When it comes to sports movies, it would be hard to find one that follows the classic underdog formula better than Necessary Roughness, which was released 25 years ago this week. The college football comedy tells the story of Ed Gennero (Héctor Elizondo), the rare breed of coach that always played by the rules and never let his players cut corners or take gifts. Hence, his cleverly rhymed nickname: “Straight Arrow.” He’s the exact opposite of what the film’s Texas State University Fightin’ Armadillos had become while winning back-to-back college football championships, and so he becomes the only man for the job when the program receives the death penalty for a slew of NCAA violations.
Of course, with no scholarships comes little opportunity for success, and as such Gennero’s new Armadillo squad is a group of colorful characters that have no business on a college football field. On top of the penalties and sanctions, Gennero has to deal with the stuffy Dean Elias (Larry Miller), who would simply prefer that his university had no football program at all. Consequently, he disqualifies most of the coach’s new players, leaving coach with just 17 men, meaning that almost everyone will have to play old school ironman football. One of the few exceptions is a truly creative choice for quarterback, a 34-year-old former state high school champion named Paul Blake, played by then-37-year-old Scott Bakula.
Filling Out a Roster
“I knew I played football, the football part was nothing.”
The last time Bakula played any form of organized football he was a freshman in high school. That would have been around 1970, six years before he’d move from St. Louis to New York City to begin his career as an actor. “I was very tiny and I got the crap kicked out of me for a season,” he recalls of his lone year of high school football before he wisely moved on to soccer and tennis, or sports that gave him a better “chance for survival.” The next time he’d put on pads would come 21 years later when he’d suit up to play Blake.
“When I first got the script, I absolutely loved it and I was very excited,” Bakula tells us of what was only his second film. At that point in his career, he was making a name for himself as Dr. Sam Beckett on the NBC series Quantum Leap, so it was only natural that Hollywood wanted to capitalize on this rugged hunk’s All-American appeal. He got the call to audition for Necessary Roughness while filming an episode of Quantum Leap about the Cuban Missile Crisis. That same day he drove from the Valley to the Paramount lot for a quick tryout. Writers Rick Natkin and David Fuller took Bakula between two sound stages and had him pretend to be a QB for his screen test. Fortunately, Bakula has always been a natural athlete, so he looked the part.
Most of the actors who landed roles in Necessary Roughness had at least a basic athletic background, but one of the film’s stars had them all beat. Peter “Navy” Tuiasosopo, who played the TSU center Manumana “The Slender,” was a captain on his high school football team and the most experienced athlete in the cast. The problem: He didn’t have an acting background (unless you count appearing in a David Lee Roth music video). Big deal, every actor has a first role, right? Yeah, but Tuiasosopo didn’t have an agent when he arrived at Paramount to audition, and, much more importantly, he didn’t actually have an audition. What he had was an inside tip from his uncle Bob Apisa, an actor and stuntman, who heard from stunt coordinator Allan Graf that a football movie was looking for a Samoan to play football.
“It was just to play some football,” Tuiasosopo recalls of the role, as he didn’t have any other details when he showed up at the Paramount lot. Yet the aspiring actor talked his way into casting director Mindy Marin’s office, where she realized he was a lock for the part, mainly because in a room of 35 people, he was the only Samoan person auditioning for the role of a Samoan.
Tuiasosopo’s cloud popped when Marin’s assistant dropped a bombshell on him: He wasn’t auditioning to simply play a football player. He was auditioning for a lead role. He had never even seen a script. “I knew I played football, the football part was nothing,” he says, but having to learn his lines in roughly 45 minutes, while sitting in a bathroom stall, had the big man sweating bullets. In fact, when he left his audition he said to himself, “Man, you sucked, Pete,” but he got his cloud back when director Stan Dragoti followed him out and told him he that he had the part.
