Draft Day: “You only get drafted once”

Last year, the NFL went all-in to highlight its annual draft with a Hollywood blockbuster starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner. The movie intrigued me, so I looked for a good bad reason not to go watch it. I didn’t find any, so I went. (Yeah, not the most ringing of endorsements, I know. Hold on, it gets better. Maybe.) 

Draft Day starts with only 12 hours and 55 minutes left before the 2014 NFL Draft. We’re in Seattle, because it’s the Seahawks that have the first choice of the draft. The team is apparently open to the idea of trading the pick if the right offer materializes, which we understand when the team’s general manager is asked who is the most desperate man that he knows.

In the next scene, we are in Cleveland at the Browns’ general manager’s home. Quickly, we understand that this most desperate man is Sonny Weaver Jr. (played by Kevin Costner). Weaver is the son of the team’s legendary head coach, now deceased, and he’s getting ready for a wonderful day. “I just want the team that I want one time,” he will tell an employee later on in the movie. Weaver is home early that morning, and he’s discussing with a friend-if-not-girlfriend (played by Jennifer Garner). We see him write something down on a piece of paper, then fold that piece of paper and put him in his pocket. Our reaction is to make a mental note that this piece of paper will play an integral part at some point in the movie, because the camera wouldn’t have otherwise highlighted such an insignificant thing.

Then, Weaver heads to an amusement park and meets team owner Anthony Molina (played by Frank Langella). The man is fed up with losing and, though he’s promised Weaver he’d stay out of football decisions, promises are made to be broken—he lets Weaver know that if the Browns, who own the 7th pick, can’t “make a splash” this year, then he’ll have to update his resume. “Defense isn’t sexy,” he tells him. “People pay to get wet.”

All of a sudden, Weaver finds himself desperate. What will he do? Will he go after the first overall pick? And if he does, who will he then select? Will it be the star running back who makes poor decisions away from the football field, the linebacker who plays with so much (too much?) passion, or the quarterback with blond hair and blue eyes but maybe not all the mental fortitude needed to succeed?

While Hollywood didn’t spare any expenses for realism and preparation, does that make Draft Day a good movie?

Everyone is there. That’s the lesson of Draft Day, that everyone was invited. As you watch the 120 minutes of the movie, you wonder if there is anyone the team of producers forgot. Everyone who’s a mainstay of the annual NFL Draft circus is there—Jon Gruden, Roger Goodell, Chris Berman, Mel Kiper Jr., Deion Sanders, and Ray Lewis. Everyone that you’ve come to associate with that crazy weekend is there. (Puff Daddy is there too, though we’re not quite sure why.)

All the cliches are there too. The guys with very “football” names like Ray Jennings (played by Arian Foster), Vontae Mack (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Bo Callahan (played by Josh Pence). There’s the guy who has all the physical tools, the guy who may or may not be a franchise player, and the guy who plays with as much fire as Ray Lewis.

There are also plenty of allusions to past drafts and to the best (and worst) moments—the RGIII trade to the Washington Redskins, Andrew Luck, the difference between Ryan Leaf and Tom Brady, the parallels between Dan Marino and Geno Smith, who both fell at the draft.

And that’s not all. We noticed the old classics as well. There’s a dialogue that doesn’t think twice about adding more cheese—examples include “You only get drafted once,” “I am football. That’s what I am,” and even “No one can stop a ticking clock, but the great ones can slow it down.” Everything is there, even the love story and the rivalry between the hotshot who thinks he’s all that and the general manager who reminds him that he actually isn’t. 

I would have liked to see the Draft Day promotional team use different posters, because the ones that were selected give the wrong impression of what the movie is about. There’s more love and humanity to Draft Day than those posters suggest—the movie isn’t just an NFL version of what Act of Valor was for the army. It is that, but not strictly that. There’s a love story. And the story of a man in search of an identity who wants to accomplish something by himself and for himself, and not (only) for his father.

I like that Cleveland assumes its mediocrity in Draft Day. It’s no secret that the football gods loathe the city, and director Ivan Reitman creates a universe in which everyone understands there isn’t much more than sports team to a mediocre town like Cleveland. And of course, in this case even the sports teams are terrible.

All of this is to say that I would cautiously recommend you watch the movie. If you have a free afternoon, which I had, and a free movie ticket, which I had as well, then why not watch Draft Day? If you’re aware of what the movie is like, that it is essentially a very glamorous look at the drafting process, then this is a movie that’s completely adequate and amusing. It’s entertaining, if nothing else, and we sometimes need entertaining movies.

Yet, it’s impossible to suspend disbelief. In the end, the Browns win. (Take from this what you shall, just know that it’s not a spoiler.) And in real life, the Browns never win.