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“Welcome to the land of stories. Welcome to the Super Bowl.”
Halle Berry during the NBC intro of Super Bowl LVI

On the heels of Super Bowl LVI two days ago and Valentine’s Day yesterday, I thought I’d write about my love affair with football over the years—and my oh-so-loose connection to Super Bowl greatness. (But closer than six degrees.)

Congrats to the LA Rams for winning the Super Bowl. Every Super Bowl is filled with interesting storylines, and this one was no different. Matt Stafford endured 12 seasons playing for the Detroit Lions (with more losses than wins) on his was to lead the Rams to a 12-5 record this season and a Super Bowl win. There was Odell Beckham Jr. who had a bumpy start this season with the Cleveland Browns only to score the first TD for the Rams. And there’s Cooper Kupp who was not highly recruited out of high school and ended up playing for Eastern Washington University. Yet season all he did was lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches, plus score the winning Super Bowl TD—and win the Super Bowl MVP.

As I watched the pregame shows, the game, and the commercials, I couldn’t help but reflect on the storylines that had touchpoints to my own life. I’ll start with the Los Angeles Rams team. When I was in film school, I started doing freelance work for Yary Photo and worked my way up to a staff position as Director of Photography. In 1985 I had the honor of taking the Rams team photo (with a small team helping set up bleachers and arrange the team).

Two years later I working as a 16mm cameraman I shot an interview with future Hall of Fame and then Rams running back Eric Dickerson (#29) at his home in Calabasas, and he signed the photo. This year he was featured in the Super Bowl commercial Eric Dickerson Runs to Super Bowl LVI.

Also in that Rams team photo is Chuck Scott (#48) who I played on the same team at Lake Howell High School. He went on to be a Sporting News All American at Vanderbilt and got drafted in the second round by the Rams. I took the opportunity to have my photo taken with Chuck after taking the team photo. He was the 50th overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft —the 16th draft pick was Jerry Rice.

I traded the Mamiya RZ67 I was using for Chuck’s Rams helmet (just for the photo). That would be the closest I’d ever get to putting on a professional uniform. But here we are in the photo below as wide receivers back in high school, #40 & #42 (because of Paul Warfield). Our head coach in the white shirt was Sammy Weir, voted a Little All-American at Arkansas St. He played a couple years in the pros including one with the 1966 New York Jets, whose QB was Joe Namath. Super Bowl III MVP Namath was featured in the DraftKings commercial during the Super Bowl, had a cameo with Halle Berry in the open, and was referred to a couple of times in comparisons with Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow.

But wait, there’s more…

While my playing days didn’t extend as far as those of Jerry Rice, Chuck Scott, or Sammy Weir, I did manage to earn All-Conference and All-County honors my senior year of high school. Got to experience those “Friday Night Lights” in all its glory. (And speaking of Friday Night Lights, FNL actor Scott Porter also played wide receiver at Lake Howell High school many years later.) I was also honorable mention All-Central Florida the year Wilber Marshall (Astronaut High School in Titusville, FL) was a first team select. He went on to be a first-team All-American at the University of Florida and a two time Super Bowl champ — including the 1985 Chicago Bears, one of the best teams in the history of the NFL.

At 5’8” 150 (and without exceptional grades) I didn’t get any scholarship offers, so I did the logical thing (?) and walked on to the University of Miami football team. Dream big. I had grown an inch and added ten pounds, but no one would confuse me with Duane “The Rock” Johnson —who would play at UM 1989-1992. The Rock mixed his muscular build, pro wrestling persona, and Hollywood acting skills to give a Super Bowl introduction Sunday unlike any I’d ever seen before.

I often joke that I had the shortest career of any Miami player ever to put on a Hurricane uniform. I dressed out for just one JV game before dislocating my shoulder in practice. But that short time gave me four more Super Bowl connections. The head coach that year was Howard Schnellenberger who recruited and coached Joe Namath at Alabama, and was an assistant coach on the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins that won Super Bowl VII. The starting QB at Miami was Jim Kelley, who led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls. And when you’re a walk-on, you play on the scout team running plays of the opposing team that week against the starting defense. That means I was running plays against Fred Marion and Ronnie Lippett, who both started all games as defensive backs for the 1985 New England Patriots—including Super Bowl XX.

