This is the second movie starring Kevin Costner that has appeared on this list, and I want to start out by saying that I genuinely appreciate Costner’s work. He has made so many sports movies, and I think I’ve seen them all, and I think to a certain degree he made most of them work. It’s not easy to act in a movie where you’re asked to play an athlete, because you have to look like an athlete or it doesn’t work. Costner looked like a guy with a really good baseball swing in Bull Durham. And he looked like a guy who knew how to throw a pitch in For Love of the Game. He’s believable.
The problem with Draft Day — a look at a fictional 13 hours leading up to the Cleveland Browns’ first round of the 2014 NFL Draft — is that the story became completely convoluted and totally illogical. Even for Cleveland. Think about that.
Costner always, at the very least, gives you a movie experience that tries to stay true to the sport itself. But Draft Day? Man, this was just comically off kilter from reality. I’ve had to watch it several times just to make some sense of the nonsense.
OK, try to follow along:
It’s 13 hours before the 2014 NFL Draft, and there’s one thing everyone seems to believe: Wisconsin QB Bo Callahan is going to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks. But for some reason that never becomes clear enough, Seattle general manager Tom Michaels is convinced he should trade the pick. He is advised to call “the most desperate man you know.”
Of course, that man resides in Cleveland.
Michaels calls Sonny Weaver Jr., the Browns GM (portrayed by Costner as kind of a Crash Davis/Billy Chapel mix, only in a football sense), and asks for Cleveland’s 2014 and 2015 first round picks and a future third-rounder. Weaver, a Browns legacy whose dad Sonny Sr. was a legendary Browns coach and who died just a week earlier, says no. He’s content to stick at 7, where he seems focused on two different players: Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack and Florida State running back Ray Jennings, a Heisman Trophy finalist.
A couple of things about Mack and Jennings:
- The storyline the film presents kind of paints Mack as a mid-to-late first-rounder, at best. Mack actually calls Weaver, pitching himself to be taken No. 7 overall, because he’s afraid he’ll fall “13 picks” if Cleveland doesn’t take him.
- Jennings has some legal trouble. He’s generally seen as a fantastic back, but he got into a scuffle at FSU that has raised some red flags that, frankly, don’t seem to be taken very seriously by the Draft analysts. Says Deion Sanders: “Only downfall is this guy got into a little skirmish. Assault and battery. Landed a kid in the hospital. But other than that, he was a model citizen up until then.” Makes sense. Jennings’ dad is a former Brown, and he puts his son on the phone with Weaver, too. Weaver asks the younger Jennings — who says some bigger guys than actual Florida State football players attacked some friends, and he simply stepped in — if he “hurt his hands” and “found his head.”
Fans are at their wits’ end with the Browns, as it turns out. Probably for obvious reasons. They haven’t been winning, and after quarterback Brian Drew led them to a 5-1 start in 2013, he got hurt and the team won just one of their last nine games. The sports talk radio guys are imploring Weaver to do something big at the Draft and, so is team owner Anthony Molina. Somehow, he and Weaver end up at a water park, discussing the first round plans, and Molina implores him to “make a splash.” (Get it? They’re at a water park!)
Weaver takes that as “Do something big, or you’re fired.” Molina wants a QB, but Weaver says Callahan is “the only quarterback available that would help them.” He makes a last-ditch pitch for Drew to remain the starter, but Molina says he’s “weak in the knees.”
So, Weaver calls Seattle back, says he’ll take the offer of two 1s and a 3 that Michaels offered earlier. Michaels, though, knows Sonny Jr. is emotional after the loss of his father and decides to play off that. He tries to “fleece” him. He says the price went up, and it’s now going to cost the Browns their top pick in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 drafts. Weaver feels he has no choice but to take it.
And so far, I’m kind of OK with the story. Trading back and picking up a major haul of first-rounders is a strategy that is generally applauded in the Draft, and so is trading up six spots to get a star quarterback. Weaver saying Callahan is the only quarterback that could help them should mean two things, to someone who closely follows the Draft: Callahan’s value in this particular draft is through the roof, and he’s better than Drew, the quarterback Cleveland had.
Are three first-rounders a ton to give up to move six spots up and select the only quarterback worth having? Honestly not sure in today’s game. The last time the real No. 1 overall pick got dealt was in 2001, when San Diego had the No. 1 pick, and Atlanta had No. 5. (A fairly similar situation.) Atlanta gave up the No. 5 overall pick, a third-round pick in that draft, a second-rounder in ’02 and a useful receiver/return man, Tim Dwight. Atlanta got the No. 1 pick and took Michael Vick. So in that sense, yeah, three 1s is a ton to give up to move to No. 1. But, if Callahan is the ONLY quarterback available who can help, maybe it’s worth it.
