There are many reasons to tell the story of Super Bowl LI and the Patriots’ 2016 season. The game itself was thrilling (or heartbreaking, depending on how you feel about New England). Tom Brady’s return from a four-game suspension after the stupid, 544 day-long Deflategate hullabaloo was triumphant and compelling. The Patriots’ fifth championship in 13 years was a feat of football mastery. Bill Belichick coached his ass off. Brady was named Super Bowl MVP after leading the greatest comeback in the game’s history.
There is also, of course, money to be made in telling this story. According to Deadline, the writers Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Casey Sherman are working with several people in the Patriots organization for a “behind the scenes” look at the game and the Patriots’ season leading up to it. They will reportedly use this access to write a book that I will very much read. And to make a feature film that I will very much not go see for any reason other than to make merciless fun of it.
A book, if done right, makes sense. I would love to learn what anecdotes and feelings the writers are able to get out of Brady (if that’s even possible; the dude’s story is sewed up more tightly than his fancy pajamas pants) and Belichick (who also isn’t forthcoming — remember “Seattle, Seattle, Seattle”?). I’d love to know what went through Dont’a Hightower’s head after his strip-sack, a play that changed the momentum of the game and jump-started the Patriots’ comeback from a 25-point deficit. I want to know locker room details and whether the team was truly as close as they seemed to be. I want the inside scoop.
What I don’t want is a feature film. There is no world in which I’d rather see Jack Nicholson ignore reporters as Bill Belichick more than I want to see Bill Belichick ignore reporters as Bill Belichick. I want to hear the coach himself talk about what he was thinking when the Falcons scored their fourth touchdown rather than have those thoughts filtered through an actor.
And I certainly can’t imagine a world in which I’d rather watch Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Mark Wahlberg, or Casey Affleck try to throw a football like Tom Brady rather than watch Tom Brady throw it himself. I don’t want to see any of these guys act out what Brady felt when Julian Edelman made that incredible catch. I don’t want to witness an Affleck make out with — oh god, who could ever play Gisele?
The only person I ever want to watch be Tom Brady is Tom Brady.
Why? Because he’s the best at it. And, when you think about it, he’s already kind of an actor. Sports are jobs for athletes, yes. But sports are a glorious escape for fans. Athletes are public figures on whom people pin their hopes and dreams. Sure, fans watch interviews and read features. But from a distance, fans don’t really ever know athletes as people. They only know what athletes allow them to see. The players not only play a sport, they also play a part.
It’s rare that a fictionalized feature film about real athletes or events is more interesting than the subjects themselves. I can’t think of a single sports movie I enjoyed that’s about real events except maybe Miracle, which I haven’t seen since I was really drunk in college. It could be terrible for all I know.
Here, for example, is Barry Pepper as Dale Earnhardt in that movie 3 that ESPN made:
No, the best sports movies and TV shows are fictional, because we can’t be disappointed when the fake portrayal doesn’t live up to real life. Friday Night Lights ruled because we didn’t know how the actual Tim Riggins blocked, because there is no actual Tim Riggins. There might’ve been a guy Tim Riggins was based on, but not a famous Tim Riggins who everyone in America knew. We couldn’t yell at the actor Taylor Kitsch on our screen and say, “That’s not how Riggins actually blocks!” Instead, some of us just wished we could crawl through our TVs and make out with him.
Great sports movies also have drama apart from what happens during games. We were invested in Riggins not only because of his football career, but also because of his various girlfriends. We cared about his relationship with his brother.
The only off-field action we know the Patriots movie will address — AKA the Patriots’ version of Riggins and his brother — is Deflategate. There’s no way I want to sit through a fictionalized scene in which two drunk guys in Southie explain the Ideal Gas Law to each other. Nor do I have any interest in watching Bryan Cranston play Judge Richard Berman ruling in Brady’s favor.
What I’m saying is that Super Bowl LI would make for a killer documentary (ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has been so successful for a reason) and a really bad fictionalized film. I get, of course, why the latter is being made: Because it can be, and because executives are betting it will do numbers in box offices.
But it’s still a dumb idea. One that, if it must happen, would be better served by waiting, say, 30 years, once we know the arc of the rest of Brady’s career. Or once enough time has passed for this game to be a piece of sports lore rather than A Big Sports Thing That Happened A Few Years Ago That Patriots Fans Would Rather See in Highlights And That Still-Bummed Falcons Fans Definitely Do Not Want to See Again.
Which is, I’m afraid, what we’re about to get.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Tim Riggins threw the ball. He probably did, at some point, but he was a fullback, not a quarterback. So it makes more sense to allude to him blocking.