Even the team doctor for the Hurricanes when I was there had a Super Bowl connection. Before Dr. Kalbac popped my shoulder back in place, he was the team doctor also for the ’72 Super Bowl-winning Miami Dolphins. I had my shoulder operated on which ended my season and I chose not to return in the spring. Walk-on, walk-off. I actually made my first film that fall semester with my left arm in a sling and holding an 8mm camera with my right arm. My playing days were over, and I decided to focus on learning and working in production.

I spent a few months working as a sports reporter and photographer for the Sanford Herald and interviewed quarterback Doug Williams who was then playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He and some other Bucs players had an off-season basketball team. A few years later, he would become the MVP of Super Bowl XXI after leading the Washington Redskins to win over John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

In 1982 I moved to LA to finish film school and used my sports background to land the photography gig at Yary Photography. Most of my assignments were high school and college teams, but we did shoot the Rams and Los Angeles Raiders photos. I didn’t shoot the Raiders shot, but that’s me with the hat helping setup.

In that photo is the great running back Marcus Allen (#32)— MVP of Super Bowl XVIII. Allen was also featured in NBC’s introduction of the Super Bowl Sunday.

Back in 2001 a client hired me to shoot a promotional video with Hall of Fame great Reggie White in Tampa. Known as the Minister of Defense, he helped the Green Bay Packer win Super Bowl XXXI. Ten years ago, I had a client send to shoots at the homes of Tony Siragusa (who played helped the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV) and Deion Sanders (who played on two Super Bowl-winning teams (Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers). Another client sent me to Charlotte, North Carolina to shoot an interview with former NFL QB Frank Reich. Reich not played in a of couple Super Bowls, was the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl LII winning Philadelphia Eagles. Reich is now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. (And to show what a small world this is—Reich once threw a touchdown to Chuck Scott in a college All-Star game.)

And to finally round out this post, one of the announcers of this Super Bowl—Chris Collinsworth—was someone I followed from his high school playing days. I was a freshman in high school when Collinsworth was an All-American quarterback at Titusville Astronaut High, and would go on to be a first team All-American wide receiver at the University of Florida. He would go on the become an All-Pro receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he played his last game in Super Bowl XXIII. But as solid a career as he had as a player, he’s surpassed that as a sportscaster, winning 16 Sports Emmy Awards.

When I worked for Yary Photo it was co-owned by Ron and Wayne Yary. Ron was on the 1967 USC football team that won the National Championship, and went on to play in four Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

One of the fringe benefits of working for Yary Photography is I traveled throughout Southern California on a daily basis and saw the vast cultural mix that would be hard to do today because of the intense traffic. I could be doing photo shoots in San Clemente one day, Big Bear the next. Followed by Compton, Brentwood, Burbank, Riverside and Antelope Valley. I have very fond memories.

One of my best memories of shooting for Yary Photo was driving up to San Luis Obispo to shoot the John Madden Celebrity Golf Tournament. I can’t even remember all the NFL stars that were there that day. (I sadly didn’t keep a photo.) But I did grab a shot of Madden with Jim McMahon (fresh off leading his team to victory in Super Bowl XX). NBC did a fine job of remembering Madden, who died last December. His love for the game was infectious, and he was one of the greatest all-around contributors to the rise in popularity of NFL football.

Looking back on all of this I feel somewhat like Forrest Gump and Kevin Bacon. And as much as I love football—and loved playing organized ball for ten years— I’m glad my limited skills prevented me from playing before I took too many hits to the head. I’m grateful that my knees are good enough to still snow ski. It can be a brutal sport. On and off the field as various documentaries have shown the relational, professional, physical, and financial strains, many pro players face once their playing days are over. Hopefully. changes they’ve made over the years make it a safer game in the long run.

Some of my earliest memories of pro football were watching QB Roman Gabriel throw the ball to Jack Snow. There was something about that blue and white Los Angeles Rams helmet design that drew me in and made me fall in love with the game. My first self-taught acting lessons in my youth were spent trying to mimic the feats of Paul Warfield, Bob Hayes, and Lynn Swann. And the 1971 ABC movie Brian’s Song cemented my love for the game and the power of filmmaking.