Tuiasosopo was ecstatic, obviously, especially when he got the call that he’d be making $5,000 a week on his first film. Of course, he could have made more if he’d been SAG, but he really didn’t care. “I would have done it for freaking peanuts.” He set one humble rule for himself while filming: “Make it look like you know what you’re doing.”
Looking the Part
“We were literally playing football and I got my head handed to me.”
A lot of sports movies fail on the field. Some actors look like they’ve never picked up a ball before and have no business pretending to be a jock. That the team wasn’t supposed to look worked in everyone’s favor on Necessary Roughness. Yes, Bakula’s Blake was once a stud QB, but the farmer had to show signs of rust. His teammates were just students who walked into an open practice and landed roster spots because they had pulses. So, not only did the actors have to look like they could play football, but they had to also look like they sucked.
For Bakula, having to act rusty and banged up wasn’t a problem because he injured himself during the production, so his wounds were authentic. “My shoulder has never been really the same and I have a distinct dislike for Astroturf whenever I see it because it hurts,” he admits. “Our legs and elbows got cut up pretty good at that time, so I remember the feeling of that, but the few scars I had on my knees are pretty much gone from just being ripped up on the Astroturf. So, some of that was real blood on our knees and elbows, and some of it we added to make it look worse than it was.”
As for looking winded, well, the 10-week production schedule took care of that. To get the scenes just right, Bakula tells us, Dragoti and Graf had their actors shooting football scenes until 5 a.m., and when they weren’t running the same plays over and over again, they were out recruiting fans. The Armadillos weren’t going to draw a lot of people with ragtag walk-ons, but they still needed some fans in the stands. So, the actors had to go out and help with marketing to bring in 12,000 people. And those lucky extras had the privilege of hanging out all night and, in some cases, until 10 a.m. to be set up and moved around just right for their scenes.
Everyone “suffered” a little for the quality of the gameplay, but it was Graf’s football background — the stuntman played offensive line at USC and was a member of the 1972 championship team, one of the greatest teams ever assembled — that made the actors feel like they were actually training to make the team.
“When I got down to Texas, we had a week and a half of literal football training camp where we had to learn playbooks and all kinds of things, so when we got in front of the camera, it was a lot easier to understand what was going on,” recalls Marcus Giamatti, whose football knowledge mostly came from being a New York Giants fan before he landed the role of Sargie “Fumblina” Wilkinson. “They switched me from a receiver to a fullback position that I had never played before because they wanted a fairly good actor behind Scott Bakula. And we were literally playing football and I got my head handed to me. I had never played, but I wasn’t going to say, so I just went ahead and did it. It wound up being a great experience.”
Despite portraying the heart-and-hustle (but no muscle) character, Charlie Banks, Andy Lauer had more than enough football experience to call upon. He played a few seasons of high school ball, so he certainly had the look and swagger of a small guy who was tasked with leaving everything on the field. To him, the range of guys from the high school captain Tuiasosopo to a rookie like Sinbad was ultimately in the best interest of the film.
“The mix actually turned out to work pretty well because it was kind of true to the story,” Lauer explains. “If there were some people who weren’t very athletic that made the football team in the movie, accordingly there were some actors who weren’t very athletic, but because of their acting chops they made it work. With the magic of stuntmen, you can make a lot of things work in movies that normally might not work in real life.”
Pointers from the Pros
“He didn’t hold back and kind of threw him a little bit.”
Aside from Graf’s own football background, the cast of Necessary Roughness also got a lesson in playing pigskin from some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game. In a particularly funny scene, the Armadillos scrimmage against a team of prison convicts comprised of Dick Butkus, Earl Campbell, Roger Craig, Tony Dorsett, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Jim Kelly, Jerry Rice, Herschel Walker, Randy White, and Ben Davidson. Also, Evander Holyfield was there just in case the gridiron legends weren’t intimidating enough. But as Bakula remembers it, they were all really nice and fun to work with, even if he was pretty scared about lining up across from some bad, bad men.
