The Super Bowl is already an all-but-official American holiday, and it looks like the NFL Draft Day is on its way to becoming one as well. At this rate, important dates for football will supplant the existing holidays, and the sport will be firmly entrenched as our new civil religion. The Draft is like that agonizing time in PE when the team captains take turns choosing their players from the class, but mutated and engorged a thousand times over. At least, that’s the understanding a football layman like myself has of it.
I don’t know how crucial it is that a piece of entertainment about the Draft ensure that such a layman can understand it. Enough people understand football that a movie or book can probably take for granted that the audience knows the rules and history of the game going in. But Draft Day is unlikely to appeal to even the most dedicated scholars of football. Directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Kevin Costner, the film’s release is timed to be in close proximity to this year’s real-life NFL Draft. It’s a pity, then, that the movie features so little of what one could reasonably expect from a story about the Draft, namely the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes as different teams try to get the best picks they can.
If you want to watch Costner angst about fatherhood, romance, his family and his decisions, then Draft Day might actually be a safe bet. If you want to see some real Draft action, then go to Elway to Marino. An installment of ESPN’s increasingly-misnomered (there are far more than 30 films now) but nonetheless informative series of documentaries, 30 for 30, this film explores “the greatest draft in NFL history.”
This was “the quarterback class of 1983,” as six teams scooped up quarterbacks during the first round, a record. That round also included six future hall-of-famers, another record. And of course, among both those quarterbacks and hall-of-famers were two of the most famous men to ever play the game, the titular John Elway and Dan Marino. The film’s featured expert talking head, Marvin Demoff, goes so far as to call them the best quarterbacks in the history of the game. And yet, while Elway was the first pick of the Draft, Marino was the 27th, hurt by rumors of drug use. In a curious crossover, this ironic-in-hindsight choice is observed by Costner’s character in Draft Day as an example of how unpredictable the yields of the Draft can be.
And what this film does best is capture the sheer insanity of the event. As a gridiron illiterate, I could barely keep up, but teams court players they don’t really want in order to woo players they do want, transparently false statements are put out by players in order to head off the advances of teams they don’t want and talks of trades come and go, and go and come, and fly every which way. Even though they’re related mainly through narration, interviews with NFL insiders and historical footage, there’s a hundred times more energy to these proceedings than those in Draft Day. And that is why, whether you know football or not, this doc should be your first pick for Draft-related fun (I’m not apologizing for that joke).