But as thrilling as some of the Super Bowls have been, and my occasional brushes with players at the top of the talent pyramid, what made me fall in love with the game in third grade was the pebbled feel of a leather football. The feeling I got catching a football and running past other players to score a touchdown. Football can be complex and a big business, but it can also be simplistic and pure joy.

When it big business and pure joy come together it looks like Aaron Donald at the end of Super Bowl LVI.

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Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Super Bowl LV in Tampa turned out to be not such a super game. But as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were winning their second Super Bowl Championship (and Tom Brady his seventh Super Bowl ring) I started to reflect back on some memories of the Buccaneers and of Tampa.

First I thought back to their 2002 Super Bowl win and I still have the Sports Illustrated after that game. Here it is alongside the team’s first ever home game in 1976 (and my ticket from that game).

The second memory is former Bucs quarterback Doug Williams. When I was a 19-year-old college student and sports reporter and photographer for The Sanford Evening Herald I interviewed him in the off-season. (Williams, Tim Raines, and Jack Billingham were the first pro athletes I met working on that job. Heady stuff for a teenager.)

Williams had a rough few years playing for Tampa Bay, and ended up playing in the USFL, before eventually starting for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII where he lead his team to victory and was awarded the Super Bowl MVP. (Williams also had a solid run as a head coach at Grambling State University, and is an executive with the Washington today).

And lastly as a video producer I was hired to do a freelance shoot with Reggie White in Tampa just before Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. White had recently retired from his Pro Football Hall of Fame worthy career. White and Lawerence Taylor are at the top of the list when mentioning the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL.

Reggie White (who was known as the “Minister of Defense”) signed his book for me which I still have to this day.

When I was a walk-on with the Miami Hurricanes there was a freshman on the scout team with me named Stanley Shakespeare. He went on to have a solid UM career and started at WR in the 1984 Orange Bowl game in which Miami beat Nebraska on their way to their first national championship. Shakespeare played the last game of the season with the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1987.

Former University of Miami quarterback Jim Kelly is the only QB to lead a team in the NFL to four straight Super Bowls. In Super Bowl 25 (1991) in Tampa, Kelly got the Buffalo Bills into field goal range in the final seconds of a one point game against the New York Giants. Scott Norwood missed the field goal, but the game was ranked a few year’s ago by Sporting News as the 3rd best Super Bowl of all time. Even though I was pulling for the Bills, it was a super Super Bowl.

And my last Tampa memory was going to a Bucs game in 2016. We had seats in the upper bleachers where you mostly watch the game on the jumbotron screen. But late in the third quarter the Atlanta Falcons had a healthy lead and people had already started clearing out because it was a night game. So we walked down closer to the field and got a great view of Mike Evans making a catch that ended up being voted the catch of the year.

P.S. As a kid growing up in Orlando before they had a major pro sports team—and even before Disney World opened—I could never have imaged that one day the top athletes in the world would be talking about coming to Orlando after winning the big game.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Though Iowa’s own Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals came up a little short yesterday was another case of the Super Bowl being super. Congrats to the Pittsburgh Steelers—champions once again.  And that game winning ballet catch in the closing seconds of the game by Santonio Holmes brought memories for me of Lyn Swann. 

The game being played in Tampa this year also brought back memories to 2001 when I was hired to go during Super Bowl week there and videotape pro football hall-of fame great Reggie White for a promotional video. For some reason what I remember most about that shoot was it was the first time I had seen a stretch Hummer limo. What kind of gas milage do you think they get?

And there was one more experience that popped into my mind while watching the game and listening to John Madden. I once had a shoot in San Luis Obispo, California with Madden and dozens of pro football players for a celebrity golf tournament.  Madden has a Midwest connection in that he was born in Austin, Minnesota which is just over the border from northern Iowa (and where the Spam museum is located).

He played college ball in San Luis Obispo and when his pro career was cut short by an injury he turned to coaching eventually becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL at age 32. He won a Super Bowl a few years later and in 1979 turned to broadcasting where he has won 14 Emmy Awards. And he was an early part of the video gaming industry with his part with EA Sports John Madden Football. 

