons that have nothing to do with football and everything to do with image and entertainment, words that are very important in fueling the money-making engine that is the NFL.

Although the NFL did not make this film, the league had its say in all aspects of the production, including approval and rejection of various plot elements and the like. The movie’s director Ivan Reitman had little trouble admitting the fingerprints of the league office were all over his work.

“We needed their cooperation,” Reitman said last year. “We couldn’t make up team names the way certain films have and create our own league or our own draft, because then the film really wouldn’t have any power. It wouldn’t have the energy that the story had.”

The story is this: Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns and it’s the first day of the NFL Draft. The Browns hold a top 10 selection but Costner’s plan is to move up and get the first choice and the player to turn around the franchise. There is a lot of emotion and histrionics surrounding the process, all exacerbated by the slippery hold the GM has on his job with a meddling owner and a head coach not quite on the same page.

Plot-wise, there does not appear to be anything that comes strictly from the imagination of the script writers. Well maybe one scene when the head coach played by Dennis Leary walks into the GM’s office and lights a scouting report on fire.

There are a lot of familiar football and media faces involved from Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar to Chris Berman, Rich Eisen, Mel Kiper, Jon Gruden and others. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has a fairly substantial role. Typical of the NFL – Not for long league – there are a handful of Browns players in the movie. But within a little over six months since the filming, safety T.J. Ward and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson both left the team in free agency, and center Alex Mack could escape as he negotiates an offer sheet from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It’s doubtful any “real” insight comes from the movie to help fans better understand the draft-day process. NFL Films segments and even Chiefs website video have popped open the guarded doors and provided insight into some of the decision-making scenes that go on every year.

Draft Day joins the list of movies where football is a major part of the story. There have been some good ones in the last 45 years. I’ve seen them all and here are my top five football films, listed in chronological order:

Number One (1969) – Charlton Heston is quarterback Cat Catlan, an aging starter and leader with the New Orleans Saints who is facing the end of his playing career because of injuries and declining skills. The movie was filmed around New Orleans and includes quite a few actual Saints of that era. Cat does not handle his situation well, and there’s a very good scene where he talks about the team taking advantage of players while speaking with the Saints head coach. Heston wore No. 17, the same number that real Saints QB Billy Kilmer was wearing at the time. Popping up in one scene as a reporter was a very young Don Criqui. The music for the movie was written by Dominic Frontiere, who went on to marry Georgia Rosenbloom and he helped run the Los Angeles Rams. In 1986 he went to prison for failing to report income he made from scalping Super Bowl tickets. Frontiere reportedly sold just a bit more than 15,000 tickets to Super Bowl XIV that featured the Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. He failed to report his profits, of nearly a half-million dollars, to the IRS.

North Dallas Forty (1979) – The partying Dallas Cowboys from the 1990s, with their private “White House” where they entertained women and used drugs, got a lot of attention nearly 25 years ago. But that was just a second chapter of the good-time pros in Big D. Written first as a “novel” by former Cowboys player Pete Gent, North Dallas Forty is the story of a Don Meredith-like quarterback played by Mac Davis and a sure-handed Pete Gent-like receiver portrayed by Nick Nolte. Character actor G.D. Spradlin played head coach B.A. Strothers, very much in the mold of Tom Landry. There were some former Chiefs involved, like John Matuszak (22 games in 1974-75), running back Tommy Reamon (11 games in 1976) and Kansas City 1976 second-round draft choice defensive tackle Cliff Frazier as Monroe. Reamon had one of the great football movie names: Delma Huddle.

All The Right Moves (1983) – Filmed in and around Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the movie featured a very young Tom Cruise (he was 21 years old) and an equally youthful Lea Thompson (22 years old). As Stefen Djordjevic, Cruise is the youngest son of a mill worker in a dying steel town. His character is determined to escape through a college football scholarship, but he runs into problems with his head coach, played by Craig T. Nelson. This was six years before Nelson became college coach Hayden Fox in the television series Coach. Cruise does a good job of portraying the desperation of a young man hoping for more, as does Thompson as she deals with her own future and dreams.

