After being whipped into a pregame frenzy, a frothing Jo Bob Priddy asks fellow offensive lineman O.W. Shaddock, “Where’s my locker?”
An incredulous Shaddock stares at his buddy and says, “It’s right behind you.”
It’s one of the many hilarious scenes from “North Dallas Forty,” the 1979 masterpiece and simply the best football movie ever put on film.
Directed by Ted Kotcheff, the story revolves around aging receiver Phil Elliott (brilliantly portrayed by Nick Nolte), who plays for the fictitious North Dallas Bulls — a franchise meant to simulate the Cowboys.
The movie is based on the semiautobiographical novel of the same name by former Dallas Cowboys receiver Peter Gent — presumed to be the real-life Elliott.
Elliott’s relationships with his teammates — including best buddy and quarterback Seth Maxwell (a standout performance from Mac Davis) and nemesis Priddy (a sterling effort from Bo Svenson) — his girlfriend, his coaches, and some callous front office types are what drive this tale, which is equally humorous, hard-hitting, and heartbreaking.
Elliott’s unrequited love for the game of football comes to an ignominious ending following a particularly stinging playoff loss where a late Elliott touchdown comes close to saving the day.
A botched hold on the extra point attempt (eerily similar to Tony Romo’s gaffe on a short field goal in the Cowboys’ playoff loss in Seattle in the 2006 season) costs the Bulls a shot at sending the game into overtime.
The morning after the loss, Elliott is summoned to the team’s offices and is informed he’s being suspended without pay after a private eye unveils a list of transgressions, including smoking marijuana. Elliott points out the irony that he was prescribed pain killers and injected with hard drugs by team doctors just to keep playing.
Though the marijuana is the excuse, Elliott is really canned because he butted heads with the coaching staff, and had an inappropriate relationship with the fiancée of one of the team’s owners.
Though demanding coach B.A. Strothers (played by perennial movie sourpuss G.D. Spradlin) tells Elliott he “has the best hands in football,” he points to Elliott’s selfish attitude and refusal to take a backup role as reasons he’s always in the doghouse.
“Hell, I’ll die on the bench,‘' Elliott tells Maxwell during a conversation where the QB is trying to get his receiver to straighten up and fly right.
The movie’s football scenes are raw and so is the off-field stuff, including hard-partying, locker room banter, and drug use.
Elliott’s clashes with Priddy, who came across as a country bumpkin, are some of the most entertaining of the film. Maxwell always tried to intervene to keep both parties happy, while stressing how important both guys are to his success.
“You may keep me on the sports page,‘' Maxwell tells Elliott. “But he keeps me off the obituaries.”
As rowdy as the Bulls were portrayed on film, Svenson said the cast and crew turned into nomads because the mixed gang of actors and ex-football players were tough to handle as well.
“We were scheduled to shoot in New Orleans, and we got kicked out of New Orleans,” Svenson said in a recent conversation. “Well, first we got kicked out of Dallas, then New Orleans, then Denver. We started filming in Long Beach at the Rams’ training site. Got kicked out of there. Went to the Los Angeles Coliseum. Got kicked out of there. Filmed at UCLA and were asked to leave there. Ended up making much of the movie at East LA College.”
Svenson said the movie was not embraced at the time by the NFL, which preferred its players not be portrayed as the hard-partying, drug-using Bulls, or their team owners as the cold and callous Hunter family.
In fact, Svenson said Cowboys legend Ed “Too Tall” Jones was cast for the movie, but was talked out of it by some team officials who told him it would be in his best interest to stay off the silver screen to protect the image of the silver and blue.
“He didn’t show up,” said Svenson. “He took care of business in a smarter way.”
The set was often filled with Cowboys, however, with Gent and former quarterback Don Meredith, among others, serving as consultants. Svenson recalled a humorous exchange between the former teammates one day.
“Yeah, Don Meredith showed up, and Don said, ‘Hey Pete, if I’d known you were that [expletive] quick, I would have thrown to you more often!’ ‘’
Svenson, who had no football experience prior to landing the role, said Kotcheff — better known for his work on “First Blood” and “Weekend at Bernie’s” — was wonderful to work for and encouraged ad-libbing.
Kotcheff also admired the work many cast members put in to transform themselves into football players — particularly citing Davis, who worked with QB coaches to get ready for the role.
