Kevin Costner did very little research to prepare for his role as Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. in Draft Day.
“I talked to a couple of GMs, but I didn’t do a tremendous amount of research,” he said during a recent teleconference. “For me, I just wanted to protect the language, so it sounded authentic.”
That might be a good thing considering very little could have prepared him for what happened after the film wrapped and the Browns went through their 20-game (counting pre-season) machinations in 2013.
Unlike the Browns fans in Draft Day, the ones suffering through reality have been looking for anything that resembles winning football in all but one of 15 seasons since the team returned.
What do they say? Movies look nothing like reality? Amen, brothers and sisters.
Even in recent months, the specter of change hung around in Berea, waiting to claim victims. No one ever expected that it would come swiftly and to the relief of many Browns fans.
The beauty of Draft Day comes from the fact that the level of ineptitude — which very well may have been corrected with owner Jimmy Haslam’s latest front-office moves — that’s gripped the franchise since its return in 1999 doesn’t appear on camera.
There’s little doubt that the cinematic version of the Browns is in deep trouble and needs a strong draft to return to glory, but the track record doesn’t include a cadre of ex-coaches or a gaggle of general managers. Everything on screen is equivalent to being in the Twilight Zone, given the team’s past 15 years.
Because the minute that the audience peers at the credits and cameos (should they stay for them), just how much change the team has undergone since last spring and summer, when Ivan Reitman filmed his movie in Northeast Ohio, will make fans break out the most recent game-day program.
Let’s start at the top:
Joe Banner (CEO): Fired unexpectedly and much to the delight of many Browns fans on Feb. 11 after just a season and a half in charge. Haslam’s rationale? He wanted a more traditional front office — general manager, team president — reporting to him. It certainly didn’t help that the Browns had taken on an Oakland Raiders-type aura in recent months courtesy of the firing of coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season and the subsequent coaching search that yielded Mike Pettine playing out like an episode of The X-Files.
“It was a much simpler organizational structure than we had before, much clearer lines of responsibility and authority and something that we all felt more comfortable with and something that we’re very excited with,” Haslam said at the time.
Maybe it was just time for the circus to leave town.
Mike Lombardi (general manager): No one was ever really sure that Lombardi actually worked for the Browns because no one in the media ever really heard from him. He was in on the coaching search — allegedly. According to those in the know, he tossed Haslam the names Josh McDaniels of the New England Patriots, who couldn’t decide if he wanted to be a head coach (again), and Greg Schiano, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, who didn’t get a shot to ease back in a Lay-Z-Boy after being fired at the end of last year. Throughout his tenure and toward the end of the coaching search, Lombardi became the equivalent of Voldemort in Harry Potter. Seeing his name in print attached to a quote proved … umm … rare.
D’Qwell Jackson, T.J. Ward (players): Jackson landed with the Indianapolis Colts and Ward with the Denver Broncos after the Browns released the former and allowed the latter to escape via free agency. Both of those teams were in the playoffs. That sounds about right for what happens to players when they leave Cleveland. Some fans might argue that allowing each of those players to head to other teams showed more signs of Browns silliness, but the NFL, if nothing else, is a business.
Things might not be done yet as free-agent center Alex Mack, who appears most prominently in Draft Day, according to reports, has finally drawn some interest — from the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that has occupied the same rarified space of mediocrity that the Browns have in recent years.
In all fairness, the Jaguars did beat the Browns last season.
There’s always hope
Some might view the entire situation as a joke, but Costner finds little to laugh at when it comes to the team’s fortunes. In his sports movies — Bull Durham, Field of Dreams or Tin Cup — there’s always optimism, hope.
It’s a Hollywood film, so whether Draft Day finds those things in the good or the bad, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that it shares those qualities with a region addicted to its NFL team and an organization that might have cleansed its reputation just a bit.
Of course, it could all change. After all, the real Draft Day is next month.