Welcome to installment one of FootballScoop Cinema.
The film: The Longest Yard
Release date: Aug. 21, 1974
Tag line: "First Down... And Ten Years To Go."
Box office: $43 million against a $2.9 million budget ($225 million vs. $15 million in 2020 dollars)
The plot: Paul "Wrecking" Crewe is a former NFL quarterback lost in a spiral of self-destruction. He steals his girlfriend's Citroen SM sports car (the 2005 remake updated it to a Bentley) and, after a my-gosh-we-get-the-point-already 5-minute chase, punches the police officers who finally track him down.
Once in prison, Paul has to shave his trademark mustache and meet his first nemesis -- Captain Wilhlem Knauer. Capt. Knauer tells Paul he coaches a football team -- "What football team?" "MY football team!" -- and gently encourages Paul to decline a coming offer to join assistant coach by shoving a billy club into his gut.
Paul then meets the big bad, Warden Rudolph Hazen. Think Warden Norton from Shawshank mixed with a stereotypical Alabama booster. Warden Hazen informs Paul that he runs the Citrus State Prison's football team, and a damn fine football team it is: Citrus State Prison has finished runner-up in the semi-pro Southeastern League for the fast five years running, and the Warden's hungry for a title. When Hazen offers to shorten Paul's time in exchange for delivering that title, Paul gracefully declines: "I just want to do my time and get out of here."
On a work detail, we learn Paul's true sin against his fellow man. You see, he may have drunk-driven a stolen car, but his real crime was shaving points back in his NFL days. He didn't just cheat his fellow players, he cheated THE GAME. "You could have robbed banks, sold dope, or stole your grandmother's pension checks and none of us would have minded," his new friend/the film's comic relief Caretaker says. "But shaving points off of a football game? Man, that's un-American."
Back from the work detail, the Warden summons Paul once more. You're going to gather a team of prisoners, the Warden tells Paul, to take on the guards. If Paul refuses, Warden Hazen reminds him his 18-month sentence was merely a minimum until he's eligible for parole, and the Warden will make sure Paul serves every day of five years.
Given no choice, Paul begins putting together his team. Caretaker joins the staff as his manager, and those two plus former pro player Nate Scarboro begin forming what will become known as the Mean Machine. Citrus State's black population doesn't trust Paul at first, but the guards' attempt to exploit that mistrust backfires when "Granny" Granville joins the roster and team becomes fully integrated.
As the Mean Machine begins practicing, Paul's only priority is to protect the passer -- himself. But as the days go by and this ragamuffin bunch of convicts becomes a team, Paul can't begins to care in spite of himself. "My men don't have a chance in hell to win that game," he tells the Warden. "You know it, I know it. I just don't want them to know it."
After a side plot ends with Caretaker burned to death, the Mean Machine takes the field in brand-spanking-new uniforms -- the guards' own uniforms -- a final gift from Caretaker.
The game finally starts and the guards jump out to an early 15-0 lead. Paul finally gets the Mean Machine on the board with a long touchdown pass (more on this later), and a late pick-six pulls the Machine to within 15-13 at the break. Warden Hazen summons Paul for one last meeting in the locker room showers. The Warden is pissed. (Wardens have no other natural state.) Hazen just wanted a game, he says. He never said anything about winning. "You never said anything about losing, either," Paul says with a smile.
Then, the Warden plays the final ace up his sleeve. He's got a witness willing to pin Paul as an accessory to Caretaker's murder. Forget about serving a quiet 18 months; Paul could now be looking at 20 years. "Mr. Crewe, you could be in this institution until you're old and gray or until you're dead, whichever comes first, I can promise you that. Now, you're going to lose the game, and I want a 21-point spread." When Paul snaps back that he can't do that, the Warden turns back and drops the hammer. "Of course you can," he says. "You've done it before."
Shaken, Paul starts throwing the game -- literally. Two picks and a fumble later, Paul limps to the sideline in an all too familiar place: as Mean Machine trails 35-13 with 5:58 left in the third quarter, he's lost the game by the necessary points along with his teammates' respect. At least now, though, the Warden has his points and the guards will call off the dogs.
Only, that's not the agreement the Warden has with Captain Knauer. The guards open season on the Mean Machine, sending one prisoner after the next off the field bloodied and broken. When Granny, the Mean Machine's mike linebacker, leaves the game with a broken collarbone, Paul decides he's had enough. Twenty years on bogus charges is nothing when compared to the living the rest of his life in a prison of his own guilt.
