The NFL is fiercely protective of its image and seldom gives Hollywood permission to use its marks, team names and logos. As a result, moviegoers wind up watching teams such as the Boston Rebels ("The Game Plan"), Los Angeles Outlaws ("Against All Odds"), Miami Bucks ("Semi-Tough") and Washington Sentinels ("The Replacements").
But in the fictional "Draft Day," the upcoming film starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Dennis Leary, there are no such phony franchises. Costner plays Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr., and Houston Texans running back Arian Foster plays All-American running back Ray Jennings. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell makes an appearance, as do ESPN’s Jon Gruden as well as other broadcast personalities.
Part of the movie was shot at Radio City Music Hall before and during the 2013 draft, and the league went to great lengths to give the shots a realistic feel, including making fake 2014 media credentials for the actors and extras, and even dummied-up media guides and statistics books with 2014 on the covers.
Costner participated in a promotional conference call this week and I asked him what it was about "Draft Day" that won the approval of the league. The film, directed by Ivan Reitman ("Animal House," "Ghostbusters," "Stripes"), will be released April 11.
"I think they had a comfort level with the script on its face value and a high comfort level with me," Costner said.
"I wouldn’t have done this unless the NFL was involved. The last thing I would want to do is a football movie with jerseys that I don’t recognize and names of teams that I don’t recognize. For some reason it loses all its appeal for me when there’s stuff that’s unrecognizable. But I do think they looked at my body of work and understood I appreciate the vulgarity and the poetry of our sport. It was important for them to let that seep in, because sometimes people can be too protective and it actually in a way hurts the image because it doesn’t come off as authentic."
That said, the NFL did take issue with at least one element in the script: when angry Browns fans hang Costner’s character in effigy. The league nixed that.
"I thought it was a real funny moment, but I think the NFL’s really cracking down on fan behavior both inside the stadium and outside," Costner said. "The idea of hanging somebody, for as funny as I thought it was, and as realistic as I thought it was, it was just an image that I didn’t want in the movie. That was a small price for us to pay, but it shows that they were watching very closely.
"I don’t think the NFL would have grown the way it’s grown right in front of my own eyes had they not paid such attention to detail."