TECHNICALLY SPEAKING
WHERE TO LOOK ONLINE

In this era of fantasy football, many fans are walking sports encyclopedias, but it never hurts to have a little extra reference. Wikipedia is one of your best bets for history, but if you’re stopping by their main entry on American Football to brush upon the rules of the game, you probably have no business writing a script about it.

If you’re just looking for the current state of affairs, try the National Football League’s page for the pros and the National Collegiate Athletic Association for college ball. On both sites, you’ll find plenty of statistics and video footage.

ESPN offers similar info along with articles and blogs by some of the world’s finest sports journalists.

Another great place to visit is the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This site features a massive amount of professional football history and well as multimedia biographies of all the inductees, dating back to 1963.

Finally, this is one of those topics where wandering the Web can be especially fruitful. Football fans are an obsessive lot, so even the smallest team’s site can yield an amazing amount of thoroughly researched history. Case in point, California’s Alameda High School Hornet Football site offers information on varsity high school football dating all the way back to 1906. But for the record, whoever built this site might love the sport -- but he’s still no Allan Graf.

Friday Night Writes
Written by Denis Faye

You may think you take football seriously, but you’re no Allan Graf. Sure, you know the stats for every player in the NFL, and you bulk-buy body paint in your team’s colors, but you didn’t start for the NCAA National Championship USC team in the 1973 Rose Bowl. You weren’t a free agent for the Los Angeles Rams, and you didn’t play for the short-lived World Football League. You definitely didn’t parlay your pro career into becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy when it comes to gridiron. In other words, you’re no Allan Graf.

Graf got his silver screen start as Dick Butkus’ stunt double in everyone’s favorite field-goal kicking mule comedy, Gus. From there, he went on to football coordinate, stunt coordinate and second unit direct scores of films and television shows, including Friday Night Lights, Jerry Maguire, Any Given Sunday, Necessary Roughness, The Waterboy and The Express.

Getting football right for the popcorn crowd is a responsibility he takes very seriously. “Do you think that I would cheat that?” he demands. “Do you think, with the people who know my background, that I would be able to make plays that aren’t real or make things happen that can’t happen? I’d get phone call after phone call saying, ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ I have to stay true to the art form.”

Um, no Mr. Graf, we’d never accuse you of cheating. And we here at Technically Speaking deeply appreciate that you’ve taken a little time to talk with us about how football should be represented onscreen. Seriously.

Just please don’t sack us.

What does Hollywood get right when it comes to football?

Well, not all of them get it right. Let’s put it that way. There are a lot of movies out there that make it sensational, that make it what people think it should be like. True movies, like The Express and Friday Night Lights, those were based on true stories. The directors wanted to make sure we got it right for the audience, and I wanted to make sure football was done right.

Can you give me some specifics?

People are used to watching football on TV. They don’t want to see it in another form sometimes, you know, where you’re close up or inside or you got your camera turned Dutch or something. They want to see it real, so you try to give it to them as real as you can. Now, I know that when you tell stories and you want to know that character and you get inside of it, but if you do wacky things or someone jumps over the line and uses an air ram and jumps higher than he should, or a guy gets hit harder than he should and gets knocked out, that’s not real, and that’s what I don’t like.

What about in the culture? When they show the locker room or the coach barking plays? What’s about that?

I’m not going to say the director, but there was a movie that I did, and he always wanted the star to come into the huddle and take his helmet off to talk, so the audience could see him. I said, “That’s not right. First of all, it’s illegal, you’d get a penalty, and second of all, the audience knows who it is. They see his face through the mask.” That’s what I can’t stand, that kind of stuff. It drives me nuts.

Or when there’s talking across the line of scrimmage before the play snap. That doesn’t happen. Even in the pros, there’s not a lot of that going on. First of all, it’s illegal. The offensive line is supposed to hear the quarterback’s cadence. If the linebacker’s yelling across the line of scrimmage, “Hey! I’m going to kick your butt!” or this or that, well, it doesn’t happen. Illegal. Can’t do it.

That’s a case of a writer putting drama over realism.

That’s what bugs me. It’s not real. Drama is going to come out in other ways. You can’t have guys yelling and screaming.

Can you give me an example of that?

Off the top of my head, I guess everyone looks at Friday Night Lights as the benchmark for football movies. Pete Berg directed football in a way that was really real. In the huddle, that’s where you got the drama -- and even he stretched the limits because in the huddle, only the quarterback gets to talk. Very rarely are other people talking because they’re supposed to listen. But you’ve seen football movies where everyone talks. It’s not real.

Specifically, which movies or shows didn’t work like that?

I don’t want something coming back to me like that. I work with these people. Let me put it this way, if you do a comedy and everyone knows it’s going to be a comedy, you can get away with stuff. I’m up for that. But when you’re talking about serious drama and serious football, that’s another thing.

What would you like to see in a football movie you’ve never seen before?

You know, The Express came out recently on DVD, and I want to touch on it. It’s a great movie. It’s about the first black Heisman Trophy winner, Ernie Davis.

If you’re talking about making things right -- that’s a period piece. I had to do a lot of research. It was the ‘50s and ‘60s. How they block, how they tackle, defensive equipment and all that, it was very important to the movie. If I’d done it with modern stuff, you wouldn’t have believed it, because they block and tackle differently. They had high-top shoes, all of them, even the running backs. If we would have had them in Nikes, it wouldn’t have been right.

I got the playbook from that school. I got the ‘59 playbook from Syracuse. I looked at films. I watched how they blocked and tackled. That’s what I tried to do. Now, the writer didn’t do that.

Do you think it’s also important for a writer to do a lot of research?

Absolutely. When a writer who doesn’t know football tries to draw up a play, it’s very difficult. I have to go in there and change the writing and give it a name. He doesn’t know what the name is, he’s just looking in a book at the names of plays. It’s very important that those guys do their research, too. It’s good if they have a background in football. I’d hate to write a story about opera or something I didn’t know anything about.