Super Bowl LVI (56), between the Los Angeles Rams, and the Cincinnati Bengals, took place, this past Sunday, February 13, 2022. As a long suffering fan of, the seemingly hapless New York Jets, I half- heartedly rooted for the Bengals. They were the AFC (American Football Conference) representative. The same conference the Jets play in, and like the Jets, the Bengals had an abysmal winning percentage the past several seasons, until this past year. The Jets, unfortunately, still do. If nothing else, I could empathize with the Bengals’ fan base. The fact that the Bengals lost to the Rams 23-20, didn’t affect me one way or the other, after all, I have enough to concern myself with the Jets. In addition, when I took a closer look at the Rams, the representative of the NFC (National Football Conference), their Los Angeles fan base had been waiting for a Super Bowl championship since the team first started playing in Los Angeles in 1946. The team moved to St. Louis in 1995, and, as the St. Louis Rams, the team won Super Bowl XXXIV on January 30, 2000, by a score of 23-16, against the Tennessee Titans. As the Los Angeles Rams, they had never won the Lombardi Trophy, prior to this past Sunday. Furthermore, the Rams quarterback, Matthew Stafford, had been drafted by, and helmed, the Detroit Lions, one of the worst NFL (National Football League) franchises, in terms of winning percentage. He played for them from 2009 through 2020. The fact that he got a chance to finally play for, not only a contender, but the eventual champions, was the culmination of Stafford having paid his dues in full for over a decade. The game, this past Sunday, made me think of “Everybody’s All- American,” a football themed film I hadn’t seen in a number of years until I sat down to watch it last evening.
The film opens with the “Gridiron Game of the Week” newsreel. Throughout its short duration, the 1956 Sugar Bowl between LSU (Louisiana State University) and Oklahoma is being highlighted. In particular, the focus is on the star player of the game, Gavin Grey, also known as the Grey Ghost. The character is portrayed by two time Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid (The Tiger Rising). At the end of the newsreel, the question is asked: What does the remainder of his college career have in store for Grey?
The scene transitions to a pep rally, taking place the following year, on the LSU campus. At the pep rally, two key people in Grey’s life are introduced to the viewer: Babs Rodgers, played by two time Oscar winner Jessica Lange (Tootsie), and Grey’s best friend and teammate, Lawrence, a role acted by Emmy winner John Goodman (Roseanne). Over the course of the next several scenes, other characters, who are, and will, become significant to Grey’s life are introduced: His cousin, Donnie, who is a fellow college student at LSU. He goes by the nickname ‘cake.’ The character is portrayed by Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People). The viewer is also introduced to Lawrence’s friend from childhood, Narvel Blue played by Carl Lumbly (Alias). He could potentially rival Grey in football, thanks to his exceptional speed, but hasn’t had the same types of opportunities, due to both a lack of education, as well as some trouble with law enforcement.
When college comes to an end, Grey, as expected, enters professional football. He is taken as a rookie by the Washington Redskins. Grey quickly learns that not only is the speed of the game amped up to a faster pace than he’s used to from college, but the players, in general, are much more physical. As time passes, he is urged by Babs to concentrate on a fallback plan for his life after football. Grey isn’t interested in hearing anything that concerns his playing days coming to an end. Football is his whole life. On the field he is cheered, and off the field, because of his excellent play, he is treated as a hero. If nothing else, Grey should take a lesson from the way Lawrence’s life has turned out since their playing days at LSU. Lawrence is both a heavy drinker, as well as, a degenerate gambler, who has had very little go right for him since he and Grey shared the field. In fact, he owes money to the wrong kind of people, but he postures to those concerned for his well being, as if he couldn’t care less about it, because anyone who tries to come and collect from him, will be dealt with.
Grey eventually retires from football, and settles into life as a father, and as a product spokesman. The money he made while playing, however, is not enough to sustain his family financially. As bills continue to pile up, and the bank threatens to foreclose on his home, Grey returns to the only thing he feels he is good at, and where he can make a decent amount of money. The Denver Broncos, give him an opportunity. Grey realizes, that the proverbial magic he was able to bring to the game, especially in college, and during his first stint in the NFL, is near impossible to replicate. If Grey wants to, he has the option to give up the game. He can look to his loving wife, who is willing to work, in order to earn much needed money for the family. Grey can turn to Cake, who has become a successful college professor and published author. Narvel, who owns restaurants, is also someone, who can be counted on for support. Will Grey’s steadfast mindset allow him to turn his back on the game he loves, and accept help from those who care for him, before a game he should no longer still be playing winds up disabling him, or possibly worse?
Trivia buffs take note: Parts of the game sequences in the movie, were filmed during the halftime of a 1987 game between LSU and Alabama. During filming, Dennis Quaid broke his collarbone, thanks to a hit from Tim Fox, a former player for the New England Patriots, as well as several other teams. John Goodman earned a football scholarship to Southwest Missouri State, (now called Missouri State University). He got injured while playing, and turned his attention to the school’s drama program. During the scenes where Quaid is supposed to be playing for the Denver Broncos, the footage being used is of Rob Lytle, who played with the Broncos from 1977 through 1983. In 1982, BAFTA winner Michael Apted (35 Up), was set to direct the film, with Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones portraying Gavin Grey. The studio didn’t feel comfortable with the final budget projections, and the production ended. Fans of “Seinfeld,” as well as the many other films and television shows he’s been in, should easily be able to spot the cameo by Wayne Knight, who played Newman on the aforementioned series. Furthermore, fans of three time Grammy winner Aaron Neville, will more than likely recognize the singer, in his cameo appearance.
“Everybody’s All-American” was directed by Oscar winner Taylor Hackford (The Devil’s Advocate). The screenplay was written by Oscar nominee Thomas Rickman (Coal Miner’s Daughter), based on the novel by longtime Sports Illustrated contributor Frank Deford (Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World). The novel was published by Viking Press on October 20, 1981. The film was released on November 4, 1988. Parts drama, romance, and sport, the movie has a runtime of 127 minutes. The music composed by Emmy winner James Newton Howard (Gideon’s Crossing), does a good job of capturing the right music to coincide with what is transpiring on screen. The cinematography by two time Oscar nominee Stephen Goldblatt (The Prince of Tides), is well executed, and transitions seamlessly from one scene to the next.
The film is an interesting character study, that explores how difficult it can be for some athletes to give up that which they love, and are great at, when their bodies can no longer play at a high level. The cast as a whole is excellent, without a false note amongst any of them. Recommended for those who are fans of the cast, like football, sports films in general, as well as character studies, that give a complete and honest picture of what can be some athletes’ lives, when they ignore what their future will be once their playing days are finished.