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 Third So Bad It’s Good Blog-A-Thon hosted by Taking Up Room. I’ve had the privilege of participating in all three of these events, and for this one, I’ve got an extra-special not-so-hidden sports analogy from an actual sports movie.
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
Johnny Be Good centers on Ashcroft High School’s “star” quarterback Johnny Walker (played by Anthony Michael Hall). Walker is at the top of the “wish list” for several major universities. As a result, Johnny becomes the object of a feeding frenzy; the sharks coming in the form of college recruiters, his best friend and teammate Leo Wiggins (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), his coach Wayne Hisler (played by Paul Gleason), and his girlfriend Georgia Elkans (played by Uma Thurman in her introductory film role).
Various universities with top-flight football programs shower Johnny with promises of everything he could possibly want; everything ranging from free room and board, cars, cash, and a seemingly endless supply of “sex-bomb” women in various states of undress. One school even offers to provide him with male companions on the off chance he isn’t interested in the “fairer sex.”
Johnny’s buddy Leo gets in on the act when one of the school buys him a Jeep in return for getting the prized quarterback to commit to them. Coach Hisler has an under-the-table agreement with a university that will hire him as their head coach if Walker signs their scholarship offer. Finally, Georgia is pressuring him to join her at State University.
Despite the fact he’s a gifted football player, Johnny Walker is still a senior in high school who is quickly overwhelmed by the attention being lavished on him. His ego swells in proportion with the increasing intensity of the “recruiting” and as a result his judgement gets steadily shakier. As the allure of the offers increases, and as the pressure intensifies, the worse Johnny gets.
After one of his recruiting trips, Johnny’s mother (played by Deborah May) admonishes him of his “big head,” his families’ growing irritation with his behavior, and includes a warning not to forget about “what’s important.” By the way, Georgia is also peeved with Johnny. The combination prompts Johnny to visit State University.
Complete with a overly-cocky strut, Johnny approaches State’s Coach Sanders (played by Steve James) inquiring as to what State is willing to offer to “convince” him to sign. Sanders tells him point blank all he will get is a scholarship, and a chance to earn both an education and a shot at the starting quarterback job. Sanders also issues a stern warning about the trouble coming Johnny’s way if he signs with any of the colleges which are showering him with him gifts and money; not the least of which all are major violations of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules. Given all the “glitz” Johnny has already been shown, he rejects Sanders’ advice out of hand.
Later that night, Johnny and Leo end up in a motel room with three girls. The set-up couldn’t be better. Georgia’s father…who hates Johnny and just so happens to be the local sheriff…bursts into the room just in time for the girls falsely to accuse Johnny and Leo of rape. The set-up becomes obvious when Coach Hisler visits them in jail. Hisler has an offer; Johnny can either join him at Piermont University where he is going to be the head coach, or he can go to prison. the college that hired Hisler, so they can both prosper, or he can end up in prison on the fake charges.
Apparently, landing in the slammer is precisely the wake-up call Johnny needed, which sets the stage for National Signing Day. There’s a major press conference being staged at Ashcroft High School’s gym, where it is anticipated Johnny will announce he’s committing to Piermont.
Hisler also has other top prospects at this event, who presumably are all committing to Piermont. But Johnny throws a monkey-wrench into the proceedings when he issues a huge mea culpa about his behavior during this recruitment. Because of the embarrassment and shame he has put on his family, friends and mostly himself, Johnny announces he would rather not play football than so as to avoid all this “special treatment.” Naturally, this instantly creates chaos.
While this decision pleases Johnny’s family and Georgia, Coach Hisler becomes nearly apoplectic and confronts Johnny. Just as the scene is approaching critical mass, an NCAA recruitment investigator named Floyd Gondole (played by Robert Downey, Sr.) takes the stage to announce he’s been watching the recruitment of Johnny Walker since Day One. Gondole rattles off a list of the offending schools and the violations they committed, along with promises there will be harsh punishments.
As an aside, the plot of this movie is isn’t what makes it so deliciously bad; there’s two other gems which make the wonderful icing on the terrible cake. The cameo appearance of former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon is the perfect accentuation for this movie’s tales of excess.
But the guts of this movie is Anthony Michael Hall. The first time viewer of this film is going to look at the very same guy whose “bread and butter” at the time was portraying the awkward uber-nerd à la The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Weird Science and wonder how he’s going to pull off playing the top college football recruit in America. But he does.
The capper comes over the closing credits with “heavy metal” icons Judas Priest’s cover of Chuck Berry’s classic “Johnny B. Goode.”
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
As a sports blogger who is a also a retired “bookie” and who still enjoys wagering on college football, it shouldn’t surprise anybody this isn’t the first time Dubsism has delved into the eternally sleazy nature of college football recruiting. Even the casual sports fan may have heard of the scandal which shut down Southern Methodist University football; in fact Johnny Be Good was made immediately after SMU got the “death penalty” from the NCAA. But many may not know of another investigation which nearly saw one of the “big dogs” in all of the sport land a similar fate.
In 1999, the University of Alabama (the current Dubsism College Football Heavyweight Champion) found itself going deep into the same sewer that SMU did a decade earlier. In this case, the role of prized recruit Johnny Walker was played by a standout defensive tackle named Albert Means at Memphis’ Trezevant High School. In his senior year of 1999, Means was a high school All-American and was named Tennessee’s “Mr. Football.” At 6’4″ and 340 pounds, Means was a rare combination of gargantuan size and remarkable quickness for a mountain-sized man. That combination allowed him to dominate a game from the defensive line, which is why the recruiters were lining up at Means’ door.