Quite a career, right? Because opportunities are growing in the gaming industry for screenwriters (and the gaming industry is now bigger than the film industry) I thought you’d be interested in knowing how Madden followed his passion into video games.

I started the videogame before there were videogames. When we first started, we were going to make a computer game. When I got out of coaching, I had taught a class at the University of California, an extension class on football for fans. I was looking for tools. I was showing them films. I was going to write a textbook. Trip Hawkins came to me about making it a game for computers. I said there has to be 11 guys on a team. I figured it would be a good teaching tool, a good coaching tool. I didn’t know anything about computers then, where they were going. No one did. Anyway, we started and worked on this game for a few years. It came out in a computer version. Then, boom, lo and behold, here comes the hardware for videogames and we already have the software. There we go. To say when I started I knew it was going to happen, I didn’t know. But no one else knew. It was just something that we happened to be there first. We stumbled upon it. We’re still going. It just gets bigger and bigger.
                                                     John Madden
                                                     Interview with Jon Robinson 

 

Scott W. Smith

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Johnny Depp is in Wisconsin this month shooting a John Dillinger film based on the book Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough. While in Wisconsin the Michael Mann directed film will be shooting in Columbus, Darlington, Madison and Milwaukee.

(You can view photos of the film at www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=21981)

Wisconsin is just over the Mississippi River from Iowa and has had a three-year legislative wrestling match for the final passage of a state incentive package to attract filmmakers. Film Wisconsin’s executive director Scott Robbe reports of an interim measure for qualified producers and should be encouraged by Depp filming in the state.

While Wisconsin’s film related history is often overlooked, it does have some legendary connections. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thorton Wilder (Our Town) was from Madison and the man named by the British Film Institute as the greatest director of all time, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) was born in Kenosha. Nicolas Ray, who directed Rebel Without a Cause, was from the small town of Galesville.

Actor/writer Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) is a Wisconsin-Iowa combo having been born in Milwaukee and was a theater major at the University of Iowa. Wilder-Depp connection: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and the remake.

Milwaukee was also the setting of one of the most popular all-time TV programs, Happy Days. (I had said Kenosha in an earlier post, but only “Al the Grocer”–Al Molinaro– was from there.) The setting for the TV program Laverne & Shirley was also Milwaukee.

One of the most well-known film characters of all time, Jack from Titanic (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was from Chippewa Falls. And I have to add that his love interest Rose when we find her as an elderly woman is living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

DiCapario and Depp both starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape that was set in Iowa and written by Des Moines native Peter Hedges.

Wisconsin news is usually overshadowed by the Green Bay Packers football team and their cheese head fans. (I once did a shoot with Packer Hall-of-Famer Reggie White, the minister of defense, and found him to be a friendly and kind man.) Wisconsin is also where Land’s End clothing, Oshkosh B’Gosh, Kohler, Harley-Davidson, and Trek Bicycle Corporation, have their headquarters, but it does have its artistic bent.

In fact, check out the work Madison interactive group Planet Propaganda is doing — not only with Trek but companies in Chicago, Minneapolis and on both coasts. And just for the record its creative director John Besmer is a screenwriter as well. He was one of the writers of the recently completed Winter of Frozen Dreams starring Keith Carradine.

The creative heartbeat of Wisconsin is Madison. It’s the Midwest equivalent of Austin, Texas. Free spirited college town, state capital, thriving businesses, and plenty of live music. (Nearby Middleton was recently voted the #1 place to live in the country by Money Magazine.CNN.)

Madison is also just two hours away from Chicago by train. And about an hour away from hidden (to people outside the area) jewel of a town called Lake Geneva, which has been called “The Newport of the West” and “The Hamptons of the Midwest” for its mansions on the lake.

The University of Wisconsin, Madison is where “America’s Finest News Source” and satire The Onion began and where Oscar-winning writer/director Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) went to school. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (David, Jim & Jerry) grew up in Shorewood, Wisconsin and attended UW Madison together before hitting it big with Airplane! in 1980, and other hit films that followed. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) and producer Walter Mirisch (The Apartment) also graduated from UW-Madison.

