(Originally posted Feb. 3, 2017)
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”:
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.
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 “The Last Boy Scout” yet needed to be threatened with certain death at halftime.
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.
Either way, 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.
(To read the rest of our “Any Given Sunday” Round Table, click HERE)