The Dallas Cowboys are not what they once were, and they are more famous for their owner than their actual players. But the clout and charm of their owner still carries a significant amount of weight across this great land, including Hollywood.
A few years ago, during training camp in Oxnard, Calif., one of the pretty Hollywood types Jerry Jones entertained at one practice was established film director Ivan Reitman. Turns out they had a mutual friend, a fellow Texan who had a home in nearby Santa Barbara.
It is not a coincidence that in Reitman’s new big-budget movie Draft Day, which opens on Friday, the Cowboys are treated with reverence. The owner of the Cowboys is friendly with the director and the film’s leading man, Kevin Costner.
The movie is a poor man’s version of Moneyball, and in the case of the Dallas Cowboys it is not an example of art imitating life; rather, it is escapism to the extreme. It underscores how bizarre this franchise is and how we have grown numb to this dysfunction.
During the Final Four, we thought nothing of it to see the GM of the football team sitting in his own suite with a pair of former U.S. presidents as well as the starting quarterback, running back and tight end — and, of course, America’s Favorite Autograph-Signing Guest, Johnny Manziel.
(BTW — DeMarco Murray, when you do score an invite to one of these things, take your hat off. Don’t dress like a bum.)
Former Cowboys defensive tackle Marcus Spears created a stir in the Twitter world when he asked if any other teammates were invited to the suite, that it may rub some players in the locker room the wrong way. Spears’ former teammate, linebacker Scott Shanle, supported Spears’ comments by tweeting, “I’ve been part of a team in [Saints]. It works! [Cowboys’] biggest issue is individualism.”
The sad part is none of this is new. Of course inviting only a select few players to the Final Four suite would create envy. Where is Dez Bryant? Where is Sean Lee (yes, yes — he’s injured). Where is Tyron Smith?
What is new is that Hollywood is telling the story of how teams build a football team. La La Land gets it mostly right but for some minor details beginning with the local club.
Actor Denis Leary plays a head coach who has left the Dallas Cowboys to run the Cleveland Browns. In one scene, Leary confronts the GM of the Browns, played by Costner, and flashes his Cowboys’ Super Bowl ring to make a point.
“They do it different in Dallas?” Costner asks Leary.
“Yeah. They win. A lot,” Leary says.
This exchange prompted a patron in the theater sitting next to me to mutter under his breath, “Not anymore.”
Reitman was attracted to this movie because, in his mind, a football team is loaded with high-profile people but assembled by an obscure man in the back room no one ever sees.
“The GM is such a fascinating character because he is so responsible for what people watch on the field, and he is very seldom seen,” Reitman told me in a phone interview. “He is the man under the most pressure, certainly during the preseason and off-season, when they are trying to put the team together.
“And I think the NFL Draft is a fascinating, constructed event where you have these 32 teams competing for what they consider the ‘greatest player.’ What is a great player? They don’t really know. It’s based on a college career that may not translate up. Really, they are just guessing.”
Reitman’s knowledge of professional football before making this movie came from gathering with some buddies in SoCal and betting on games every Sunday morning. Yet despite his relative lack of familiarity with the league, he pretty much nails it.
In a more ideal NFL world, the GM is relatively obscure and we only hear from him occasionally. How many NFL GMs can you name?
Ozzie Newsome. Bill Belichick. And Jerry.
This is the hand Jerry deals us, and long ago we grew accustomed to the reality that exists for the local team.
We are no longer surprised by any of it — from the A-listers sitting next to the GM in his suite to the GM walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards to Hollywood’s positive portrayal of the success of the Cowboys.
It’s fun to make fun of and talk about, and Draft Day is a reminder of how things are supposed to be run, but in these parts, that is more fantasy than reality.