The problem is, Sonny Weaver Jr. never seemed particularly sold on Callahan and spends the next nine hours grabbing at straws, searching for any reason he can to not pick the guy with whom everyone in the entire league seemed so smitten.
There’s one person in the movie who talks sense: Browns head coach Penn, played by Dennis Leary. He wanted Ray Jennings, the running back. Doesn’t see why they needed the QB. Doesn’t see why he’d mortgage the team’s future — three first-rounders, after all — to get one. But Molina has already made a Callahan jersey to give to Bo personally after he is selected No. 1.
“Bo Callahan is our future,” Weaver says, while doing nothing to back up any kind of belief in that statement.
Weaver now starts making phone calls. He calls Callahan’s agent — played expertly by P Diddy — who puts Callahan on the phone. All Weaver wants to know is if Bo Callahan thinks winning is important. Bo replies that winning is, indeed, everything. Weaver responds, “Everyone says that.” Well, if they want to be picked No. 1 overall, Sonny, they better.
Weaver then calls Vontae Mack, who expresses his disappointment that the Browns traded up — where even Vontae Mack knows he won’t get selected. Mack reminds Sonny that Callahan got sacked 11 times all season, and that he had four of them in one game. Weaver reminds Mack that Callahan still won that game. Mack calls Callahan “a poser” and urges Weaver to “watch what happens after” the sacks, whatever that means.
Seven hours before the draft, things are starting to fall apart on this trade. Weaver walks into the weight room, where the trainer raves about how hard Brian Drew has been working. Says he’s in the best shape of his life. Drew shows it by tossing Weaver’s office and, later, demanding to be traded.
Coaches have been working hard to find something wrong with Callahan’s game, and they find…he has a website dedicated to all the college girls with whom he has had intimate relationships. They ignore that, though, and pretty much applaud him for it. It’s literally all they can do to not fawn over him because of it. But Sonny wants something football-related. “Nobody’s perfect. Everyone has something. Even the great ones,” he says. One of his assistants calls Callahan the best prospect he has ever seen, but even that doesn’t matter. Sonny Weaver is firmly in the process of overthinking this.
Sonny gets desperate and calls Michaels back in Seattle. He wants to know why they traded the pick, what they saw in Callahan’s game that indicated they shouldn’t take him. Michaels won’t say one way or the other, but he does notice a gaggle of fans gathering outside the team facility, angry that they’ve traded away their chance to take Bo. There aren’t many, of course. Some must realize they got two extra first-round picks for him.
Oh, did I forget to mention that all the while, teams are trying to bail Sonny Weaver out of the trade?
Kansas City called, and they want Brian Drew. There’s a chance to at least get some of the picks back, but Sonny says he’ll call back. Buffalo calls with a tremendous offer for the top pick: Two first-round choices, a stud running back and another player. Sonny concedes it’s “Not a terrible trade,” but he figures Penn — who had some kind of connection with Buffalo that wasn’t made clear — put the Bills up to making the offer. Penn, rightfully, wants those picks back.
Meanwhile, someone in team security has dug up some dirt on Bo Callahan. Get this: Bo had a 21st birthday party at a restaurant in Madison. Some locals found out, flooded the restaurant and one stole some money from a cash register. Police were called and took a list of names of people who were there. Bo Callahan, for what it’s worth, was NEVER IMPLICATED in the robbery. But, none of his Wisconsin teammates were on the list of party attendees.
“None of his teammates came to the poor guy’s birthday party,” the security guy said.
That’s all Sonny Weaver needs to hear.
He calls the Wisconsin coach Dick Moore — played by Sam Elliott, who makes Moore sound like an old West law dog — who praises Bo Callahan and suggests that there were no teammates on the list because police didn’t want to get them mixed up in an incident that had nothing to do with any of them. It sounds more than plausible. Kid has worked hard his whole life, Moore said. “He’s some of my best work.”
But Sonny is intent on screwing this up.
Sonny calls Buffalo back and says no deal. Penn, rightfully, calls him a bonehead. Two hours before they go on the clock, they decide to really scout Bo Callahan by watching the game against Ohio State. Turns out, Mack sacked him once, and on the next play…by God…Callahan got rid of the ball too soon. He must be easily flustered.
Penn tries to settle things down and asks to show the footage of the game-winning play, which is an unreal throw from Callahan to a covered receiver, past two defenders, in the end zone. But Weaver notices Mack wasn’t even on the field for that play. He had been ejected earlier in the game after making contact with an official who correctly flagged him for giving the ball to his sister and her two sons in the front row. The sister tragically died a few weeks later, Weaver points out. But Mack bumping the official is somehow excused while Callahan getting temporarily rattled is perceived as a fatal flaw.
