What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The “Love Goes On” Blog-A-Thon being hosted MovieMovieBlogBlog II. This is an event featuring movies in which love endures death and might even survive into the afterlife. I couldn’t help but participate in this even when I discovered the host was doing it a tribute to his recently departed wife.
Now, you might think I chose this movie for this event since I’m the “sports” guy. That’s only partially correct; I’ll take any opportunity to write about either Buck Henry and James Mason. I’d like to thank MovieMovieBlogBlog II for giving me the chance to do both!
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here!
“Heaven Can Wait” is a tale centering on Joe Pendleton (played by Warren Beatty) who happens to a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. Joe has just been named as the starter, and celebrates by going on a bicycle ride on a mountain road above Malibu.
As Joe enters a tunnel, two vans who seem to be racing enter the opposite end. A loud crash is heard, and the next scene takes place with Joe and an over-anxious guardian angel known only as The Escort (played by Buck Henry) in what is described as a “weigh station on the final journey.”
The problem is that Joe is adamant that it is not yet his time. A figure who seems to be in charge known as Mr. Jordan (played by James Mason) appears and ultimately discovers that Joe’s assertion is correct. It turns out the escort plucked Joe out of his body prematurely in the mistaken belief that Joe was about to be killed.
Things get even more complicated when The Escort and Joe return to earth to put Joe back into his body. They are unable to do so as they discover Joe’s body has been cremated. That means they have to find a new body for him, the catch is the “replacement” body has to belong to somebody who is also dead, but whose death has not yet been discovered.
Joe rejects a couple of possibilities, until he is finally persuaded by Mr. Jordan to accept the body of a gazillion-aire industrialist named Leo Farnsworth, who has just been drugged and drowned in his bathtub by his cheating wife Julia (played by Dyan Cannon) and her lover, Farnsworth’s personal secretary Tony Abbott (played by Charles Grodin).
Needless to say, Julia and Tony are confused (to say the least) when Leo reappears alive and well. Leo’s domestic staff and his business partners are also bewildered by the changes in his behavior. These are exemplified by the reason he picked Farnsworth’s body in the first place, the environmental activist Betty Logan (played by Julie Christie), who showed up on Farnsworth’s doorstep to protest the activities of his corporation.
Two things happen at this point. Joe and Betty fall in love all while Joe’s football obsession leads him to buy the Los Angeles Rams in a quest to lead them to lead them to the Super Bowl as their quarterback. But the inevitable plot twist comes when both The Escort and Mr. Jordan tell Joe he can no longer use Leo Farnsworth’s body; the reason being Tony Abbott murders
Now, with the Rams on the eve of the Super Bowl, they are forced to start another quarterback. But that quarterback, Tom Jarrett, is killed after a brutal hit on the field. Joe inhabits his body and pops up off the stretcher then leads the Rams to victory.
But during the team’s post-game celebration, Mr. Jordan removes Joe’s memory of his past life and departs, thus completely transforming Joe into Tom Jarrett. The Rams’ trainer Max Corkle (played by Jack Warden) is the only one who knew that Leo Farnsworth was actually Joe Pendleton, and he’s also the one who realizes that Jarrett living without any memory of “Joe” means Joe is gone as well.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
This movie offers a possible explanation of why the Cleveland Browns have had more quarterbacks than any other team since the franchise was re-instated along the shores of Lake Erie in 1999. It’s common knowledge that the National Football League (NFL) is all about having a quarterback. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about that subject in this series. But up to this point, it has been all about a team’s quest to find one.
But what if that got flipped? What if it was the quarterback who had a “Joe Pendleton”-like obsession with playing in the NFL? There’s been a long-running joke that Cleveland is where careers go to die. What if that weren’t just a figure of speech?
Let’s just say that once upon a time, a guy named Tim Couch wanted nothing more than to be a star NFL quarterback. At first, things certainly seemed headed that way. As a high schooler, Couch set a number of national prep records; most pass completions (872), passing yardage (12,104), touchdown passes (132), and passing percentage for a season (75.1). After his senior season in 1995, he was the recipient of Kentucky’s “Mr. Football” award.
