“Life’s a Game of Inches”: The Round Table on “Any Given Sunday”

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Al Pacino’s default acting mode in “Any Given Sunday.”

Kevin: As Americans gather around the TV this Super Bowl Sunday to watch expensive commercials – and occasionally the accompanying football game – it’s possible they’ll get an all-time classic like Giants-Bills 1991 or Patriots-Seahawks last year. However it’s also more than likely they’ll be stuck with a desultory blowout like 49ers-Broncos 1990 or Bucs-Raiders 2003. But that’s never been a worry for fans of the Pantheon Cup, the fictional championship game in “Any Given Sunday,” which probably features more gravity-defying plays, last-second heroics, incomprehensible play calling, ridiculous mascots, and Oliver Stone in the announcer’s booth than 20 Super Bowls combined.

Chronicling the difficulties faced by legendary Miami Sharks coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) in overcoming the loss of veteran QB Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), and the challenge to his authority by cocky and unpredictable back-up Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), “Any Given Sunday” is exactly as fearless, excessive, and indulgent as you would expect from an Oliver Stone take on the NFL. It’s also wildly entertaining, with a genuine reverence for the legends of the past and players of the present, who are depicted as modern-day gladiators as well as drug-addled basket cases. It also has one of the most eclectic casts in movie history, ranging from James Woods to Ann-Margaret to Lawrence Taylor to LL Cool J to Charlton Heston, while featuring the most Al Pacinoey Al Pacino performance ever committed to film.

However, while Stone obviously revels in the cinematic and melodramatic possibilities that the world of professional football presents, the world of “Any Given Sunday” is at times so far removed from reality that you’d suspect he’s never actually seen a real game in his life. But the inconsistencies and plot holes are half the fun, so let’s all get out our playbooks and break down the game film of “Any Given Sunday”:

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Let me start out with two of the biggest issues that I’ve always had with this movie. First, has any player ever had a trajectory from third string to superstar in real life like Willie Beamen does in this? At the time this was made (1999) Jamie Foxx seemed to be modeled after former Bengals QB Jeff Blake, who probably started most of a season before he really got some media heat.

But here is Willie’s career trajectory in “Any Given Sunday”: The movie opens with veteran QB Cap Rooney taking a game-ending hit before we even see him make a throw. On the very next play, second-stringer Tyler Cherubini also gets injured and pulled from the game (leading to one of my favorite throwaway James Woods lines: “Cherubini, what he do fall off the bench?”). Then Willie comes in and plays erratically (and also vomits on the field), but makes a couple of improbable late touchdowns to take the lead before D’Amato blows it on a dumb play call (which we will discuss later is par for the course for this supposed coaching genius).

Willie doesn’t start the next game, but comes in to replace Cherubini and wins. He starts and wins the game after that, and is suddenly on the cover of Sports Illustrated and treated like the biggest thing in football, leading to this (NSFW):

What the hell is this? Is this supposed to be a commercial for MET-Rx? It can’t be, it’s like three minutes long. Perhaps it’s a music video, because in the corner at the beginning it says it’s “No. 13 This Week,” but number 13 of what? Long-form music video advertisements? And where the fuck would this be played anyway, Canada’s Much Music channel?

Another thing that always bothered me about the world of “Any Given Sunday”: The fictional football league in the movie is obviously supposed to represent the NFL but they couldn’t get the rights to use official team logos and jerseys, which I think we as an audience would have no problem accepting. But instead they explicitly state that the NFL also exists in this universe, which I think is a bizarre creative choice. Like it’s hard for me to buy that the Miami Sharks are such a huge part of the city when they keep mentioning the “cross-town” Dolphins, or that Cap Rooney is a long-time Dan Marino-type legend when the real Dan Marino is also apparently still playing at the same time.

And what about the “Pantheon Cup”? Apparently it’s supposed to be as huge as the Super Bowl, yet when Elizabeth Berkley’s Mandy character first meets D’Amato, she barely recognizes him and struggles to remember that she once saw him coaching in “some big game” (i.e. the Pantheon Cup). She’s a high-priced hooker who has probably fucked every pro athlete in Miami, yet she apparently is unaware of this league’s biggest game or its most legendary Tom Landry-type coach.

