Draft Day: Who Let the Dawgs Out?

"Draft Day" movie poster, featuring Kevin CostnerLast night a friend — also of Buckeye origin — and I went to an early showing of Draft Day, a completely fictionalized account of the National Football League’s player draft process for the woeful Cleveland Browns. Fair warning, read further and I will spoil this movie for you.

Or will I? It’s not that great, so there’s not much to spoil.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the Browns’ GM. His late father was the coach at one time, until Sonny fired him. (Hiss!)

Sonny’s goals on draft day are to salvage football in Cleveland, and resurrect his professional reputation. He would prefer to choose tackle Vontae Mack based on family values — Mack needs a big contract to support his two orphaned nephews! — and gut-feel, but the team’s owner pushes Sonny toward a draft-pick trade that will “make a splash”.

Here’s why I can’t possibly spoil Draft Day for you with this blog post: It’s clear from the moment Sonny accepts a really terrible deal, giving up three consecutive first-round picks to Seattle for a quarterback he has apparently never even done due diligence on, and isn’t sure the team needs, that:

  • The deal will go south, quickly
  • The head coach, played by Denis Leary, won’t like it
  • The QB Sonny is expected to draft will be an arrogant jerk, possibly with something unsavory in his past to disqualify him
  • Sonny will throw a Hail Mary of sorts, once the Browns are on the draft clock, that will incense the team’s owner — but ultimately leave the team better off than if the bonehead trade had never happened

Jennifer Garner, who I normally appreciate in just about any role, plays Ali, the team’s number cruncher as well as Sonny’s secret girlfriend. When she breaks the news on draft day that he’s going to be a father, she is shocked — SHOCKED — and hurt that he is a little preoccupied.

Ali is supposedly a lawyer, salary-cap-analyst extraordinaire and self-taught football wonk — all while teetering on four-inch heels — but she’s not smart enough to wait for a more opportune moment to share this joyous news? Like the day AFTER draft day?

Jennifer Garner and Kevin Costner, in a promotional still from Draft Day.I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an on-screen couple with less chemistry than Costner and Garner. For starters, I don’t think he touches her — not even a peck on the cheek — until the final scene. Ali exists just so that Sonny can pull her into the supply closet several times a day to talk about either his draft troubles, or his ambivalence about fatherhood. She reacts with an empathetic (or is it patronizing?) look and pursed lips, but no meaningful dialogue.

Also, any time she’s asked if a proposed draft choice will put the team over the salary cap, Ali does some mental math (out loud), and concludes, “we’ll look at it, but I think it could work”. So then, why do teams always make this salary cap stuff seem so difficult? It is obviously simple and straightforward. What a bunch of drama queens…

I cannot explain Ellen Burstyn as Sonny’s mom, who arrives straight from the reading of her husband’s will — just one hour prior to the draft — to scatter his ashes on the Browns’ practice field. Even Ali has better timing!

It is also not clear why she brings along a pouting Rosanna Arquette, Sonny’s ex-wife. Huh? How many ex-wives are invited to the reading of a former in-law’s will, especially when there are no children involved, as well as to the scattering of the ashes? Arquette’s is not even a speaking part, just a scowling part. (Somebody needs a new agent.)

I’ve never been to a team’s green room on draft day, but I have a hunch Sonny’s last-minute heroics are the least realistic thing in this film. It’s behavior that makes those of us in the corporate environment roll our eyes. He’s got a team load of hard-working scouts, number crunchers, coaches and trainers to collaborate with — but he decides to shoot from the hip, and fly completely solo. They’ve presumably spent months and months developing reports on the players, but Sonny goes with his gut — and since it’s Hollywood, not Cleveland, everyone lives happily ever after.

OK, I realize I have essentially thrown rotten tomatoes at Draft Day, but there’s a caveat. The movie was completely worth $11, because I grew up outside Cleveland. After attending church on Sundays, my family hurried home to worship the Cleveland Browns. My friend Jennifer and I laughed loudly at the local bar scenes, showing screaming fans wearing their jerseys and Dawg Pound face paint. Heck, I’d have paid even more to see that in 3-D.

I know it’s just a movie, but I feel excited about the Browns’ prospects this season. Watching Draft Day, I was reminded of my annual visits home. No matter where I go on weekends, I encounter long-suffering fans wearing brown and orange — regardless of the team’s abysmal record. The city is not nicknamed “Believeland” for nothing.

I hope to hang on to this warm, optimistic, nostalgic feeling — at least until the first snap of 2014.

Cleveland Browns fans in the end zone, also known as the Dawg Pound.


2 thoughts on “Draft Day: Who Let the Dawgs Out?

  1. When it pays attention to the draft itself, it’s exciting and entertaining to watch. Everything else is pretty bloated, but fine, I guess. Good review.

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