Remembering “The Program”

WARNING: Major league no-purpose ramble below.  If you make it all the way to the end, don’t complain, you were warned.  (Also, there’s a little language in a couple of the linked clips if you’re on company time.)

There have been several comments across the webernets the last few days about American Movie Classics airing the 1993 movie The Program this month.  Haven’t thought about that film in a while, but once I reflected on it for a few minutes today I couldn’t resist looking up the trailer for the film:

Most of you, even the young-uns, I’m sure have seen the Fox College Flash Classic episode multiple times, with Hank Campbell making an epic stop on a Tennessee two-point conversion attempt to preserve a win in the 1992 Gamecock football rags-to-riches season.  But some of you probably don’t know that quite a few scenes for The Program were shot on that day as well.  And if you do know, but weren’t there, I can assure you it was quite a surreal scene.

It was October 31, 1992.  Halftime of a pretty doggone exciting game consisted of USC and UT fans banding together to cheer on the fictional ESU Timberwolves football team.  (Did they ever identify what ESU stood for in the movie? Eastern State University?)  The PA guy had to do his best to get the crowd revved up, because quite frankly it was very awkward to see these bunch of scrubs running around on the field executing scripted plays and being followed by guys carrying huge cameras.  It was comical to a certain extent, and at times I felt a little sorry for the dudes on the field, because a lot of times we were cheering AT them instead of FOR them if you know what I mean.  But after the first few attempts, the crowd got into it and it turned out being kind of fun.

If you pay close attention to the movie you can really see how Williams-Brice has transformed over the last 20 years. Amazing what a coat of paint, an end zone upper deck, football offices and a few signs will do to spruce a place up.

I had graduated from USC in the winter of 1991, worked as a waiter for a while and had only recently gotten a “real” job in Augusta. My old buddy Gman, in law school at USC at the time, asked me to come up for the game, he was having a big crowd at his apartment that weekend.

I’m pretty sure this is the first weekend I was introduced to Tbone, who was in law school with the G.  I also met two of Tbone’s good friends from his hometown – Mike, which is a generic enough name, and the other guy, let’s just call him Bill, because he actually has a nickname so unique that some of you folks might know who he is…and that wouldn’t be a good thing.

BTW, I have zero recollection of Tbone from this weekend.  Nada.  But by everyone else’s account he was there.  Great first impression that guy gives, huh.

So “Bill” gets hammered before the game, and gets so sick in Gman’s apartment that he is physically unable to go to the game.  We pile about 15 people in the bed of Tbone’s pickup truck (purportedly) after some pre-tailgate cocktails, and ride down to the W-B on a gorgeous Halloween day.  The rest is pretty much history – great tailgating, great seats (30 yard line, lower level) great first half, very unique halftime, great second half, and then Hank Campbell.  Truly one of the great Saturdays I’ve ever spent at a Carolina football game.

(Side note: the Braves lost to the Blue Jays that night in the World Series 3-2, which put only a slight damper on the day.)

Now, for the film itself, some random thoughts:

  • The Program was released the following year, in 1993, starring Sonny Corleone.  I think I saw it at the theater, but honestly can’t remember.
  • The movie is chock full of cliché, covering every relevant football topic or theme from the early 90’s – football factory, rebel QB, veteran player vs. freshman position battle, veteran coach losing his edge and conflicted on how far to push the rules so he can produce a winner, and one that hit close to home in Columbia – steroids (cue dramatic music).
  • A buddy of mine was an extra in the film – actually an assistant coach with a couple of speaking lines – and he told me Kristy Swanson (Camille in the movie) liked to PAR-TAY (poles, dancing and the like).
  • Joe Kane – the perfect name for a rebel QB.  Wonder what ever happened to Craig Sheffer anyway?  Wish there was some sort of database on the internet for movies.  Oh well, guess we’ll never know…
  • Didn’t remember this – the dude jacked up on roids is named Lattimer in the movie.  Sounnnnd vaguely familiarrrr?  And there’s one scene where he does a helluva make-up job on himself.  They know how to teach some serious skull face at ESU.
  • Bob Neal, father of Dave Neal (of College Flash Classics and SEC Football fame), does the play-by-play for the Timberwolves.  Did a voice over job with Bob Neal a few years ago, fascinating guy. Has some great Ted Turner stories. (hey, I told you I was going to ramble)
  • The game-winning touchdown in the final scene is ridiculously Hollywood.  Parts of it are eerily similar to the final play in Friday Night Lights (the greatest football movie ever made, so please forgive the comparison).

So, you made it all the way through.  Do you have any of your own memories from October 31, 1992?  (The “I wasn’t born yet” crowd, shut the hell up.)

2 thoughts on “Remembering “The Program”

  1. Haha, I had just started my freshman year in 1992 and I managed to land a role in that film as an extra too. I’m only visible on camera once, but did get to hang out with the cast & crew for a couple weeks. Still have a “Film Crew” hat signed by Halle Berry & David Justice, too – got that on one of the football filming days. They’d put an ad out in the paper that they were giving away a car to one lucky fan who would come out and be an extra in the stands. Of course, it was freezing, so we didn’t get nearly enough. Had to put cardboard cutouts in the stands and tape balloons to them to make it look like they were moving.

    And don’t forget the scene they had to take out when Kane was laying on the white lines in the middle of the road. Good stuff.

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