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CJ: First of all, playing for the Sharks seems like the scariest job in the world. One second you have Al Pacino and Jim Brown screaming at you, the next second you are sitting in the middle of a total fuckfest with coke and hookers all around you, and the next you are playing in what appears to be a lawless NFL, where QBs get hit a solid seven seconds after the whistle and doctors are doing very … “curious” things to your body. And I haven’t even mentioned that you spend every day with Lawrence Taylor. Honest to god, I believe the Sharks’ weekly injury report has at least one “#75, John Smith, Dead.”

Now to answer Kevin’s question, I fully believe this situation mirrors that of Dak Prescott and Tony Romo. The difference being that Willie was out filming commercials and banging whores while Dak turned down Kanye tickets to watch the Texans-Pats. What’s funny is that Dak is the type of QB D’Amato wanted, while Willie is so clearly the QB Jerry Jones wants.

Speaking of the National Football League, in D’Amato’s speech about the glory of football to Willie over jambalaya later in the film, he mentions only NFL legends. Same with LT in his speech to Willie in the steam room. In fact the only players anyone ever mentions in this movie come from the NFL. Does their own league have no one good that they can point to? Based on this, if Willie is halfway decent he should look to get signed by an NFL team pronto.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the film where we get the first of many confusing and contradictory assertions about this Sharks team, when the announcers say they are suffering through “another dismal season.” Yet three games later they are poised to have home field throughout the playoffs. This is just as bad as how Billy Cole was having “the game of his life” in “Last Boy Scout” yet needed to be threatened with certain death at halftime.

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Kevin: Yeah not only are we told that the Sharks are having another dismal season, but attendance is also down considerably while the “cross-town Dolphins are thriving.” Then they suffer their fourth loss in a row, with a bye week coming up. But at the hospital afterward Rooney says he’ll be ready for the playoffs as if that’s not even in question. Then after two wins they act like beating their next opponent New York is a sure thing, which will give them home-field advantage. If that’s the case they will have gone 3-4 over their last 7 games. Let’s assume they had at least one more loss at some point in the season before going on that 0-4 streak; how bad then could they have started the season if they are still in the cat bird’s seat for the playoffs?

CJ: So if we are assuming a 16-game season, that would mean the team started off 7-1 right? Also that means a one-seed goes in at 11-5? My god this league is shit.

Kevin: To that point, good catch CJ about how the only football legends they mention are from the NFL. Apparently even the people playing in the Associated Football Franchises of America (AFFA) don’t want to be a part of this shitty league. But who can blame them, as we get a quick shot of Miami’s 2001 schedule (I wasn’t aware when I first saw it that this is a futuristic movie) and these are some of the teams they are playing:

The Seattle Prospects

The Los Angeles Breakers

The Texas Rattlers

The Minnesota Americans

The Houston Cattleman

The Washington Lumberman

The Oregon Pioneers

The New York Emperors

The Chicago Rhinos

The Colorado Blizzard

The San Francisco Knights

The Orlando Crushers

The Wisconsin Icemen

Yeah I’d be embarrassed to be associated with any of these organizations as well. I think the late XFL had more quiet dignity than the AFFA.

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Going back to that first game, Willie is introduced reading a newspaper on the sidelines several minutes after Cherubini went down and is apparently unaware of what has been going on in the game so far. I can see why he’s on his fifth team at the age of 26.

CJ: Before I get into some general observations, there are a couple of other things that occur in the film that I don’t buy for a second. One, team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) at one point says they can get a second- and third-rounder for Cap Rooney. You guys tell me, you know a lot of 39-year-old beaten up QBs going for premium draft picks? In reality he gets released and signs with Cleveland.

Second, at the end of the film D’Amato uses his retirement press conference to announce that he is taking over the head coaching job for an expansion team in New Mexico, and just signed Willie as his franchise-tagged QB. In what world does a team watch its coach leave for another team and secretly take its biggest star? I’m pretty sure D’Amato violated some kind of exclusive negotiating window the Sharks had and owes them some picks.

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“Bye Felicia!”

