the program american football

20 Random Thoughts About 'The Program' On Its 20th Anniversary

Much of the discussion in the pop culture world today centers around Drake, as it's been for the past two weeks now. His highly anticipated third album, Nothing Was The Same, officially hits shelves and is expected to sell more copies in its first week than any album not associated with a fancy Samsung package deal. I'll more than likely end up heading to Best Buy at some point to purchase the LP because (along with Foreign Exchange's Love In Flying Colors), while this may get me tarred and feathered in some  circles, NWTS is a quality piece of work showcasing his expanding talents as a rapper and overall entertainer.

Yet, while Aubrey's compilation will undoubtedly dominate the social media world we live in, try not to forget about The Program. Twenty years ago today the film hit theaters, becoming one of the most storied sports films ever. Unfortunately, no "Where Are They Now?"-type interview with James Caan, Omar Epps and Halle Berry exists in the words posted here. I had no clue the film was celebrating its 20th birthday today until last week when aimlessly surfing the 'Net led to its IMDb page.

This also isn't a deep psychoanalysis of how the problems of Eastern State University coincide with the ills of collegiate sports. Nope. What we have here are 20 random thoughts about the legacy of The Program. Some make sense, a lot don't, but like watching the movie itself, you'll hopefully learn a little bit about yourself in the process. Or not.

1. Halle Berry's Near Unforgivable Sin. To this day, Nia Long choosing not to marry Will Smith — at the damn altar! — on Fresh Prince still doesn't sit right. And I love Nia Long. She's beautiful. She's a quality actress, and despite her shading Kendrick Lamar, seems like a down-to-earth, around-the-way girl. Yet, her decision not to marry Will has forever tainted her in my eyes and skewed my view of relationships and marriage for years (OK, not really). Halle nearly did the same thing of sorts when she allowed her pops to play Omar Epps to the left following a game. Luckily, she redeemed herself by settling down with Omar and lived happily ever after. Or at least until he began sleeping with every sorority girl on campus.

2. The Omar Epps Run. Speaking of Omar, check out his lineage of movies from 1992-2000: Juice, The Program, Major League II, Higher Learning, Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood, 10 episodes of ER, Scream 2, The Wood, In Too Deep and Love & Basketball. Judging from that list, at least seven classics are present (you be the judge which ones are), and his long-standing role as Dr. Eric Foreman on House wasn't counted because it occurred after 2000. This makes Epps one of the most underrated actors of his era, right? Well, even if he isn't, it sounds like a great conversation starter anyway.

3. Joe Kane Was A Badass. The guy wanted to win, but at the end of the day he was just a kid wanting to please his dad who was so deep into a battle with alcoholism that it commanded every aspect of his life (and thus ruined what little good will he had with Joe). Kane was adored by his teammates, a gunslinger, ladies man and one of the country's finest quarterbacks who gave two shits about winning the Heisman. To cope with his demons, he rode his motorcycle, drank a lot of beer and threw people through glass in random bar fights. In other words, he was mixture between Brett Favre, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Charles Barkley.

4. Sleeping With The Coach's Daughter Is As Stupid As It Sounds. Well, especially if you're the backup quarterback. And especially if you're the backup quarterback who isn't in a relationship with the coach's daughter but merely using it as a "friends with benefits" type situation and a means to retaliate against that same coach for not starting you (nevermind the guy in front was a Heisman hopeful). And especially, especially if you're the backup quarterback who got the coach's daughter in hot water with a cheating scandal. Bobby Collins was a flawed young man with exponentially flawed priorities.

5. Ray Griffen Was A Douche. Remember how Leonard Roberts did everything in his power to make life a living hell for Nick Cannon in Drumline, largely because of a defense mechanism due to him feeling threatened? Same thing happened in The Program with Ray Griffen (real name Leon Pridgen). He became Pretty Tony to Darnell's Goldie and by the end of the movie had lost not only his girlfriend, Autumn (Berry), to the freshman prodigy, but his starting tailback position, too. The big difference is Roberts became more of an endearing figure as Drumline went along. Griffen, not so much.

6. Two Dudes Riding On A Motorcycle Together Was Acceptable. My buddy Max who lives in Harlem has a motorcycle. A nice one, at that. But never in a million years would I ask to ride on the motorcycle with him. I'm a grown man with my own bills, and the last thing I would think twice about doing is holding him around his waist while I prayed we didn't crash. You know what though? Joe Kane and Darnell did it when they went to the local bar at the beginning of the movie and nothing seemed awkward whatsoever. The lesson in all this? Two dudes on a motorcycle is unacceptable unless you're a Heisman quarterback candidate and a five-star recruit at running back. And college bars are heavenly.

7. Alvin Mack's Promise. Anyone who has never seen the movie can probably guess things aren't going to end well for Alvin. He's a freakishly talented linebacker who has all the pro potential in the world. The only detriment is the fact he's not the most dedicated academic student-athlete in history (he read at a fourth-grade level). Handing the gold door knocker to his mother at the beginning of the movie with the promise she could use it for her new house once he turned pro is as gut-wrenching as his injury later in the movie.

8. Protect The Ball At All Costs. Darnell Jefferson could do everything a running back was supposed to do — block, catch out of the backfield, protect his quarterback during bar fights and cut on breakaway speed at the drop of a dime. His only issue was fumbling the ball. Coach Winters' tactic of making him carry the ball all day and making sure it never left his possession was genius (and something that actually worked). Except for the one time he nearly lost the rock in history class resulting in all hell breaking loose.