Just like in the case of Johnny Walker where several recruiters were in competition, it took no time at all for the cash to come out. But unlike the Walker situation, it came out in the eventual NCAA and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) that Means had no idea that his services were being brokered to several schools.
The story of what actually happened began breaking in January 2001 when former Trezevant assistant coach Milton Kirk started telling tales of the school’s head coach Lynn Lang playing the role of “Coach Hisler” by making it known that access to Means could be had for a price.
Specifically, Kirk spilled the beans on the fact that Lang received $6,000 in cash from a University of Kentucky booster in the presence of Wildcats’ assistant coach Claude Bassett for arranging a recruiting trip to Lexington. Similarly, Kirk said Lang took $4,000 per visit for multiple trips to both the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama. When former University of Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer said he had received cash demands from Lang and was denied a recruiting trip for refusing to pay marked the moment when “smoke” became “fire.” These allegations along several others of a like nature prompted investigations from both the NCAA and the FBI.
As a result of the FBI investigation, a Memphis-area Alabama booster named Logan Young was arrested and faced trial on federal money laundering, racketeering, and conspiracy charges. It was during this trial the full scale of Lang’s the “pay for play” scheme came to light. Once under oath, Lang leveled the following accusations:
Lang’s accusations came off as the finger-pointing of a man trying to save his own neck. Not only did both Donnan and Scherer deny Lang’s allegations, but several other stories came tp light which cast questions on Lang’s credibility. An assistant coach for Michigan State University named Brad Lawing who also recruited Albert Means said Lang not only demanded $200,000 to arrange for Means to sign with the Spartans, but that Lang told him he have to repay $50,000 to another school that had already paid for Means. Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt corroborated Lawing’s testimony by saying Lang has also told him the price for Means’ services was $200,000 was required to secure Means’ enrollment.
All tolled, it was shown that Lang tried selling Means’ commitment to at least eight schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan State, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The final nail in Lang’s coffin was Means’ testimony that he never took a required standardized test for college admission because Lang had another student take the test in his place.
But it was Logan Young who paid Alabama, and that’s why he stood trial and why the Crimson Tide faced the wrath of the NCAA. Assistant coach Kirk admitted he had raise $30,000 from boosters and that Young who paid the balance when Means signed with Alabama. At the end of the trial, Young was convicted and sentenced to six months in federal prison plus six months house arrest followed by two years supervised release. Kirk pled to a conspiracy charge and was sentenced to three years probation, 200 hours of community service, and a $1,000 fine.
As for the guy who started all this, Lynn Lang managed to avoid jail time by pleading guilty to conspiracy, for which he was sentenced to two years supervised probation, 500 hours community service, and was fined $2,500. If you think that seems a bit light considering he could have received up to three years in federal prison and fines up to $60,000, don’t worry. The Feds banged him good by forcing him to amend his tax returns and declare all of the money received as part of this scheme, which by all accounts put him on the hook to the Internal Revenue Service somewhere in the neighborhood of $100K. The reason why the judge handed down such a sentence was because Lang testified that he has spent most of the money he collected, and the judge knew being jammed up with the IRS is a fate far worse than some time in a “Club Fed” minimum-security “white collar” prison.
The University of Alabama only avoided the same fate as SMU because a) the NCAA didn’t want to completely destroy another program, and b) they certainly weren’t going to blow up one the the biggest “cash cows” in all of college football. Instead, the NCAA hit the Crimson Tide with the l0ss of 21 scholarships, a two-year bowl ban, and five years probation, after which the scholarship would be re-instated.
Once the details of what happened came out, Alabama released Albert Means from his national letter of intent. He transferred to the University of Memphis where he completed his college career. He was second team All-Conference USA as a senior, but was not drafted by any National Football League. The Houston Texans signed him as an undrafted free agent, but he never played a single snap in the NFL. In other words, all of this happened for a guy who only ever played in seven games for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Moral of the Story:
Crime does pay…until you get caught.
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Recruiting violations in the Southeastern Conference?
Surely you jest!
I’m dead serious…and don’t call me Shirley.
Nice summary. Exactly as you said, I remember this coming out and my first thought being that Anthony Michael Hall couldn’t possibly pull off the sports jock role. I completely missed that Uma Thurman played his girlfriend until I saw her in the picture at the top of your article.
Speaking of Uma Thurman, what sticks in my head about her in this film is the scene where she’s wearing the one-piece form-fitting long underwear and makes Johnny rub her feet. Rowwwwrrrr….
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So not surprised that sports recruiting is a seamy world–anything to sweeten deals, right? Thanks again for joining the blogathon with this great review! 🙂
I’m not particularly interested in football, but I always learned something interesting when I come to your blog. Nice review and nice hidden-ish analogy.
Just like I used to say on my now defunct podcast…you learn more here by accident than other places by design! 🙂
Excellent review! While I haven’t seen ‘Johnny Be Good’, the recruiting process you wrote about kind of reminds me of the 2009 film ‘Blind Side’. Even though nothing illegal is depicted when it comes to the recruiting process, it highlights the important factors that go into choosing a school/football team. I find the moral of ‘Johnny Be Good’ and ‘Blind Side’ is to have a good head on your shoulders and a strong support system. I not only participated in the So Bad It’s Good Blogathon (where I reviewed the 1994 film “Scarlett’), but I also nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award and the Blogger Recognition Award, as well as tagging you for the Peer Pressure Tag! I’ll provide the links to those posts here:
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