Some other thoughts on “Any Given Sunday”:

  • I think it would have been funny if, after getting slapped by his wife, Cap suffered another concussion.
  • Pagniacci: “I would cut my father’s ass if we were losing like this.” Me: You have home-field advantage, remember?
  • After seeing him arrive to his house party, the first thing LT says to Willie is, “Blowjobs are upstairs.” Mark that #1 on my bucket list. Sorry future kids!
  • I enjoyed how the team completely turns on Willie, then when he comes back in during the playoffs he just quickly jokes “uh, sorry, it was the devil,” and the whole team is totally cool with him again. Whereas we all know how team sports really are; these guys hold grudges for full seasons or years if a guy just hot dogs after a sack. No way this team forgives Willie that fast.
  • “I don’t get strokes motherfucker, I give ‘em.” I don’t think that was scripted, I think Jim Brown was just being Jim Brown. I’m pretty sure he’s playing a barely fictionalized version of himself.
  • During their jambalaya dinner, Willie mentions a shoulder injury he got when he was briefly converted to a DB on another team. Then after the climactic playoff game he mentions his shoulder is again hurting, but when he turns around D’Amato is gone. We never know if D’Amato heard that part, which makes me wonder if:
  1. He did hear it, but then why did he sign him to such a big deal at New Mexico? Clearly Willie’s body is breaking down.
  2. He didn’t hear it, which will make it hilarious during training camp when Willie blows out his shoulder, never plays again, and leaves New Mexico with a lot of dead cap money.
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Coach D’Amato advising Willie once again to do something stupid.

Kevin: Another good Jim Brown quote at halftime of the first game: “We got a third-string quarterback that ain’t gonna produce shit. When I talk about defense godammit, you dumb enough we made it simple enough. We made this shit real fucking simple!”

One more from Brown: “You do it as tough as it is possible to do, and you do that in all things. You die hard! That’s what I’m talking about, you die hard.”

More confusion about what kind of season the Sharks are having: After defeating the Chicago Rhinos to win their first game out of the last five, the Sharks are hailed as conquering heroes at the mansion party later, and the mayor of Miami is declaring Willie Beaman the “future of football.”

I’ve always loved how near the end of the climactic playoff game, the refs take several minutes to move the chains and confirm that the Sharks stopped the Dallas Knights on fourth down to take over the ball, but no one apparently noticed LT’s lifeless body on the field that whole time.

Finally, three things we discover after Pagniacci makes an appearance in the locker room after the win against the L.A. Crusaders (have a feeling that name may be an issue after 9/11):

1) One of the players has a huge dick.

2) Jamie Foxx is significantly shorter than Cameron Diaz.

3) Beamen has a tramp stamp tattoo right above his ass of the word “COCKED,” and on either side are two pistols that appear to be pointing to his butt crack. If this was a choice Foxx made for the role I have questions. If this was a choice Foxx made in his personal life I have a lot more questions.

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Anthony: I’m guessing the inference is that he’s cocked and loaded. But yes that’s a tramp stamp, no doubt about it. Anyway, I’m just going to focus on the actual football games in this film, because there is a lot to unpack there.

I spent seven years of my life playing football. Four in Division III college and three in New York during my high school years. The only reason it’s not eight is I didn’t think I was good enough to play my freshman year. I was the blind side offensive tackle all seven years. Meaning I protected the quarterback’s blind side and made sure he didn’t get killed like Willie Beamen did during the Monsoon Game later in the film. I usually faced off against the best defensive rusher every game. I was blessed enough to make the high school All-Star Team, be voted MVP a couple times, and make the All-Division and All-Star teams in college multiple years.

I say all this not to brag, but to give you my credentials before declaring with authority that Coach D’Amato and his staff may be the worst coaching staff I’ve ever seen. Let’s examine each match-up in detail:

Miami Sharks vs. Minnesota Americans 

On the first play of the movie, Rooney is facing 2nd-and-12 (estimated because he gets sacked and the next down is 21 yards to go). Julian Washington misses an easy cut block that gets Rooney bent in half. First of all, LL Cool J would never be a running back on my team; stand-up end maybe. Second, he’s got to drive through the thigh pad of the blitzer. It’s simple football.

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This leads me to believe, and later to know based on the horrendous football this team plays, that these guys are being coached about as well as I could tell Michael Phelps how to do a backstroke. Later D’Amato reveals they had “MAX protection” on that play. Meaning everyone who could was in to block, and Rooney still got destroyed by three defensive players. I say right now that the offensive line coach should be fired and made to eat ghost peppers until internal combustion occurs.