The Best of Times (1986) – Kurt Russell and Robin Williams lead the Taft High School football alumni in a replay game 14 years after losing to rival Bakersfield High School. The plot is all about getting a “do-over” in life, and of course the ending of the game is different the second time around. Russell has one of the great football movie names – he’s quarterback Reno Hightower. Former Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards appeared in the movie as one of the players in the game.

Friday Night Lights (2004) – This is the story of the Permian High Panthers from Odessa, Texas, a town suffering through tough times because of problems in the oil industry. But football is king in Texas, and especially on Friday nights. Based on a best-selling book written by Buzz Bissinger, the star of this film is Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Permian head coach Gary Gaines. He loses his best player, running back Boobie Miles (great name!) in the season’s first game, but pulls his troubled team together going all the way to the state championship game before they lose to Dallas Carter High School. It’s a great look into the iconic high school football world of Texas.

12 Responses to “Movie Imitates NFL Life – Sort of”

  • April 9, 2014  - R W says:

    Nice story, Bob, and everyone has their list of favorite movies which is akin to the old saying of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. I don’t agree that authenticity of the league is a prerequisite for making an impactful film. “Any Given Sunday” made up team names but the movie makes my top 5 of football/sports movies regardless.

    Speaking of that, here’s mine:

    1) Remember the Titans
    2) Any Given Sunday
    3) North Dallas 40
    4) Moneyball (MLB ringer..but a terrific movie)
    5) Rudy

  • April 9, 2014  - johnfromfairfax says:

    Good stuff Bob. Art rarely imitates life in sports but there have been some good entertaining attempts made over the years.

  • April 9, 2014  - ChuckXX says:

    I will be surprised if this movie does well. I just don’t think it has enough real excitement to draw sell out crowds. I asked my wife if she would want to go and her response was “just go by yourself it looks like a yawner to me”. And I might mention that she is a real football fan.

  • April 9, 2014  - el cid says:

    Movies are at best “makebelieve”. Couple of golf movies are fun…about Bobby Jones and the like. I like stuff like The Replacements which has football uniforms in it, not a lot of “real life”. But I go for entertainment. I can get all the reality I need from the Chiefs.

    PS add Tin Cup, there is a golf club in it I found interesting so it qualifies as a sports movie, I guess. Bought a thing with a club and ball and autograph pics from Caddyshack mounted in a wall display, nothing sports there but funny.

  • April 9, 2014  - R W says:


    I think you’re probably right about the narrow appeal of this movie but I’ve GOT to see it! Costner has done well in other sports role movies he’s done over the years so I expect this will be a keeper. Interesting response from your football fan wife. I wonder if “The Draft” is almost exclusively a guy thing? Could be.

  • April 9, 2014  - Niblick says:

    My favorite football movie was “The Blindside. I’m surprised that no one else listed it. It obviously was extremely popular with all the awards it won.

  • April 9, 2014  - Tracy Leonard says:

    Kevin Costner has made some spectacular flops–”Waterworld” comes to mind–but he has also made two of the best movies ever abou

  • April 9, 2014  - Tracy Leonard says:

    Kevin Costner has made some spectacular flops–”Waterworld” comes to mind, but “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams” are two of the best ever made about baseball. Perhaps he will regain his touch with “Draft Day”.

  • April 9, 2014  - el cid says:

    Not sure but didn’t Costner do “for the love of the game”, not sure. Pitcher’s last game, a perfect game.

  • April 13, 2014  - cychief24 says:

    Bob. I hope everything is ok. Take care!

  • April 13, 2014  - R W says:

    Saw the movie on Saturday and must say it was excellent. The creative storyline building up to and including the frenzy of the drafting was borderline genius in my view.

    No spoilers here.

  • April 13, 2014  - Russell says:

    Ditto RW….the Coach\GM conflict is good. And the climatic last scenes are a fun surprise. Definitely captures some war room dynamic. Any DraftNik will love this.

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