One player who didn’t need to get into football shape was Raiders legend John Matuszak, who played Shaddock. The “Tooz” was born for the role of the hard-partying, surly offensive lineman, and he delivered one of the movie’s signature moments, laying into an assistant coach after the brutal loss.
During his rant, Shaddock rips the coach for calling football a business when it suits his needs and a game at other times. Shaddock’s argument is you can’t have it both ways.
Shaddock said the coaches “have no feeling for the game at all, man. You’ll win, but it’ll just be numbers on a scoreboard. Numbers, that’s all you care about, man. That’s not enough for me!”
Svenson, 79, also vividly recalled how the movie, originally budgeted at $16 million, almost never got off the ground.
“The person running Paramount Pictures at the time called [producer] Frank [Yablans] and said, ‘Frank, if you can’t make the picture for $6 million, we won’t make it,’ " Svenson said. “Because somebody in accounting had gotten cold feet and was thinking, ‘Oh, crap, man, a football movie with a budget of $16 million? It’ll never make money.‘ ‘’
The studio chopped the budget to $6 million and Yablans delivered a final product at just under $7 million.
“Pretty impressive,‘' said Svenson.
WITHIN ARM’S REACH
Robotic QB is catching on
Riley McCarron needed a hand. Or more accurately, an arm.
A walk-on wide receiver at the University of Iowa, McCarron couldn’t get enough reps to stay sharp. After a little investigating, McCarron’s buddy, Sawyer Theisen, found out that this wasn’t just an Iowa problem. Players were looking for a way to supplement their training “all the way up to the NFL” level, Theisen said.
Thus the idea for “The Seeker,” the first robotic quarterback, was born. Theisen got together with Bhargav Maganti and Igor Karlicic, founders of the sports robotic company Monarc. They had been working on such a device and gained valuable information from McCarron as to how to best make it work.
“The Seeker” is capable of delivering footballs to any predefined point using a real-time tracking system. It can be programmed to calculate arc, hang time, and distance on throws or punts.
For Maganti and Karlicic, mechanical engineering majors at Northwestern, “The Seeker” combines their passion for robotics and football. Having never played the sport, Theisen, and by extension McCarron, were perfect allies to combine robotics with football.
“Sawyer played football, so his guidance in terms of what would make sense and what would make this a product that players actually would want to use was very helpful, along with Riley,” said Maganti.
The input from Theisen and McCarron proved invaluable as Maganti and Karlicic kept tweaking their project.
McCarron, who was with the Patriots team that won Super Bowl LIII over the Rams, was really a guinea pig for “The Seeker” project.
“At the beginning, where it was still a project in its infancy, we used Riley’s feedback quite a bit to determine the direction of what we were trying to develop,” said Maganti.
The tracking technology allows them to capture data of the players using “The Seeker,” making it more efficient.
“As they’re running, as they’re doing drills, as they’re running routes, [this data] allows us to create meaningful metrics [and] analytics,” said Maganti. “So, how fast are they running, how quick were they out of their breaks? Once we kind of put those pieces together, we realized that, ‘OK, this is a lot more impactful than just a bulk throwing machine.' "
Once they knew they had a winner, it was time to start pitching, a process that Maganti acknowledged was “kind of an easier task” than the building phase.
Theisen, now the sales and business boss for Monarc, proved to be vital in this area, as well.
“Just driving all around the country, doing demos with a number of programs from our sixth iteration onward, and now with the ninth iteration,” said Maganti. “He was showcasing the different functionality and explaining to teams how we can significantly benefit their training programs.‘'
One of the early investors in “The Seeker” was Patriots receiver Mohamed Sanu, who saw a company tweet and “was hooked,‘' according to Theisen.
“It just made so much sense to him. He liked the ability to train alone, and increase practice and efficiency,” Theisen he said. “All the pass catchers we’ve worked with have all felt that way. We had several people say, ‘Oh man, I had this idea. I just didn’t know how to go about it. And I’m so glad you guys created this.’ And it’s really reassuring for us, and that we’re on the right track, and more and more football minds are on board with it. We’re definitely going the right way.”
One of Sanu’s Instagram’s posts featuring “The Seeker” caught fire recently when it showed him fielding punts with a ball shot over his house.