Then Cherubini, the second-string QB, comes in cold and they run a five-step drop pass. This fucking guy didn’t know where his helmet was a second ago, and instead of having him hand off or do a quick rollout they ask this reject to drop back and read coverage. No shocker that he gets blown up considering we’ve seen how good the protection is. So now Beamen is about to be called in, but before he gets in there we find out the play calls on his arm are upside down! What the fuck are these back-up assholes doing during practice? Do they sweat more than the kicker?

On the final play to lose the game, D’Amato calls the same dive twice in a row while at least nine defenders are in the box! Nine! That’s the kind of shit I’d expect from the Giants. Pagniacci should have fired his ass right there.

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“Get Chip Kelly on a plane to Miami tonight!”

Sharks vs. Rhinos

Apparently Beamen was paying a little attention this time, because he calls two bootlegs after D’Amato calls plays for his shitty, no-blocking running back to win the game. How come this playbook-reject can see this but the head coach can’t? Maybe it would help if D’Amato wasn’t always seeing fucking hallucinations of old football stars. Ease off the LSD pal and stop giving LL the ball!

Sharks vs. Crusaders

Supposedly McKenna is their best lineman and goes down after Willie makes up some cockamamie play call. Not for nothing, but the line was Swiss cheese before he tore his knee to shreds; the back-up couldn’t be worse even if it was a tackling dummy and a bucket of jock straps.

Sharks vs. Emperors (aka The Monsoon Bowl)

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Why are they passing? If D’Amato is trying to teach his starting quarterback a lesson by having him drop back again and again, knowing the line won’t block anyone, then well done coach. That’s how you teach the leader of your offense, by having a defensive end rearrange his internal organs repeatedly. But seriously, how does Washington not have 30 touches in this slop?

Sharks vs. Knights

We see the coaching staff didn’t let up with their amazing tutelage going into the playoffs. Special teams gives up a touchdown on the opening kickoff. They finally get Rooney back from an injury and instead of a quick dump-off or a hand-off to warm him up: seven-step drop pass. Sure that’s smart.

The coach FINALLY makes a good decision after Rooney gets helicoptered on the touchdown run and pulls him out at halftime. I guess he thought seeing the man’s spine come out of his asshole was not worth it.

Then the Knights also let the Sharks back into this game by giving up a touchdown on a reverse. A FUCKING REVERSE! When did this team ever show anyone they could run to one side, let alone get time to reverse it? And then they lose by giving up an 80-yard drive to Beamen with less than a minute to go. How does this happ … oh never mind, that actually happens all the time in real football, so I guess I’ll let that one slide.

Finally, during the last timeout of the game D’Amato talks to Beamen about jambalaya. Seriously! Go watch it! He asks him if he liked the jambalaya he cooked during their little sit down dinner. I mean what else is there to talk about? Coverages, blitzes, check-offs, tendencies? Nope, just food. This coaching staff is worse than the Cleveland Browns. And that my friends happened on every given Sunday!

Kevin: Don’t forget that coming out of the locker room after halftime, D’Amato tells Willie – who has been on the bench up ‘til now – to go deep on his very first throw. Of course he’s picked off easily.

Anthony: He obviously thought a 35-yard post pattern was the best way for quarterbacks who have been sitting on the bench to get back in the game immediately.

“Try closing your eyes before you throw, see how that works.”

Mike: I don’t even know what language you guys are speaking. I can’t really speak to the sporting elements of this movie or how accurate they are, because I’m 35 years old and still have no idea what a “point spread” is. I did however meet Oliver Stone shortly after this movie was released; he was signing copies of it at the old Tower Records on Broadway. I had gone to get my copy of “Platoon” (on VHS) signed and bought “Any Given Sunday” (on DVD) without ever having seen it. Here is a transcript of our conversation:

Oliver: “Pleasure to meet you.”

Mike: “’Platoon’ is personally one of my favorite movies ever.”

Oliver: “It’s all about being personal man.”

Mike: “I’ve got a great idea for a script about a man reincarnated as his best friend’s dog.”

Oliver: “Security! SECURITY! Show this man to my dressing room.”

And that’s how “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” came to be. Okay, so not all of that conversation really happened, but the first half did. Afterwards I went back to my dorm room, popped it on, and thought it was the greatest football movie I had ever seen. A title previously held as a three-way tie between “All the Right Moves,” “North Dallas Forty,” and “Little Giants.”

