Football in Film: Heisman Winner Burt Reynolds and All-American Tom Hanks

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The Longest Yard (2005)

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone how bad the Adam Sandler-led remake of the 1974 classic sports movie was. Surprises did feature in the Mean Machine’s game plan though. Head coach Nate Scarborough’s (Burt Reynolds) play calling against the Guards relied upon trickery and deception. After successfully calling a swinging gate and a fake fumble, Scarborough again went deep into the playbook for this crucial, game-winning, two-point attempt.

The inmates trail 35-34 after Scarborough moonlighted to run in the touchdown, harking back to his days as a 1955 Heisman Trophy Winner with the Oklahoma Sooners. The bold decision to go for the win in regulation time appears to momentarily surprise the Guards.
The Mean Machine initially line up in an under center formation, with a trio of wide receivers and a tight end to the left of the offensive line. The offense is in 21 personnel. #33 Turner, who has the build and number of a running back, is lined up as an in-line tight end.

Quarterback #19 Paul Crews (Adam Sandler) motions slot receiver #89 Cheeseburger Eddy (Terry Crews) into a weakside tight-end spot. Pre-snap, Bridges appeared to be having persistent issues getting his team lined up in the proper spots before the play clock expires. As Bridges runs toward the sideline with his coach visibly confused, receiver #88 Deacon Moss (Michael Irvin) moves into a wingback position while also looking befuddled. The defense responds with a man coverage look, putting nine men in the box. The pinched alignment of the two defensive tackles shows that the defense is keen to combat the inside run.

In reality, the offense’s bewilderment is manufactured as a key part of the play design. The ball is snapped to Moss, who immediately throws a perfect spiral behind the line of scrimmage to a wide-open, unaccounted for Bridges. Bridges has plenty of room to run, but star linebacker #53 Guard Lambert (Bill Romanowski) meets him at the 2-yard line.

But Lambert makes a crucial error. Instead of wrapping up and driving Bridges back, he goes for the higher-risk big hit. Bridges is able to bounce from the tackle and execute a spinning dive. He places the ball just inside the pylon for the touchdown. (You’d think Romanowski would have learned from his teammate Brian Bosworth (Garner), who was carried into the endzone by Bo Jackson in 1987)

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In the booth, Chris “Boomer” Berman is stunned. That sickening Sandler grin soon seeps onto the screen, and unfortunately Captain Brian Knauer (William Fitchtner) ignores the Prison Warden’s (James Cromwell) instruction to shoot him at the end. Yeah… I’m not a fan.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Forrest Gump (1994)

After alerting coaches to his talents by running through practice at quadruple the speed of a receiver running a seam route, generational athlete Forrest Gump made history as a walk-on freshman All-American at Alabama.

In his first game for the Crimson Tide, playing against an LSU/Mizzou lookalike and lacking any situational awareness, Forrest is handed the kick return and told to “Run, Forrest, run”. “Okay” he replies. It is a great example of adapting to a unique player in order to utilize their special talents. Alabama’s return team does a great job blocking on this play, even if their approach is often unconventional (See #52 choosing to block a man who Forrest has already gone well past). Alabama’s wedge here, comprising of #37 and #35, executes a great pancake block on an opposing player free to make the tackle.

The opposing team’s kick-off coverage here is woeful. The special teams coordinator should be fired. There is no violence or willingness from them. Terrible pursuit angles across the board. Zero awareness of the ball carrier’s location. They’re playing at half-speed with pathetic effort. (For Tom Hanks to look more like Usain Bolt there has to be a lot of extras playing slooow). Where it really falls apart is the area that Alabama are targeting; the middle of the field. Lane 3, 4, 5 and 6 are particularly at fault, parting like Tom Hanks’ hair style in Sully.

Forrest motors through traffic, bizarrely even sprinting parallel to the goal line for a bit and then running in for the touchdown.

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His running style is very linear, and he lacks any lateral agility or hip fluidity. Once he has scored, he runs straight out of the stadium. As the Nick Saban of the time remarks; “He must be the stupidest son of a ***** alive, but he sure is fast.”

Later in the film, ‘Denny Stadium’ sensibly adopts stop signs for Forrest once he reaches the end zone. I bet the equipment manager was grateful…   

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s other NFC West post-draft work here, such as why Seattle drafted three safetieswhat Gerald Everett brings to the Rams and how the versatility of Haason Reddick and Budda Baker fits in Arizona.

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