“We had a lot of fun that day,” said Maganti. “We got in two workouts on the field and then at the end of the day, before we were about to pack up and leave, we decided to have some fun and we threw the ball across the pool and it was just kind of a big, ‘Hey dude, do you think we can punt across your house and over your pool?’ Mo has a pool behind his house. So, we decided to try it and it was awesome.”
“The Seeker” was originally marketed toward teams and not individuals, but the coronavirus pandemic forced Monarc to pivot its strategy. Other NFLers who have been using “The Seeker” are George Kittle, Eric Ebron, Hunter Henry, and T.J. Hockenson.
Though he wasn’t about to reveal a name, Theisen said another Patriots receiver recently has jumped into “The Seeker” lineup.
“Be on the lookout soon,” he said.
Name change is long overdue
Welcome news that the Washington franchise finally is beginning the long-overdue process of changing its nickname.
Growing up watching Joe Gibbs’s juggernaut teams win multiple Super Bowls, I admittedly didn’t give much thought to the nickname.
It wasn’t until Baxter Holmes’s brilliant 2014 Esquire piece that I learned the history of the nickname and how brutally insensitive it was and is to so many people. It would be easy to complain about how long it took to change the name, but I’ll instead be content that the wheels are in motion.
Looking forward to when the debate about this franchise is what the new nickname should be rather than the decades-long argument about whether the current name is offensive or not. It is.
The new nickname choices are endless: RedTails, RedHawks, Monuments, Presidents, Senators, Federals, Beltways. Golden Tornadoes has a nice ring to it, as well.
One leftover nugget from the conversation with actor Bo Svenson, who emigrated from Sweden at the age of 17 with the hopes of becoming a professional hockey goaltender before a knee injury sidelined him. Svenson played in an NHL celebrity game vs. the Bruins and clearly remembers a pregame message delivered by longtime NHL referee Andy Van Hellemond. “Touch [Bobby] Orr, and you’re outta here!” Laughing as he relayed the story, Svenson added that once the teams took the ice, Bruins coach Don Cherry reiterated Van Hellemond’s order. “We didn’t dare breathe on him,” said Svenson, who also said Brad Park “should have been a stand-up comedian — one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met.” … Cam Newton’s ransom note font Instagram posts are starting to grow on me … Patriots fans should be particularly excited about what Ron Rivera told 670 The Score this past week when asked about Newton. “He’s headed in the right direction,” said Rivera, Newton’s former coach in Carolina and now the top man in Washington. “I mean, he’s probably about as healthy as it gets from what I’ve seen on video. I think he’s ready to bust out. I would never bet against the young man, that’s for sure.” … Quiz time: In Newton’s rookie year, he set the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14. Who held the previous mark? Answer below … SoFi Stadium — the shiny new home of the Rams and Chargers — announced an update this past week that the largest videoboard in sports has been completed. The 2.2-million-pound screen is 120 yards long (yes, it’s longer than the field) and contains 260 speakers. The Patriots are scheduled to double dip at SoFi in early December … Antonio Brown has been working out with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. If Brown is given a chance to play this season and can concentrate on football rather than selfies, some team is going to get a bargain. The videos show that Brown still is a blazer with elite route running skills (and yes, I get that there was no defender). Wouldn’t be at all surprised if Wilson bends Pete Carroll’s ear and Brown ends up in Starbucksville … Former Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett made headlines this past week when he acknowledged during Devin and Jason McCourty’s “Double Coverage” podcast that he did not want to be drafted by the Patriots back in 2016. What I found more telling, however, were Brissett’s comments about how quickly he changed his tune once he landed in Foxborough and how quickly he learned to become a professional. “We would laugh in the locker room and decompress when we’re not doing football stuff,” said Brissett. “But when we were in football [mode] — everybody thinks it’s like the military — we were locked and loaded. There was no game where we felt like, ‘Damn, this team might beat us.’ ‘’ Some of my favorite memories from 2016 involved the Friday afternoon open locker room when Brissett and fellow rookie Malcolm Mitchell would be captivated by then-Patriots employee and magician John Logan’s card tricks. The looks on their faces were priceless as they’d constantly ask to see Logan perform them again … Best wishes to Tom Keegan. A tremendous writer whose columns always are insightful and thought provoking, Tom also was great company in the media room … Quiz answer: Steve “Bootleg” Grogan had 12 rushing TDs for the Patriots in 1976.