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Kevin: Well since Mike is taking a spot on the bench right now, we decided to draft a buddy of ours from New York to add his two cents. Ed is a longtime Giants fan, sports writer, and current sports podcaster who can be heard on the “The Ed & Fuz Show” at their Facebook page or at BlogTalkRadio.com. So what’s your opinion Ed on some of the liberties that “Any Given Sunday” takes with the real-life world of professional football?

Ed: First of all, to go back to CJ’s point about D’Amato scooping up Beamen as he’s taking off for New Mexico, what kind of collective bargaining agreement does this league have that Willie could sign with a new team as soon as the season literally ended?

In sports culture, where “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” do you know the depths of collusion that would develop under such a scenario? This Beamen signing would REEK of player tampering under the parameters of just about any professional sports league in North America.

D’Amato would eat big-time sanctions, including a possible suspension and the potential loss of draft picks for New Mexico. In the real world, had D’Amato even looked at Beamen with googly eyes after knowing he was signing with New Mexico, he would have buried his new employers by losing precious draft picks that expansion teams desperately need to accumulate talent for their roster.

By the way, who else did New Mexico interview that they decided to hire an aging coach who the game has obviously passed by, who obviously lost control of his team, and who is coming off a playoff loss? Who was so mediocre that D’Amato seemed like the best candidate for the job? Who I ask?

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The irony in this is that Christina Pagniacci ends up facing a potential suspension for attempting to relocate her team. Whereas as we have seen in real life with the Los Angeles Rams, the Homeless Chargers, and the Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders, she would actually be encouraged by the commissioner to either move the team to a bigger market, or use Los Angeles as leverage to get a tax-subsidized new stadium in Miami.

Dirty little secret folks: The commissioner of any sports league has employers. In the NFL they are called the owners. They hire and fire commissioners at their discretion. If Pagniacci is a character based on Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (Kevin: In the photo we keep seeing of her father he looks a lot like Jones) and former St. Louis Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, she would have told Commissioner Heston that she would talk to the other owners and have him fired for not looking out for the best interests of the league. After all, Los Angeles is a much bigger market than Miami. And one thing sports owners never turn away is the chance to make more money.

On a side note: It’s eerie how much Offensive Coordinator Nick Crozier looks like Lane Kiffin, and every time I watch this movie I genuinely wonder if he fails upward in life as much as Kiffin does. If they ever do a sequel, you have to cast Aaron Eckhart again and have him feud with the media and do press interviews via Skype, all while plotting to ditch the Sharks mid-season to take a head coaching job with the University of West Bumblefuck.

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“You know I’ll leave your program high and dry, but who can resist this face?”

Also, you can keep your “Miracle on Ice” Herb Brooks speeches. For all of Coach D’Amato’s faults, and Lord does he have many, I would follow him through the gates of Hades and fight an entire hoard of demons after he gave his “game of inches” speech. It really is the greatest pep speech, real or Hollywood, I have ever heard:

Kevin: Yeah the speech is so good that he probably wished he had given it against San Francisco later in the playoffs instead of wasting it in the first round in typical Coach D’Amato style. Maybe he can bust it out again next season in Albuquerque when the Aztecs are facing an 0-16 season. Good luck New Mexico, with Coach D’Amato on your side you’re gonna need it.

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3 thoughts on ““Life’s a Game of Inches”: The Round Table on “Any Given Sunday”

  1. I’m not sure why I only read the first half of this article when it was initially posted, but nice job. Here’s a question: where in New Mexico could you possibly locate a team in this league where it would make any money? Given the list above, the AFFA already has teams in Los Angeles, Texas, and Houston. I mean the entire *state* of New Mexico has only about 346,000 more people than just the combined populations of Phoenix and Scottsdale alone. I guess it makes total sense to a league that’s already figured out how to somehow make money with teams in both Seattle and Oregon. And, possibly, another in Washington State, if the Lumbermen aren’t a D.C. team (which, given the amount of lumber in the Pacific Northwest vs. the amount of lumber in our nation’s capital, I’m starting to think means the only east coast team they list at all is New York). So, yeah, good luck expanding into that major Santa Fe-Albuquerque market.

    Liked by 1 person

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