Paul quickly marshals the Mean Machine down the field for a touchdown, then an onside kick, a throwback and an end around later it's 35-27. (Paul has no idea the debate he'll start 45 years later by kicking an extra point down 35-26.) With 5:04 left, the Mean Machine drop-kicks a 33-yard field goal to pull within 35-30.
The Mean Machine gets the ball back again -- the Citrus State Prison message boards are going to be in a complete meltdown over OC/QB Captain Knauer's play-calling -- and Paul converts a 4th-and-21 to keep a gotta-have-it drive alive. He then decides now is the perfect time to get revenge on Citrus State mike 'backer/bully guard Bogdanski by drilling him in the nuts on consecutive plays.
This scheme puts the Mean Machine back in a 4th-and-30, but they pull it off thanks to a favorable no-call on possible offensive pass interference.
After a tackle-eligible moves the ball to the guards' 1 with 40 seconds left, Paul calls timeout. (You've got to let that thing run, man.) A 1st-and-goal sweep is stuffed for no gain. A 2nd-and-goal option pass is wide. A third-and-goal dive is piled up for no gain. (These three plays somehow took 33 seconds seconds.)
"We've come too far to stop now," Paul tells his team in the huddle before the do-or-die fourth down. "For Granny, for Nate. For Caretaker. Let's do it."
Paul rolls out to the right, spins and doubles back to his left. The final gun blasts. Time has slowed to a crawl. Paul's now out of real estate, so he barrels forward into one, two, three guards. The collision hoists him into the air and... across the goal line. The game is over and the Mean Machine has won, 36-35.
Paul starts walking toward the opposite side of the field. The warden grabs a rifle and hands it to Captain Knauer, telling him Paul is escaping. Both men shout his name but Paul doesn't answer, he just keeps walking. "Kill him," the Warden screams. "Kill that son of a bitch." Knauer points, aims, and... relents. Paul wasn't escaping; he was fetching the game ball. He's made amends to his teammates, and to The Game itself.
Warden Hazen sits, stunned and alone on the bench, when Paul sticks the game ball in his gut and walks victoriously to the locker room.
Are there any goosebump-raising pre-game speeches? Eh, sorta. After the Warden enters the pre-game locker room to explain that any prisoners attempting to flee will be shot and a guard dents the wall with his head and his fist, Crewe saunters up to the front, surveys the damage, takes a long look at his team and simply says, "All right, now it's our turn."
It won't have you ready to punch a wall of your own, but Burt Reynolds pulls it off in a movie-star cool way.
Is the game play realistic? It was pretty apparent neither QB threw his own passes, but all in all I've got no complaints.
Is there any typical Hollywood sports instability? Friend, there is a bunch.
First of all, the guards make a big deal of the Mean Machine "stealing" their uniforms... but the two sets don't even match. We're talking some Atlanta Falcons home sets and Pittsburgh Steelers away sets.
But that's nothing compared to this: After the Mean Machine's first touchdown, the film clearly shows Paul fake the extra point snap and keep it around the left side for a 2-point conversion. The film also clearly shows a score of 15-7, and then never corrects it. The score is wrong for nearly the entire game and no one notices.
So, the actualfinal score is Mean Machine 37, Citrus State Prison 35.
Some other minor stuff:
- Nate Scarboro wears No. 00, and both teams' mike linebackers wear numbers in the 60s (though this may be a '70s thing).
- After Paul drills Bogdanski in the jewels for a second straight play, the camera shows the clock still running in the background.
- As mentioned before, two short runs (with timeouts called afterward) and an incomplete pass somehow chew up 33 seconds of game clock.
Should I show this to my players? This is a 1974 film that is very much a product of its time. Here's what I mean by that:
This is a film that asks us to root for a protagonist who puts his hands around his girlfriend's throat, pushes her up against the wall and then shoves her to the ground in the opening scene -- and it's not treated as a big deal at all.
Also present: N-bombs, racial humor, abelist humor, basically any type of humor that was acceptable in 1974 that never makes the final cut in 2020.
And while this isn't material to the question, it's a 1974 film made in 1974 style: joke scenes cut three seconds after the punch line lands, close-ups linger three seconds too long, entire scenes run on and on and on that add nothing to the narrative. We could have had 95 percent of the movie at 75 percent of the run time.
In short, not only should you not show this to your players, at certain places it might get you fired.
What's the redeeming lesson here? You're better off spending 20 years in prison than cheating the game of football.