The NFL Draft of college players can reduce a muscular macho man like Terry Crews to tears.
Years before he became an actor on the TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the Expendables movies, the Flint, Mich. native was a Western Michigan University football star. He had to wait 11 rounds and 280 picks in 1991 before his name was called by the Los Angeles Rams to go pro.
By that point, he was on his mom’s stoop, crying and thinking his whole sports career was over.
That’s how important being drafted was to Crews and to hundreds of college football players every year, and it’s those nerves and anticipation that director Ivan Reitman captures in Draft Day, which opens Friday.
Kevin Costner stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, whose job may depend on whom he picks in the draft. Adding to the pressure: His father, a legendary coach, just died; Sonny is about to have a child come into his life; and he was seduced into trading possibly the team’s future for the No. 1 overall pick.
TRAILER: ‘Draft Day’
There’s not much action on the football field — the film is all about the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes.
“The NFL is a microcosm of society. This is the alpha of the alpha males, all at once, all fighting for millions of dollars. It’s major drama all the time,” says Crews, 45, who plays a former Browns player trying to persuade Sonny to choose his son (real-life Houston Texans running back Arian Foster).
Reitman filmed during the three days of the 2013 NFL Draft at New York’s Radio City Music Hall last April, getting up close and watching pressure build among football types and fans. “It starts to play like a sports event in itself,” he says, “and it ends very much like a classical sports movie, except we’ve never been on the field.”
Being as realistic as possible was important. Reitman queried NFL coaches and general managers about whether potential picks would call up the managers to bug them on draft day (it’s “unusual” but not impossible, he says) and the emotions of a veteran quarterback when his coveted spot might be taken by a first-round rookie.
There were some Hollywood touches, though. Reitman says that in his movie, to juice the tension, a lot more trades and negotiations happen than probably would occur in real life. And, Crews jokes, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell usually hears more boos than he does in Draft Day.
He says having the actual draft as a set location was “a powerful moment” for him and Foster. The latter is now one of the Texans’ top offensive threats, but in 2009, he went undrafted coming out of the University of Tennessee.
“It’s an interesting aura when everybody expects you to get drafted and you don’t,” Foster says, adding that he now feels “vindicated” that he at least was drafted by a team in the movie.
Crews, who played linebacker for the Rams, the San Diego Chargers and the Washington Redskins in the ’90s, was shocked at how real the movie was in showing how players are treated as commodities.
“Instead of dealing cards, you’re dealing lives and families,” he says. “One minute they’re there, one minute they’re somewhere else.
“It’s a reality of the business, and you have to take it, but it’s no less heartbreaking to watch the new guy that gets drafted come in, but that old faithful player who’s given everything —he’s got to go,” Crews adds. “That’s a deep, deep deal.”