“There were a couple of times where they were coming across and killing me and killing the other people in the line,” he admits. “I looked across at them, at ‘Too Tall’ Jones and a couple other people, and I just thought, I hope none of them have an acid flashback and all the sudden think they’re back in the game and try to kill me. I hope they remember it’s a movie and that was the only time, I jokingly say that, but it blew my mind that they were snarling and getting their game faces on. They were the real deal and they could be kind of scary.”
“Dick Butkus is on top of me beating the hell out of me,” Tuiasosopo adds. “I’m big enough and strong but it’s funny, these old guys, they weren’t even holding back. I’m looking at these other actors after every take. And after every take I can hear them complaining, ‘Does this guy know it’s a movie?’”
It also doesn’t help an actor’s cause if he’s not willing to show some respect, to borrow a philosophy from Eric “Samurai” Hansen. Sinbad won’t name names, but he recalls one of his co-stars learning the hard way not to mess with White.
“There was one actor who got frisky with Randy White and Randy kinda tossed him,” Sinbad laughs. “He said something about Randy, we’re actors and you’re supposed to take it easy and it was one of the biggest actors we had and I thought, uh oh. It was funny. Don’t forget how strong these guys are. They held back but the actors, Randy showed him what it would be like if he didn’t hold back and kind of threw him a little bit.”
“’Too Tall’ Jones took us out one night in Dallas, they were really, really, really, really nice,” Giamatti says. “All of them. And they were having a lot of fun and the spirit of it was really great. But again, we actually had to play football with them and them hitting you lightly was someone hitting you very hard so you got rattled around. They didn’t want to hurt you or anything like that, it’s just a different level of competition. They were nervous because they were acting. For a lot of them that was trickier than playing football, which made some of us laugh because it didn’t make much sense, but they were very humbled by acting in a movie so that was kind of cool.”
Protecting the Stars from Themselves
“I’m ringing his bell, so after the third take, we stopped and we stop shooting, man. It’s too much.”
As an actor, Tuiasosopo was eager to prove he belonged in show business, so when it came time to film the action scenes for Necessary Roughness, he was all in. Graf had a stuntman assigned to each actor, and some of the stars even had multiple stunt performers to handle all of their hard hits and bumbled plays. After all, they couldn’t actually have Bakula being sacked on every single play, even if that was his real blood on his uniform. Tuiasosopo, however, wanted his stuntman to take a seat with the actors in the shade while he handled his business.
“Some of these big actors, they have like six, seven stunt doubles,” he laughs. “Every time they would ask, ‘Pete, you want to step out?’ I’d go, ‘I’m good.’” As Giamatti recalls, Dragoti and Graf held actual tryouts and football practices for the stunt players and extras, something that Tuiasosopo was impressed with. What he wasn’t impressed with, however, was what the other actors were up to while he was playing every down.
“There were times I’m tired,” he admits. “But I’m looking at all these actors, Jason [Bateman] and them, goofing off, Sinbad, all having fun under the tent in the hot ass Texas sun. And all these guys are just chilling, having fun, eating potato chips, and I’m like, what the fudge? But for my first role, I wouldn’t want it any different. Because all the football stuff, I wanted to make sure that when you watch it I did all that football stuff. For me, all the football stuff was a blast.”
Now, that’s not to say that Tuiasosopo’s co-stars were all cupcakes. There were injuries, for sure, including Bakula’s aforementioned shoulder injury that he still feels today, and Giamatti definitely took a beating on the field. After all, they weren’t running the plays in slow motion so the editors could work on the gameplay in a booth.
“You had to do it like it was really happening so you were really playing football,” Giamatti says. “I cracked a couple ribs, broke a couple fingers. You were really getting hit and getting hit hard and you have to do takes over and over again. We had doubles for some stuff, but a lot of the stuff you needed to do it and it was better if you did it.”
Giamatti also recalls the bizarre and intense work ethic of one of his co-stars who played the quirky Australian rugby fanatic McKenzie.
