AFLers Hit The Big Screen In 'The Game Plan'

27 September 2007 Our Sports Central by John Hahn

There have been more than 100 football movies made since the 1932 "Horse Feathers," starring Groucho and Harpo Marx. However, it wasn't until 60 years later that the celluloid cinema saw a more technically created product that brought realism to the screen.

Not even Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan in the 1940 classic "Knute Rockne" and Burt Lancaster in the 1951 story of "Jim Thorpe - All American" brought a true pragmatism in film to the game of football.

In 1992, Mark Ellis and former college football teammate, Rob Miller, were filling supporting roles and casting and training ballplayers (of all sports) for smaller parts in film. This is how the duo got their start, which evolved, into ReelSports Solutions, a company that helps filmmakers come as close to reality with sports action sequences. Ellis recently splintered from ReelSports, forming The Sports Studio.

By happenstance, Patrick O'Hara was in his third season with the Arena Football League's Orlando Predators. The former University of Southern California quarterback, who also made his home in Orlando, was asked by Ellis to help with coordinating the football sequences for "The Waterboy" being filmed in the area. This was 1997, and from then on, O'Hara certainly didn't make the product, but he certainly made the product better.

Celluloid cinema is a painstaking adventure. Most of the time, it is something like watching paint dry. But to the Santa Monica, California, native, this was an opportunity to branch out and remain in the game he loved. His next adventure would be memorable as he was hired for Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday" that was being filmed in Miami. 

TAMPA BAY COACH GETS SPEAKING ROLE

"In that film, I also got a small part and a speaking role," said O'Hara, who currently is the offensive coordinator for the AFL Tampa Bay Storm. It was the remake of the "Longest Yard" that found O'Hara becoming a player personnel specialist in recruiting players for sequences, developing a playbook, scouting for doubles and choreographing all the plays.

"The great thing about Pat," said Miller, ReelSports' CEO, "is he not only brings incredible football playing and coaching experience to the table, but a growing understanding of how to tell the story coupled with a balance of on the field leadership and off the field skills necessary to excel in this type of position. He has really become the prototype of what we look for in technical advisors for all of our sports projects."

And O'Hara has had to be more creatively successful than he did in the filming of "The Game Plan," starring Dewayne "The Rock" Johnson, the former University of Miami linemen, turned WWE professional wrestler, turned actor.

It was Pat's last season of playing quarterback with the Tampa team in 2006 that production of "The Game Plan" was to begin. The Disney movie, which opens Sept. 27 of this year, features Johnson as quarterback Joe Kingman, whose Boston Rebels pro football team is chasing their long-awaited championship, when along comes an 8-year-old girl, Peyton, played by Disney Channel star Madison Pettis, the daughter he never knew existed ends up on his doorstep.

JOHNSON BEGINS WORKOUTS WITH O'HARA

"The producers wanted me to work with Dwayne before any of the production began," O'Hara explains. "We worked out three days at West Los Angeles College. Dewayne showed up in full sweats and we worked a lot without the ball to learn all the aspects of the position.

"We taped all the moves, so I could go back and show him what we needed to work on to get the mechanics down. He was really working hard at it. You have to remember he comes from the game and was always in a 3-point stance."

Then, in late June of 2006, production was to begin in the Boston area, with the football sequences shot at the NFL New England Patriots' Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. "We were working on some drills and, all of a sudden, Dewayne pulls up," said O'Hara of Johnson seemingly stopping and bending over.

"It popped," Johnson said.

"Are you kidding me?" asked O'Hara, with a look of astonishment on his face. Johnson had ruptured his Achilles and it was only a week before the ‘shoot' was to begin.

O'Hara and the crew couldn't believe their misfortune, but only two and one-half months later, things had to move along. Johnson could run, but not well enough for the reality of the game. "We had to be very creative on this one," Pat said. "It was tough. DJ worked really hard and we improvised with the ‘doubles' a lot. He really played ‘Kingman' and he had that swagger that came from his wrestling days."

O'Hara, who himself is 6-foot-5 and been part of two Arena Football League championships (ArenaBowls) in 1998 with Orlando and 2003 with Tampa Bay, has really enjoyed all the aspects of sports action for film. Just for "The Game Plan," Pat recruited 22 AFL players for the various team roles, as well as the doubles for Johnson. A total of 44 current and former players were used for the three fictitious teams.