This earned Couch a full football scholarship at the University of Kentucky. In 1997, Couch set several school records as he took the previously anemic Kentucky Wildcat offense to topping several national rankings and improving their record from 1-8 the previous year to finish 5-6, including a win over 20th-ranked Alabama. During the 1998 season, Couch led Kentucky to seven wins, including including a win on the road at #21 LSU. This landed Kentucky a spot in the Outback Bowl. In that game, despite the fact Kentucky lost to Penn State 26-14, Couch completed 30 of 48 passes for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns. That performance caught the eye of NFL scouts; Couch announced he would leave Kentucky to enter the NFL Draft.
In 1999, the Cleveland Browns were an expansion team to replace the original Browns who had moved to Baltimore four years earlier. As such they had the first pick in the 1999 draft, and they used it to select Tim Couch.
The dawn of a new football day in Cleveland breaking over the shoulder pads of their new “franchise” quarterback led to waves of unbridled enthusiasm for Browns’ fans. But a 2-14 season didn’t offer much to support such optimism. Neither did Cleveland’s 3-13 record in 2000. However, the team started to show signs of life,; by 2002 they went 9-7 and made the playoffs, losing in the wild card round to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Couch didn’t play in that game as he had suffered a broken leg in the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons. The problem was his replacement (Kelly Holcomb) played a tremendous game with 3 touchdowns against only 1 interception and 429 passing yards. Coupled with the fact this wasn’t the first time he got hurt, and hadn’t played that well when he was healthy, to start the 2003 season, Tim Couch got benched.
His replacements didn’t fare much better, so Couch found the field again for eight games…the Browns lost five of them. This marked the official demise of Tim Couch’s career in Cleveland…and for all intents and purposes…the NFL in general.
This is where the “Joe Pendleton meets Tim Couch theory” comes into play. Let’s say that while Tim Couch is laying there not quite dead on the field, a Buck Henry-esque “Escort” prematurely snatched him toward the Pearly Gates. In addition, what if at the same time there was a “Mr. Jordan”-type who realizes the mistake, but he also wants to get this “fixed?” Then all you need is another “Tony Abbott” willing to do the dirty deed on demand, and Tim Couch’s quest to remain with the Cleveland Browns makes him the biggest “murder-for-hire” racket this side of Albert Anastasia.
To see that, all you need to do is look at all the guys who have taken snaps for the Cleveland Browns since 1999. Everyone of those guys didn’t suck at some point along the way or else they wouldn’t have made it to the NFL…there’s some notable names on that list.
Acquiring that many bad quarterbacks in a row is so massively unlikely. It’s like a game of “Hi-Lo” poker; how many times can you come up with “9-high nothing?” Getting that many awful quarterbacks or that many slop poker hands in a row is the definition of “long-shot.” There simply has to be another explanation. Tim Couch organized a “body-swapping” operation from the afterlife.
Think about it. Max Corkle knew Joe Pendleton was in Leo Farnsworth’s body because Farnsworth knew Pendleton’s “snap” for fixing Corkle’s stiff neck. Then he was the only one who saw that Farnsworth and Tom Jarrett both played quarterback just like Joe Pendleton. Well, I’m channeling “Max Corkle” on the Cleveland Browns: I’m the one who sees the common traits up and down that list…guys who can’t handle the speed of play in the NFL, guys who throw interceptions at absolutely the worst possible times, and most importantly guys who get hurt all the time.
The injuries are the key; that’s when the “body swapping” occurs. That’s how four…count ’em…four Heisman trophy winners and a bus full of guys who weren’t even that good all look in their bodies as exceptionally mediocre as Tim Couch did in his. And Baker Mayfield looks to be headed right into that mold.
Who knows how much longer this can go on? Tim Couch turns 43 this year, but so does Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, and I’ve wondered for a long time how he has stayed in the NFL for two decades.
On second thought…forget all this. James Mason would have never been caught dead in Cleveland.
The Moral of the Story:
Don’t ride your bike through mountain tunnels…nothing good comes from that.
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Thank you for contributing this to the blogathon! The sports analogies didn’t mean much to me, but you definitely captured the charm of the movie.
I follow the NFL and I can´t recall a single play in a Browns uniform of at least 10 guys in that list. It´s a shame, Paul Brown´s team deserves better.
Do all NFL fans have your quirky point of view? I had a great time reading this article.
Probably not. Like the site’s tagline says “What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions.” 🙂
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I’ve never sought out this film because of my aversion to Warren Beatty, but you’ve convinced me I should give this one a go. Thanks for broadening my horizons, yet again. 🙂
I’m here to serve 🙂
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