“Louis Mandylor, a tremendous athlete,” Giamatti offers. “He’d never played football in his life and he was actually really coordinated, but wasn’t supposed to know what he was doing as a football player, so they had to make him look worse because he was actually too good at it naturally because he was an athlete.”
At just 35, Sinbad was still working out a lot and playing basketball, but he also had a lingering knee injury from his college hoops days. He had to get a shot before filming so he could run well, and that caused him to be a little more confident than he should have been.
“I started thinking I was healed, forgetting that it was a shot,” he says. “The shot wore off, I think, the last week and we came running out of the tunnel and I fell on my face. The doctors told me, ‘Remember, man. You’re not healed, so don’t try to do everything.’ But I thought, man, I’m going to do everything! But then the shot wore off and my real life came back.”
That’s not to say that Sinbad took it easy and spent all his time at the catering table. He was still more than happy to mix it up with the younger extras, especially some real players from the college where the action was filmed. “We had these young boys from North Texas State, that’s where we shot it at, and these boys, they were having fun playing. I had fun but I let [his stuntman] take some of the worst hits,” he says. “I let my stunt guy take some terrible hits that I would not want to handle.”
Again, Graf’s football background played a big role in the film’s authenticity, so for a guy like Tuiasosopo who had a strong football background and insisted on doing things himself, the stunt coordinator went to a different place in motivating him for one key scene in the film’s final moments. Specifically, Manumana’s epic hit on Harlan “Flat Top” Meyers, the star defensive player for the University of Texas Colts. Flat Top was played by Tom Whitenight, who also had a strong football background, and so Graf actually pitted them against each other with mind games to make that brutal hit as real as possible.
“Allan Graf really pumped it in our heads,” Tuiasosopo recalls. “He started telling Tom, ‘Hey, Pete says your mama’s fat. We were like two gladiators ready to go to battle.” And battle they did. As Tuiasosopo tells it, things got pretty serious, but not because they were really trying to hurt each other. Both actors simply cared about this one minor scene in the final game sequence of the film.
“Picture this, camera sets up right in the middle,” he tells us. “We’re both 20 yards apart from each other, from the camera, so we got a 20-yard running start to make this hit. And remember cameras are specific. The scene or the shot has to be on point. Now, two big guys running, football players, and I’m supposed to hit this guy and land on my mark? No way. The first hit, I hit him so hard. I liked it better but his body wrapped around my body, he ended up touching my back. It almost depleted him, he ends up throwing up on set, and so no good. Second hit and he missed the mark again, another one I nailed Tom. Second hit, I’m feeling bad for Tom. I know I can get the best out of him and he played football but it’s almost, at that point in time, it was like, what are you made of? We’ll see how much football you got. So, remember, everybody’s watching, there’s nobody working, everybody’s watching this scene. The third hit I nail him and he stayed down, so the medics come out and he gets a concussion. I mean, I’m ringing his bell, so after the third take, we stopped and we stop shooting, man. It’s too much.”
Tuiasosopo isn’t bragging, of course. He was legitimately concerned for his friend and castmate, but they just wanted to get it right. A week later, after Whitenight had some time to recover, they were back at it, running at each other like bitter enemies. They eventually hit the mark, Whitenight’s mask flew off, and he bit down on his blood capsule. The scene, albeit a small piece of a bigger finale, was everything Tuiasosopo could have wanted, especially since it was followed by a kiss.
Welcome to Foot… Balls!
“She let out the biggest belch I have ever heard a person do in my life.”
In February of 1989, Kathy Ireland was already a familiar face on the pages of Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue. In the modeling industry, she was a bona fide rock star. In Hollywood, however, she was still making a name for herself. With the role Lucy Draper, soccer player turned Armadillos kicker, however, she had finally found a way to become a crossover success.