I know this will be hard to believe but with a Ph.D. from UW-Madison is screenwriter/director Andrew Bergman, whose work includes Blazing Saddles, Fletch, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Striptease. Woody Allen’s co-writer on Manhattan, Sleeper, and Annie Hall is Academy Award winner writer Marshall Brickman –who, yes, attended UW-Madison.

Those also attending UW-Madison include screenwriter/director David Koepp who wrote the upcoming script for the new Indiana Jones film (as well as Spider-Man and the Depp thriller Secret Window) and Michael Mann (Miami Vice) himself. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings graduated from UW-Madison in 1918 twenty years before her book The Yearling was published. Recent Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) wanted to attend UW Madison but says she went to University of Iowa was because she couldn’t get into Madison.

Madison has a chapter of the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum which offers writing workshops and seminars. (There are also chapters in Milwaukee and Los Angeles.)

Elsewhere in the state many memorable movies have been shot in Wisconsin including A Simple Plan (from a novel by the other Scott Smith), Blues Brothers, Mr. 3000, Meet the Applegates, Uncle Buck, Major League, and parts of Hoop Dreams.

And don’t forget the classic scene in Wayne’s World when Wayne and Garth meet Alice Cooper in the “we’re not worthy” scene backstage at Cooper’s Milwaukee show:

Wayne: So, do you come to Milwaukee often?

Alice Cooper: Well, I’m a regular visitor here, but Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers were coming here in the late sixteen hundreds to trade with the native Americans.

Pete (Band member): In fact, isn’t Milwaukee an Indian name?

Alice: Yes, Pete, it is. Actually, it’s pronounced mill-e-wah-kee, which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

Wayne: I was not aware of that.

Alice: I think one of the most interesting aspects of Milwaukee is the fact that it’s the only major American city to have ever elected three socialist mayors.

Wayne: Does this guy know how to party or what?

To watch the Alice Cooper scene fast forward past Wisconsin native Chris Farley’s cameo to the 3:00 mark.) 

When I was 19 I went to an Alice Cooper concert in Tampa and about 15 years later met him at a conference I was working in San Diego. Like Reggie White he too appeared to be a friendly and gentle man. (Though quite a bit smaller than White.) He’s quite the golfer and joked that his garage looked like Nevada Bob’s (a chain of golf wholesale stores).

And to come full circle if ever there was a film done on Cooper’s life I can’t think of anyone better to play him than Johnny Depp. (Though he might need to work on his golf game. For some reason Depp strikes me as the kind of guy who like sharp things in his hands versus a golf club.)

As we pull away from our little road trip to Wisconsin let me say that Depp is originally from Owensboro, Kentucky and once driving back to Iowa from a shoot in Charlotte I spent the night in Owensboro. I’m a sucker for shooting neon signs and took this photo near Depp’s childhood house.

owensboroneon2109.jpg

Who knows, maybe long before he was Jack Sparrow, Edward Sizzorhands or John Dillinger he hung out at this place. Just another reminder that talent comes from everywhere. (For what it’s worth George Clooney is also from Kentucky.)

Did you know that writer Hunter S. Thompson was also from Owensboro? The same guy Depp played in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Here’s a quote from Thompson for all those itching to leave home and run off to LA: “The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Just wanted to pass that along – just in case you were not aware of that. (Good thing for Depp that he fled the TV business early, huh?)

Oh, and back home in Iowa I received a call Saturday to work on a feature film shooting in Des Moines in April and May staring Ellen Page, the star of Juno. That’s really coming full circle for this blog since I started Screenwriting from Iowa after seeing Juno. Schedule-wise I don’t think I’m going to be able to work on that film but it’s good to see that Iowa’s film incentives are working as well.

Actors interested in auditioning for the Ellen Page thriller send pictures, resume, and contact info to PMS Casting, 2018 Hwy G28, PO Box 122, Pella, IA 50219. More info can be found on Iowa casting director Ann Wilkinson’s website www.pmscasting.com .

P.S. Anyone looking for a different place to vacation this summer? One of the great travel surprises of my life was visiting Door County in Wisconsin years ago. I was blown away by how much it reminded me of the Florida Keys. (Good place for actors to find summer stock work as well.) And if you want more of a taste of Florida in Wisconsin, Jimmy Buffett will be playing in Apple Valley on July 19.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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