Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes on the day of the annual NFL draft of the nation’s top college players?
“Draft Day” is a fictional attempt to do just that. Some of the “real” players in that annual sports drama make cameo appearances: sportscasters and NFL Hall-of-Famers. But this is about living in the shoes of a general manager for that one fateful day that not only decides the future of his team, but usually his career as well.
Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr.: the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. They own the 7th pick in the draft, but even before the actual draft begins, the wheeling and dealing has already started. Sonny gets a call on the way to work from another GM, wanting to trade Sonny’s 7th pick and his three first-round draft choices for the next three years so that Sonny could have the very 1st pick, largely assumed to be a “can’t miss” college quarterback.
Sonny’s new coach is not pleased at all. He feels they already have a quarterback, even though he’s been in the league eight years, is 30 years old and hasn’t taken them to the playoffs yet. The new coach thinks it is a terrible move to “mortgage their future” just to get one player, no matter how good he is. And he keeps obnoxiously flashing around his own Super Bowl ring (from coaching another team) to imply, well, a kind of omniscience.
What interests the non-sports-nut viewer in this film is all the other dynamics going on in Sonny’s life. His father’s ashes need to be spread, and his mother is insisting on doing that right now. His new girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner), is also one of his employees, and she’s just found out she’s pregnant. Sonny at first doesn’t do effusive very well. (After all, most men don’t.) Then he wants to apologize to Ali for his apparent lack of enthusiasm, but ironically, the distractions just keep popping up. There’s a new dorky intern who means well, but gets everything wrong. The team’s quarterback is irate, and Sonny has to tell him to mind his own business. The owner is irate for different reasons, and Sonny has to tell him to butt out, also. The crux of the film is Sonny wistfully saying to Ali that all he really wants is to be able to put his own team on the field. Just once. (And now, for the final chorus of “I Did It My Way.”)
The speed of the plot increases as Sonny is suddenly confronted with multiple offers now that he owns the #1 pick, and he’s also frantically trying to find out something about the inner character and motivation of said #1 pick. The interesting thing about the NFL draft is that there is no magic formula to predict success. Some of the very best players in the history of the game (especially quarterbacks) were not drafted very high. And vice versa: some of those drafted the highest were complete busts. In the end, you can ask all the advice you want, and do all the research you can, but you have to go with what your gut instincts tell you. And that, of course, isn’t just about NFL draft day: it’s about being your own person no matter who you are or what you do.
So, even though this film seems aimed at only the most radical of sports fans, it does have some universal applicability. Plus, it’s well-made, and though seemingly complex, relatively easy to follow. Kevin Costner returns to his tried-and-true formula of being the stoic hero with great inner fortitude. The unexpected part is that the old formula works again.
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.