“This was a time when Kathy Ireland was one of the hottest, the hottest Sports Illustrated model ever, so when we had that first dinner, of course all the guys are giddy that Kathy Ireland is coming,” Sinbad explains. “The guys almost didn’t know how to act. And she let out the biggest belch I have ever heard a person do in my life and we all just looked at her like, oh, she’s cool. Kathy was a really cool laid back person. She wasn’t what you thought a model would be. She was just a cool person and that happened to be her job.”
“Kathy on the field, everybody was in awe of her and who she was,” Bakula says. “She was super down to Earth, she was a practical joker, she was super funny. She couldn’t be sweeter and happier to be there. Everybody looked out for her, but she really can take care of herself, she was a blast.”
As for the training camp and practices, the on-field action wasn’t limited to the boys. Just as Bakula had to look like he’d thrown a football before, Ireland at least had to look like she could kick a ball.
“She trained,” Bakula insists. “She had her one day of training and she couldn’t walk the next day because she used her kicking leg in a motion you normally don’t use and she kicked a hundred footballs or something like that, and the next day she was so sore she couldn’t walk. She lined up, she knew how to step into the ball and do all that stuff. Was she kicking 40-yard field goals herself? No, she was not.” “She was really professional and she had a hard job amongst all these crazy guys,” Giamatti adds. “And she did a great job, she worked really hard at it and she was naturally really good at kicking a football. It looks like it’s easy but it’s actually really hard.”
Of course, it also helps for guys to have a female around so they can vent their relationship problems. At least that’s what Lauer took away from it, as he asked Ireland for relationship advice and she, in turn, helped him understand how women work. She also almost ruined a relationship, too, but not intentionally. When Tuiasosopo landed his breakout role, he naturally told his wife about the film’s story, in which he has a romantic interest in the kicker, so his wife pointedly asked, “Who’s the girl kicker?” “Me, typical guy, I go, ‘Some no name. She’s cute, but I don’t even know her name,’” he laughs. “That lasted about a week before Entertainment Tonight was in Texas interviewing everyone and interviewing Kathy. My wife goes, ‘So you don’t know who the girl is, huh?’ And I go, ‘No, I’ve never heard of her,’ and she’s like, ‘You asshole.’”
If Tuiasosopo is anything like his character, though, he says it’s that he’s a true gentleman, and so he acted as such while working with Ireland. The two formed a bond and the model/actress even left him a nice gift when she took off to her next big modeling gig.
“When she left, she left to do another photo shoot overseas. We were supposed to have dinner or something, I got off late, she had an early flight, but she leaves me a message at the hotel desk and I get in in an envelope and Kathy goes, ‘Pete, we gotta connect,’ because she lives in Santa Barbara,” he remembers. “Kathy leaves me a nice note saying, ‘You were such a sweetheart.’ Like the character, even off-set we would go to dinner or to the movies, I was just that gentleman. So, she leaves a nice photo of her, the Kathy Ireland beauty Sports Illustrated shot, a nice big image. And she wrote, ‘You will always be my Manu. Love, Kathy.’”
But what did Tuiasosopo’s wife think of the gift? “My wife, I walked into the bedroom and she asks, ‘What’s this?’ And it’s the picture. I go, ‘Oh man, Kathy Ireland left that.’ She rips it up,” he laughs. “I got kind of mad, but I love my wife too much.”
Though his Kathy Ireland keepsake got torn to pieces, Tuiasosopo (and his co-stars) can settle for the film’s strong legacy as the real parting gift. He still recalls how Bakula put his arm around him at the premiere and told him that Necessary Roughness would be a “classic hit,” and as Sinbad explains, they certainly have Ireland to thank for that.
“People still love it,” he says. “Some people, it’s their favorite movie. Necessary Roughness, it was just at the right time, the right place, it was shot a little bit different. It was filmed different than any football sports movie; it was the right crew and it was the right group of people. You had Kathy Ireland playing the kicker, a woman on the team, and it was just good without being too campy or over the top. It was cool.”