‘THE ROCK' PRAISES AFL PLAYERS FOR PARTICIPATION

"All of the AFL guys in the movie are great players in their league," said Johnson. "They're the top guys at what they do. I really had a great time working with them.

"They were very patient with me, and I want to thank them for that," Dwayne added. "I will be forever grateful to the AFL guys who were so patient in dealing with the football limitations that my injury caused. All of them worked their butts off every single day, and Mark Ellis and Pat O'Hara were fantastic in coordinating the football scenes and working with our Arena League players."

O'Hara got quarterbacks Leon Murray, who played with three AFL teams including the Nashville Kats and New York Dragons; Tali Ena, former University of New Mexico standout who had been with the Utah Blaze, and Robert Kent, Jr., an Af2 League (Birmingham) player by way of Jackson State. All three doubled for Johnson during the filming.

"I've enjoyed this for a couple reasons," Pat said. "First, I've been able to get AFL players jobs in the off season. It is a lot of sacrifice when you are off six months; tough to be a total employee for six months, so they appreciate and are thankful of the work.

"What's interesting is, that before the rule change (AFL went to free substitution in 2007), AFL player were versatile, having to play different positions," said O'Hara, who indicated this was helpful in casting.

CREATIVE PROCESS HAS BEEN EXHILERATING

Secondly, O'Hara has enjoyed the creative process. He watches a lot of film of the various eras of football the film will emphasize. "To see the final product on film is a thrill for me."

Pat calls his AFL player stable "his guys" and why shouldn't he. "I have an ‘A' list for the stars that are athletic and then I do my homework for character as well with casting. Sometimes, we have budgetary constraints and guys have paid their own way to some productions. It's all about a trust level I have with them...it is a win win situation."

Besides, "The Game Plan," O'Hara has worked on "We Are Marshall" and "Invincible," hiring mostly AFL players because they were shot during their off season. O'Hara, who just finished his third season as an assistant coach, did interview a few months ago for the head coaching positions with the Arizona Rattlers and the Grand Rapids Rampage.

"I'm only one year as a coordinator, so it was a humbling experience to be considered for those positions," said Pat, who will be 39 at the end of September. "I felt good about it to be considered along with guys like Steve Thonn (at Grand Rapids). I appreciated the opportunity, but I'm not in a hurry for a head coach job."

OFF THE NET NOTES - O'Hara earned a degree in public administration at USC...He shared quarterback duties at USC with former veteran NFL signal caller Rodney Peete and Todd Marinovich...He was drafted in the 10th round (260th overall) by the Tampa Bat Buccaneers in 1991...played in the World League of American Football with the Ohio Glory...began his AFL career with the Orlando Predators in 1995...started 15 games in each of 1995 and 1996 with the Predators...won ArenaBowl XII, defeating the Storm in Tampa, in 1998 (13-5 record) ...Lost before an AFL-record crowd of 25,087 at St. Petersburg, Florida's ThunderDome in 1995 playing for Orlando...Played for the Toronto Phantoms in 2001 and 2002...Replaced injured starter John Kaleo in the 3rd quarter and was 7 of 13 passing with two TDs to defeat the Arizona Rattlers, 43-29, in ArenaBowl XVII (2003)...former San Jose SaberCat defensive back Terrance Joseph plays a safety on the New York Dukes team of "The Game Plan"...Dewayne "The Rock" Johnson said, "I especially enjoyed working with my center, Marcus ‘Snowball' Owen who plays with the Tampa Bay Storm...he was great."...Dwayne and his wife, Dany Garcia Johnson, recently gave $2 million to the University of Miami Newman Alumni Center. Both are graduates of the Coral Gables, Florida, school...Johnson recently invited a group of Miami Dolphins players who also have Samoan ancestry, including starting rookie center Samson Satele, to his Davie, Fla., house to celebrate his grandmother's 80th birthday...The 6-foot-4 Johnson played defensive tackle on the 1991 Hurricanes' national championship team. The head coach was Dennis Erickson, who also has been head coach at Oregon State University and presently is at Arizona State...Johnson was injured before the end of the season and was replaced by Warren Sapp, who became an all-pro in the NFL. Also on that team was one-time NFL defensive player of the year linebacker Ray Lewis...The Rock has degrees in criminology and physiology...Other movies which ReelSports Solutions has been involved include "The Rookie," "Jerry Maguire," "The Replacements," and television shows, "One Tree Hill," and "Slamball."

This article was first published in Our Sports Central (27 September 2007).
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