clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Where Devon Sawa from ‘Little Giants’ fits in the 1990s teen heartthrob era

Junior was Sawa’s first major role, but it was almost played by another 90s teen idol: Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

1990s teen heartthrobs Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Devon Sawa stand together for a photo, superimposed on a black-and-white illustrated background
JTT and Devon Sawa were front and center of the mid-90s Teen Beat generation.

This week, the cinematic masterpiece The Little Giants turned 25. While the film is one of the classics in the genre — despite Kevin O’Shea’s Cowboys badly blowing a 21-point halftime lead — its biggest contribution to society is introducing heartthrob Devon Sawa to the world.

Sawa, an automatic for the Mt. Rushmore of 90s heartthrobs, had only been in a couple TV series and a TV movie before starring as Junior Floyd, the good-hearted quarterback for the ragtag Little Giants squad. Surprisingly, we almost didn’t get Sawa in the role.

“Junior was supposed to be Jonathan Taylor Thomas from Home Improvement, but Steven [Spielberg] didn’t cast him,” screenwriter Tommy Swerdlow told ESPN of the casting. Instead, Spielberg — whose production company Amblin Entertainment was involved with the film — wanted Sawa.

At the time, JTT was a bonafide star. As America’s favorite middle brother, JTT had already been Randy Taylor on Home Improvement for three years and voiced Simba in Disney’s The Lion King. While JTT would have inarguably been great as Junior — although likely a more mischievous character than the sweet, clueless hunk we got — Sawa’s big shot in The Little Giants put him on the map (and multiple teen-focused magazine covers).

But before they got Sawa, there was somebody else who briefly played Junior.

“When I was shooting Casper, Little Giants was already in production and had already been shooting for a month,” Sawa told ESPN. “There was an original Junior Floyd that was shooting the film.”

Unfortunately for that mystery Junior and fortunately for us, Spielberg loved what he saw from Sawa in the 1995 film Casper and brought him in to throw spirals into our hearts. Those first two major roles helped cement Sawa as the crush to end all crushes in the mid-90s. His perfectly coiffed golden locks and good looks were tailor-made to grace the cover of Tiger Beat, and therefore Trapper Keeper covers and inside lockers, around the county.

As Junior Floyd, Sawa made the character relatable. What made him such a lovable lead is that he never treated any of his teammates differently. You have some gastro-intestinal issues that result in pungent flatulence? Doesn’t bother Junior. Can’t catch the ball? No problem, he’ll still throw you the rock. Girl on the team? He’s all in. Junior joined a squad of misfits, but never interacted with them as if they were not actually the cool kids.

Not to mention the fact that Floyd drops dimes like he’s got a hole in his jeans and a pocket full of change, each spiral more perfect than his amber locks and bright smile.

The guys wanted to be him, the girls wanted to date him.

“I mean even the 12-year-old girls think he’s a fox,” is an actual line uttered Debbie O’Shea to Icebox at one point.

It maybe took him a minute to see Becky could be both Icebox and a love interest, but he’s a pee-wee football player. We’ll forgive that.

The Little Giants, Warner Brothers (1994)

I won’t get into the enormous plot hole of where Junior was during the normal tryouts and why someone who’s enough of a football fan to be tossing perfect toilet paper spirals in the aisles of the local grocery store wasn’t already being groomed as the next Troy Aikman. Both Kevin and Danny O’Shea knew the second Spike moved into the neighborhood, and they accosted his father before the the aforementioned youth could even unload a full-sized refrigerator from the back of the moving truck.

Although teen magazines have been around since the mid-1960s, it felt as though they hit their heyday in the 1990s as a vehicle to share pull-out posters of Sawa, JTT, Andrew Keegan, Rider Strong, and others. Tiger Beat went away from the print magazine in 2018 (yes, it existed all the way until 2018), but started to decline when social media apps like Instagram made it possible for fans to get their content directly from the subject.

Sawa, like many a teen idols before him, went on to take some more serious, darker roles. After The Little Giants, he had a role in teen-themed Now and Then (alongside Casper co-star Christina Ricci again) before starring in more intensely themed flicks like Idle Hands and Final Destination, as well as Eminem’s “Stan” music video. He’s still acting today, most recently in August’s The Fanatic with John Travolta.

So thank you, Devon Sawa and The Little Giants, for setting the heartthrob standard for us 90s kids with Junior Floyd. We’ll forever be grateful.