David Wilson and the Giants should look into this. It can't hurt.

9. Steve Lattimer Was F*cking Crazy. Lattimer gaining 35 pounds before his senior year so he could "get a place at the table" on the starting defensive unit was the first sign. He was the bizzaro Clay Matthews if Clay Matthews actually had a bizzaro type. He digested a faithful diet of HGH, deer antler spray and whatever popular steroid we've come to know in recent memory turning him into ESU's version of wrestling's Ultimate Warrior. He drove his head through multiple car windows. He damn near raped a girl because of 'roid rage in what was by far the most uncomfortable scene. And he let another man spit in his mouth as a means to hype himself up for game day.

10. Steve Lattimer Was Leatherface. Yeah, no bullsh*t. Andrew Bryniarski — the guy who played Lattimer — eventually went on to play "Leatherface" in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If there was ever an appropriate career maturation, it's this one.

latimer the program

11. Lattimer Gave Von Miller His Clean Piss Connect. One more on Lattimer because he's arguably the most perplexing character from the entire film. To understand this point, you're going to have to watch the movie.

12. The In-Game Scenes. From the slow-mo aspect, to the first-person point of view to the always entertaining commentary, the scenes during games were just as stressful and exciting as real-life games.

13. The Darnell Jefferson/Alvin Mack "Pay For Play" Conversation. After the first game, Jefferson receives $50 from a booster for his solid performance in ESU's opening game against Mississippi State. Taken aback by the gesture, he speaks with Mack about the conversation, who informs him there's much more where that came from. In fact, it's this quote that stands as perhaps the most prophetic from the entire movie.

"You cannot live on no $500 a month athletic scholarship money. And the NC-Double-Assholes won't let us have jobs, so you take your money when you can get it. As a matter of fact, lemme hold this for you until you see the light. Shit, ought to be paying us anyway. The athletic department gets three million dollars just for going to a bowl game."

Arian Foster nods in approval.

14. The Single Hoop Earring. Epps wore it in this movie and looked cool as a fan in the process. Michael Jordan occasionally did. And if I'm not mistaken, Play from "Kid & Play" did, too. Needless to say, the '90s made the hoop earring cool and Darnell Jefferson had a lot to do with it. The one athlete who would definitely have the balls to do this in 2013? Kobe Bryant. The man has openly referred to his wife, Vanessa, as his "shorty rock" on Twitter and nothing leads me to believe Kobe wouldn't at least do it for one post-game press conference.

15. The Bandana. If the earring is highlighted, the bandana has to be as well. Bandanas were a statement of '90s fashion throughout pop culture. While Darnell Jefferson (again, Epps) helped make this a fashion statement in the movie, chances are even he was influenced by the likes of OG members Deion Sanders and Tupac Shakur. Nevertheless, I'm of the committee some player needs to bring back bandanas. Patrick Willis would look even more intimidating with a red bandana, which should be totally in consideration given the past two weeks for San Francisco.

16. "Bud-Lite" Kaminski Was The Most Offensive Lineman Name Ever. This is not up for debate either. The name also sounds like a character on Mike Tyson's Punchout.

17. Did You Know? Bobby Collins — the can't-do-right backup quarterback — was named after the SMU head coach Bobby Collins. The same Collins at SMU who was in charge when the school's "death penalty" ruling was handed down. Also, the games were filmed at the University of South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium. This means the ghost of Alvin Mack lives in Jadeveon Clowney.

18. The Gauntlet of Coach Sam Winters. Here's a brief run-through of issues Coach Winters (James Caan) was led to deal with throughout the movie:

  • Lattimer's drug usage and sexual assault case
  • Joe Kane's DWI and assault case
  • Bobby Collins' cheating scandal
  • Having to swallow his pride and get Bobby Collins back into school
  • Losing his best defensive player (Alvin Mack) to a career-ending leg injury
  • The Darnell Jefferson/Ray Griffen beef
  • Getting to a bowl game to secure his own job

And Bo Pelini figured he had it bad. How Winters didn't end up curled in a room sniffing mounds of cocaine to cope with the stress is beyond me.

19. The Final Play Against Georgia Tech. Set up by one hell of a punt return by Darnell and 10-yard catch by Griffen, we were left with one final play for all the marbles with ESU down 10-7 to Georgia Tech. "Brown Right Motion Tailback Slant" lacked the creativeness in name of "The Annexation of Puerto Rico" (Little Giants). Yet, somehow, 20 years later, hearing Joe Kane exit the huddle with, "Let's put the women and kids to bed and go looking for fucking dinner!" is still enough to have anyone who watches the movie ready to run through a brick wall for the guy.

20. The Quotes. Ahem...

"Let's open up a can of kick ass and kill 'em all, let the paramedics sort 'em out." - Alvin Mack

Alvin Mack: All you need to know is how to sign an NFL contract ... period.
Darnell Jefferson: I know, man, but I promised the Rev I'd get a degree. I don't wanna let him down.
Alvin Mack: What you think, nigga? You gonna be on the Supreme Court?

Regent Chairman: This is not a football vocational school. It's an institute for higher learning.
Coach Winters: Yeah, but when was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a damn chemistry experiment? Why don't you stick the bow tie up your ass!

Trust and believe, those fail to even chip the tip of the iceberg. That's what clicking play below is for. Long live Eastern State University, the greatest football/substance abuse program this side of, apparently, Oklahoma State.

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