Security guy comes back with some more information. He tells some story about how Seattle tapes a $100 bill to the back of their playbooks that they send to potential draft picks to make sure they read the playbook. If they don’t know about the C-note, the theory goes, it’s clear they haven’t read the playbook. Callahan, evidently, told them at first that he didn’t see a $100 bill, then when pressed “lied” and said he did see it and thought it was a funny joke.
Sonny has all the information he needs now to go completely rogue. To go against the wishes of the team owner, to go against the wishes of the head coach, and to make a draft pick without consulting anyone in the team offices who have been working for months on putting together a proper draft strategy.
There’s one more conversation with Callahan mixed in there somewhere, with Weaver asking the No. 1-with-a-bullet prospect in the entire draft why nobody came to his birthday party. Callahan said “it isn’t something I’m really proud of, but I don’t remember a single thing from that night.” Eight minutes before he goes on the clock, Weaver goes to his office to do some serious thinking about what he’s going to do with the pick he traded three No. 1s to get. Either take head-and-shoulders the best quarterback in the draft, or one of two players you could have gotten if you had just stayed at No. 7.
Draft starts. Browns go on the clock. Weaver calls in the pick. It’s Vontae Mack.
Yes, Vontae Mack. The guy he was thinking about at No. 7, and the guy who was thinking he might fall to 20. The guy the Texans called Weaver about earlier in the day, thinking they might — might — take at No. 15. A guy Weaver himself clearly hoped would fall to the second round back when he thinking he’d have to take Callahan.
Molina storms out of Radio City Music Hall, clearly looking to fire Weaver. Penn can’t believe the No. 28-rated offense in the league a year ago didn’t even take an offensive player. He quits.
“Three first-round picks to get the guy I could’ve gotten all along? I used to be good at this,” Sonny says. And that sums it all up.
But wait…there’s more! In real life, whoever picked No. 2 would have a really good laugh about the Browns screwing up so profoundly and just take Bo Callahan, considering the only real knocks on him are that he got rattled after a sack once and he doesn’t have many friends in Wisconsin. But in the movie, teams start to wonder why the Browns would back away. Has to be more than “no friends” and “one rushed throw,” they seem to figure. St. Louis, Miami and Arizona all pass on him; Arizona takes a quarterback, meaning the best quarterback in the draft is now not even the first quarterback taken. Denver picks fifth but already has a star quarterback.
Jacksonville and its rookie GM is picking sixth, and in all the confusion over Callahan, the draft has been mixed up so much that the Rams have picked the player Jacksonville wanted. Weaver tries to buy the guy out of the pick by offering his next three second-round choices for the No. 6 pick overall. It seems like a bad deal on paper — I don’t think a pick that high has ever been dealt without getting a first-rounder back — but the nervous GM seems satisfied. They make the deal.
Weaver then calls Seattle, where Michaels is celebrating the thought that he can trade out of No. 1, get three first-round picks and STILL get Bo Callahan at No. 7. Sonny swoops in, though, insisting he’ll take Bo at No. 6 if he doesn’t get all those first-round picks back. Michaels is infuriated, but it makes the deal — those three first-rounders and punt returner David Putney too “just because I feel like it,” Weaver decides. Seattle takes Callahan at No. 6, and Ray Jennings goes to Cleveland at No. 7, pleasing Penn, who decides to stay even though his GM is an absolute maniac.
It’s a fantastical story, really. It’s unbelievable on its surface. It’s unbelievable Seattle, who desperately wanted Callahan, would take anything for the No. 1 pick. It’s unbelievable Cleveland, a team with a quarterback that was 5-1 the season before, would trade three first-round picks to dump that quarterback and pay a rookie more money. It’s unthinkable that Cleveland would jump off Callahan so quickly, with relatively little reason to do so, and it’s thoroughly implausible that Weaver would then use the No. 1 pick to take a player who only he really liked. It’s a bad movie because the sum of it would just never happen.
But it ranks so high on the list because…I’m still not sure Cleveland made out here, and Sonny Weaver got celebrated like he was some kind of draft savant. But look at what he did: Since they used the No. 7 pick they had originally to take Ray Jennings, who was firmly on their board for that pick, Weaver essentially traded three second-round draft picks to get Vontae Mack — a guy only he valued as a top-10 pick, a guy he could have had in the second round if the Texans passed on him, a guy who in fact thought it was possible he’d slip out of the first round altogether.
It’s just not a good deal, and if Molina ended the movie by realizing this and firing Sonny Weaver, it would have been an ending more befitting reality. It’s movie, though; I know movies aren’t supposed to live in reality. I just think they can do that without also insulting your intelligence.
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT