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Draft drama always a blockbuster

Posted Apr 25, 2014

While I was handing a tape recorder to James Harrison on “Hard Knocks,” back in August, Alex Marvez was handing a beer to Kevin Costner on the set of Draft Day.

 Johnny Manziel's draft script could even top Bo Callahan.

While I was handing a tape recorder to James Harrison on “Hard Knocks,” back in August, Alex Marvez was handing a beer to Kevin Costner on the set of Draft Day.

Never mind that my scene made it and that Marvez’s didn’t. Or that Marvez made the credits and I didn’t. Or that the FCC should ban both of us for appearing on any kind of screen because we are beat guys, hacks, scribes, or whatever else you want to call the boiler room of the biz.

Actually, Marvez has done big time well. Along with smoothly anchoring “Late Hits,” on Sirius NFL Radio and columnizing about the league in print and on video for FOX Sports 1 as senior NFL Reporter, he has the face, pipes, and sources for the big show.

But at heart, he’s a scribe and so I couldn’t get over the fact he’d been in a movie with Kevin Costner. When he was at the Dayton Daily News and I was at The Cincinnati Enquirer covering the Bengals of the mid-90s, the closest we came to the movies was watching Ki-Jana Carter’s cameo in “Jerry Maguire.”

It just shows you that a lot of times, real life is better than the movies.

Just go into the Bengals draft room and ask president Mike Brown and scout Bill Tobin about some of their drafts. Between the two of them, they’re inching up to 100 of them. Literally.

“I have no ambition to see (the movie),” says Tobin, who finds things hard to top after being involved in the drafting and signing of five Hall-of-Famers and seven future NFL head coaches.

Brown scouted and drafted a guy that should be in the Hall of Fame, quarterback Ken Anderson. Back in 1971, the Bengals got on to Anderson early when director of player personnel Pete Brown picked up a tip in a Washington D.C. restaurant about a sweet thrower at Division III Augustana College in Illinois.

When Pete Brown showed up to watch, he was the only NFL scout in the stands and when the Bengals picked him in the third round the word was Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom was furious because they didn’t even have him on the board.

You can’t make this stuff up.

“I don’t have a desire to see it,” Brown says. “I live it.”

But, Kevin Costner?

OK, he’s not Paul McCartney, the former Beatle that every American woman born between World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall has given her heart at some point.

But Kevin Costner? He has been the lead in arguably the two most acclaimed sports films of all time, Field of Dreams, and Bull Durham, and it is his rugged passion that make Ray Kinsella and Crash Davis pull it off so well.

“I don’t think he’s that diehard of a fan,” Marvez says. “That tells you what a great actor he is. He studies. He cares. He’s very down to earth. He’s very proud of what he does. It just wasn’t a pay check to him.”

Which is exactly what you want to hear because Costner has always come off as a guy, well, that you’d like to not only hand a beer but drink it with him.

And how about my man Marvez partying with Costner? In an editing move I’ll never be able to understand, a scene with Costner and Rosanna Arquette joined Marvez’s beer on the cutting room floor. Marvez, yes. But Arquette, the lovely star of Pulp Fiction and After Hours?

They still invited Marvez and the other media guys to the premier in Los Angeles and Costner joined them for about 20 minutes at the post-viewing bash, chatting and reminiscing about the shooting.

“Pretty cool,” Marvez says.

No spoiler alert necessary here. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you probably won’t. Draft Day is no Field of Dreams, but it’s not Air Bud, either.  Costner is his solid, believable self as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of a Cleveland Browns team that has been told to make a splash in the draft by his owner.

The problem is that Weaver is told this on the day of the draft and has 10 hours or so to make it all happen. An owner would never wait that long of course (see Snyder, Daniel and the third Robert Griffin), to let his GM in on it, and that’s where real life and the movies start chicken fighting down the sideline.

But it’s a fun, easy 90 minutes. They tried to get things right. They recruited Marvez and a couple of other media members to the set and he ended up at the team’s draft party scene, hence his delivery to Costner of a Bud Light aluminum bottle as Sonny was going on stage to celebrate the draft picks.

 “I was a Browns fan. Don’t tell Mike Brown,” Marvez says. “As a football purist, I would find parts laughable. But I looked at it from an entertainment standpoint. I tried to enjoy some of the NFL appeal. That was fun. Costner gave some panache to the general manger and the things that weigh on him.

“One of the most realistic things was the friction between the coach and GM. That happens. I saw it in Miami when Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin had differences over the roster….(In the end) Costner becomes more flexible.”

Brown and Tobin are those football purists.

The year that the Bengals drafted Anderson is the year Tobin started scouting and in all of his years running the Bears, Colts, and Lions, Tobin never had a No. 1 pick. But that didn’t stop him from helping pick those future Hall-of-Famers, four with the Bears.

“You never know if you’re picking a Hall-of-Famer,” Tobin says. “You’ve got some things to go on that try to give you an answer. I always look at intelligence, production, speed. It’s nice to have size, but to me you’ve got to look at those other things first.”

Intelligence is scattered throughout the Bears’ drafts of the ‘80s. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was a first-round pick. Panthers coach Ron Rivera was a second-round pick, as was former 49ers coach Mike Singletary. Rams coach Jeff Fisher was a seventh-rounder and former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was signed as a college free agent. So was current Saints coach Sean Payton.

Tobin, 72, is still going strong. During his first eight years with the Bengals, Tobin worked the southeast and he had a hand in their invasion of the University of Georgia. He’s been in the midwest for three seasons and no longer has to carry a projector with him on airplanes to scout a school.

Back when the only time you could watch a player on film is go to his college, Tobin cut down his projector so he could put it underneath his seat on the plane. He still remembers going to Itta Bena,  Miss., to scout Mississippi Valley wide receiver Jerry Rice and the only place to watch film was next to the toilets in the locker room.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Now he’s got what looks like three decks of cards but are really hard drives that he can click into his computer and call up any player video he wants.

“I don’t know if it makes it easier or more confusing,” Tobin says. “There should be fewer mistakes because there is so much exposure now.”

Tobin wants nothing to do with cutups, though.

“I want to see the whole play, the whole thing,” Tobin says. “I want to see the plays he’s not involved in. I want to see what his reactions are when the ball is snapped. I want to see what he’s doing after the play is over.”

And didn't Tobin's famous on-air dustup with ESPN's Mel Kiper (yes, he plays himself in the movie) 20 years ago vault the draft into the Entertainment Tonight era?

Brown did what Sonny did and traded for the top pick back in 1995, but he had it easier. He is the owner and although he says wasn’t looking to make a draft day splash (the Bengals were in the process of trying to get a new stadium), he was trying to get the best player.

Just like Draft Day’s Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan, there’s no doubt the best player was Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter, just the guy the Bengals needed for a running game that died somewhere in the ‘80s and hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher in two seasons.

But Brown had a better script.

With the draft Saturday at noon, he already had a sweet deal in the bank with the Eagles. The Bengals would trade down from No. 5 to No. 12 in exchange for the Eagles first pick from the year before, tackle Bernard Williams, and at No. 12 they’d take Michigan running back Tyrone Wheatley.

But before Brown agreed, he thought he’d give expansion Carolina, holding the No. 1 pick with general manager Bill Polian, a what-the-heck call on Thursday for Carter. Brown was certain he’d get turned down, offering the fifth pick and the 36th pick for No. 1.

But Polian said he was inclined to do it and just wanted a night to sleep on it. When Brown called back Friday, Polian, fearing the Oilers at No. 3 would get into the mix for the guy wanted, Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins, asked the Bengals not to say anything until just before the draft.

Brown didn’t even tell his wife until Saturday morning that the Bengals had the first pick and that it was Carter. “She liked it,” Brown said that day.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Nancy Brown had a lot of company since it was a move universally praised. Brown was exalted and Polian ripped because he had reportedly turned down a better deal a few days before.

Then Carter tore his ACL on his third carry of the preseason and that was pretty much that. He went on to suffer season-ending injuries in the back-to-back Septembers of ’98 and ’99 and until Ryan Leaf came along he was unfairly being called the biggest bust in draft history.

This may be the reason Brown doesn’t like moving around the draft board. The Bengals haven’t traded up in the first round since and they’ve only traded up in any round once, in the 2002 third to get tight end Matt Schobel.

Before the trade, the Bengals were going to take Florida defensive end Kevin Carter at No. 5 and Pittsburgh running back Curtis Martin at No. 36. Carter turned out to be a two-time Pro Bowler with 104.5 career sacks and Martin is currently fourth on the all-time rushing list. They certainly had it pegged. Martin didn’t go until the third round to New England.

“That’s how we had it mapped out and it changed when we moved up,” Brown says. “I haven’t been too keen on getting Mr. Wonderful. We lost two guys that turned out to be better players than the one we got. But he got hurt. We’ll never know how good he could have been.”

Enough drama?

How about this script from the 1974 season, when Tobin was working with the Packers and he swung a trading deadline deal with the Saints for quarterback Archie Manning? Tobin had packaged a bunch of No.1 and No. 2 draft picks and even went to Atlanta to watch the Saints play the game before announcing the deal after they played.

The Saints held out Manning so he wouldn’t get hurt, Tobin recalls. So naturally his backup, Bobby Scott, got hurt and they still couldn’t do the trade because they wouldn’t have a quarterback.  

“Peyton and Eli would have grown up in Green Bay,”  Tobin wonders.

You can’t make this stuff up. All it means is that the NFL is so compelling, the real thing is usually better than movies. Which is why the May 8-10 draft has been promoted as heavily as a blockbuster. And it doesn’t disappoint. Just ask two football purists.

“Movies are what they are. They have a drama, excitement,” Brown says. “There’s excitement in real life, but it’s generally at a slower pace. Movies are embellished. Real life is better.”

All the proof you need is my man Marvelous Marv is on the cutting room floor with Rosanna  Arquette.

 

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