Those of you who know me know that I’m a big fan of the New York Jets. If you know anything about football, you also know that, for most of my 35 years on Earth, they have been among the worst teams in the sport. So, while rooting for the Jets, I don’t get a lot of joy. In fact, they’re currently in one of the longest playoff droughts in the National Football League. Without success on the field, how does a fan like myself still get excited for their team? Well, in my case, each year it revolves around who is about to become a Jet during the annual NFL Draft.
The NFL Draft is currently happening and actually recently was split into a three day event. Last night was the first round (which the Jets killed, coming away with three potentially incredible players in Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Jermaine Johnson, in case you were wondering), with tonight featuring the second and third rounds. Tomorrow, the draft wraps up with rounds four through seven. Whether your team is good or bad, hope springs eternal. It also, like most things involving the NFL, gets huge ratings on television, especially considering it’s just talking about young men, most of them who can’t legally drink yet, and projecting how good they might one day be. To me, and others, it somehow is captivating. Like any major sporting event, though, Hollywood eventually took notice, with the end result being the 2014 film Draft Day.
For those who don’t remember the movie, this is the most basic plot description out there on the interwebs:
Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. One of pro football’s most important days, NFL draft day, is drawing near, but Sonny has much more on his mind than just which players to recruit. His lover (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant, and the team’s owner (Frank Langella) wants to fire him. After Sonny accepts a deal with Seattle that nets him that team’s first-round pick, he immediately wonders if he has made the right choice for himself and the Browns.
Kevin Costner is a staple of sports on screen, with this being in some ways his version of Moneyball. Playing a GM as opposed to a player, he’s tasked with working behind the scenes to improve the Browns, mainly here through the first pick in the draft. Written by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman, it was initially planned to be about the Buffalo Bills, but was moved to Ohio and helmed by the late Ivan Reitman. Released to somewhat of a muted response, I feel like it got a raw deal, especially if you dig the draft like I do.
Here, Sonny Weaver Jr. is debating what to do with the first overall pick, once he acquires it at the behest of his owner. Everyone wants him to take the stud Quarterback Bo Callahan, but as you see later on, he has his own plan, one involving the late Chadwick Boseman‘s pass rusher Vontae Mack. All of this takes place in a constricted timeframe, because…it’s a movie. Realistic? No. Exciting to watch? Sure is.
Sure, some of the movie is ridiculous, in particular when it comes to the climactic trade in the third act, as well as selecting Mack first overall. At the same time, shouldn’t we all have the courage of our convictions? “Vontae Mack No Matter What”, indeed. Draft Day manages to draw out the tension in the situation and makes it cinematic, even if the reality is likely a bit drier. I might know the value charts that say these trades that happen are absolutely ridiculous, but you get swept up in them, in the moment. That’s a credit to how the script knows enough about what it’s referencing to pass the smell test, as well as Costner just being aces at this sort of thing.
For me, it’s comfort food. In a way, Draft Day is a reflection of how football fans wish their team handled the draft. While some of the relationship dramas within the film are the weak links, but sports management is often riveting. Especially while the real life counterpart is going on, what more do you want from a fun little movie that’s never gotten the love it deserves? That being said, it has penetrated to coverage of the actual draft, with potential bust QB prospects sometimes dubbed as a real life Bo Callahan. So, something connected here, didn’t it?
As I continue to watch the draft tonight and tomorrow, the simple pleasure that Draft Day provides lingers in my mind. In fact, it’s easily the most underrated of Costner’s sports flicks (I also maintain, for what it’s worth, that For Love of the Game is one of his best). So, be sure to give it a second (or first) chance this weekend!
Thoughts on Draft Day? Is it the underrated gem that I think it is? Let us know!