"Tommy," Abe said, putting his arm around the lad's shoulder. "I want you to look at that. They wearin' old Billy out with that end sweep. I want you to go out there and stop that sweep for me."
"I'll try, Coach," the kid said eagerly.
"Sit down, Tommy," Abe said, removing his arm from the player's shoulder. "Billy's tryin'."
But for all of this, along with the clever selection of some old Gene Autry recordings as the theme music—it works—Michael Ritchie is also a fellow who went to Harvard (uh-oh), lives near San Francisco (trouble), had read a book called Powers of the Mind (more trouble), had also read something about the late H. L. Hunt crawling around on the floor for his health and spirit (big trouble), and something else about how a Philadelphia hockey player scored five goals after holding his stick under a magic icon for 15 minutes (monumental trouble).
It was with such notions in his head, plus the proximity of his home to a hotbed of the consciousness movement, plus his feeling that the stars, Burt, Kris and Jill, would not be convincing as 28-year-olds, that he ordered a new script from a new writer. Semi-Tough had to be updated, he said to Walter Bernstein (The Front), who took on the job of doing the screenplay Ritchie wanted.
In reference to the new script, which I once hurled against the wall of my office, pretending I was Irwin Shaw reading the TV pilot for Rich Man, Poor Man, Ritchie said, "The screenplay naturally has to transcend the episodic nature of the book. All we've done is take a relationship hinted at in the final pages and expanded on it. Think of it as a few years later in the lives of your characters."
I told Michael Ritchie I would do that just as soon as I stopped thinking of it as a movie that could have been about pro football instead of a movie about the consciousness movement. But I also told him he was a semi-genius for figuring out how to work around...
Informers tell me that the men most opposed to cooperating with the making of the movie were the old NFL owners, who still have more to say about the running of Pete Rozelle and the league than the AFL gentlemen who once paid six hundred billion dollars for the privilege of joining their club. Wellington Mara, I heard, was more adamant about it than anyone. If that is true, then I find his posture even more amusing because the Giants once drafted Joe Don Looney No. 1, if I can be cryptic.
It is probably unfair to lump all of these names together for the sake of a gag, but I can't resist the temptation to say that the sport that gave you Bobby Layne, Joe Namath, Doug Atkins, Max McGee, Sonny Jurgensen, Ernie Holmes, Big Daddy Lipscomb, Joe Gilliam, Warren Wells, W. K. Hicks, Bill Kilmer, Mack Herron, Randy Crowder, Ken Stabler, Lance Rentzel, Jim Brown, Duane Thomas, Pete Gent, Dave Meggyesy, George Atkinson, Alex Karras and Paul Hornung, among others, refused to have anything to do with a movie in which people were going to do nothing more harmful than use naughty words and discuss the economy with ladies on barstools.