Every so often we’ll take a break from analyzing real-life events and look back at some of our favorite sports movies with the intention of setting odds on the film’s pinnacle game. With the Philadelphia Eagles taking on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, let’s break down another epic quarterback-fueled clash between two powerhouses. Without further ado, the story of the 2001 Miami Sharks from “Any Given Sunday.”
Football was a bit more violent and unforgiving in 2001, especially in the parallel universe league of the Associated Football Franchises of America. Nobody embodied this more than the Miami Sharks. Head coach Tony D’Amato had built a ruthless culture during his 20-plus years running the team, but two Pantheon Cups were enough to keep his job in a football-crazed city that, in this fictional world, never witnessed Dan Marino’s yearly January exits.
Yet D’Amato’s Mike Mularkey-esque offense and conservative nature had wore thin with fans and the front office alike. This restlessness reached peak levels once former 7th-round pick and 26-year old journeyman Willie Beamen was forced into action following injuries to established starter Jack “Cap” Rooney as well as backup Tyler Cherubini.
Although the team rallied around Beamen’s playmaking ability, fame quickly went to his head and D’Amato dubbed Rooney as the starter for the Sharks’ ultimate showdown against the Dallas Knights. Quarterback controversies can make or break a football team – as well as a Vegas sports book. We’re explicitly told the Sharks were six-point home dogs with Rooney under center, but how would Vegas have treated their deeply-distracted and flawed roster under the tutelage of a hot shot scrambler who was also a part-time rapper? Let’s take a look at a few key events from the movie to help set a line for the Sharks’ ultimate showdown against the Knights – if Beamen had gotten the nod.
“Where I’m from, either you’re number one, or you ain’t sh*t! That’s a fact … You make it and get the big car, or you don’t and catch the bus … And you in the funeral home, because to me, losing is dying.” – Willie Beamen
The Sharks entered Week 14 in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Rooney’s job was still plenty secure given his pedigree as a three-time league MVP, but the 38-year old signal caller would be lost for a month to undergo surgery on his lower back after a particularly brutal hit. The Sharks’ similarly-immobile backup signal caller would quickly follow suit, forcing Beamen onto the field for his fourth team in five seasons. He displayed a bizarre mix of Tyrod Taylor and Donovan McNabb on his first drive, accidentally lining up behind the guard before later throwing up in the huddle.
Beamen’s fondness for checking out of D’Amato’s conservative play calls quickly resulted in several disagreements with the offensive staff. Still, the man proved plenty capable of making plays that other quarterbacks simply weren’t able to replicate at the time:
Cam Newton = Willie Beamen 2.0 pic.twitter.com/GjkAz6sd4v
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 28, 2018
The team rallied around their dual-threat quarterback and racked up back-to-back wins in Weeks 15-16 to clinch a bye week and home-field advantage. Unfortunately, Beamen’s me-first mentality earned him a spot on the bench once the team’s doctors cleared Rooney to play. Quick recoveries from seemingly-devastating injuries weren’t uncommon on a Sharks team that routinely treated medical issues as more of an art than a science.
“Who am I to tell these men they can’t live their dream? These are big boys. This is a triage out there, asshole! Let the man die a goddamn hero if he wants.” – Team doctor Harvey Mandrake
Mandrake’s unethical collusion with team medical records came just three years before the NFL would conclude they found “no evidence of worsening injury or chronic cumulative effects” from multiple concussions. The Sharks routinely demonstrated a similarly lackadaisical attitude towards potential career-crippling injuries throughout the season:
- Rooney worked his way back from having a microdiskectomy on his lower back (the Tony Romo surgery) in fewer than six weeks, but Cap confessed to both his coach and owner that he didn’t think his body could hold up against the Knights’ league-best pass rush. He was ridiculed by both – and later his wife joined in!
- Luther Lavay is the team’s middle linebacker and emotional leader. He knowingly plays through a broken neck (with help from a cortisone shot) to earn an extra $1M in contract incentives. It’s safe to assume this was possible thanks to Lavay’s uncanny resemblance to Lawrence Taylor both on and off the field.
- An unnamed Knight became the first known player to literally lose an eye during the Divisional Round. This was seemingly the only injury in the entire film that wasn’t dismissed as an issue that could be solved with a few painkillers.
It appeared that the entire team was playing at less than 100 percent, as a 32-7 loss in Week 17 left a sour taste in the mouths of Sharks’ moneyline and over backers alike.
Beamen managed to score at least 24 points in three of his four games under center, but he routinely displayed a Sam Darnold-esque attitude towards protecting the football. The Sharks’ reeling defense allowed 30-plus points in two of their last four games and were largely dependent on their aging linebacker with the aforementioned broken neck. D’Amato mentions he’s willing to fight and die for that inch that makes the difference between winning and losing, but apparently this doesn’t include transitioning to a modern offense or attempting to give the Sharks a schematic advantage in any facet of the game.
Beamen possessed an up-and-down four-start sample size and was headed into a home playoff game against the Knights’ league-best pass rush. While our tools at Bet Labs don’t have a grasp on AFFA stats (those only exist in Oliver Stone’s brain), they do tell us that there have only been 16 double-digit NFL playoff favorites since 2003. Many included a lower-seed on the road with an injured or inexperienced quarterback such as Joe Webb or Tim Tebow. The aforementioned minor league baseball player joins Matt Hasselbeck as the only home quarterbacks to give at least six points in a playoff game since 2003.
The Sharks hadn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt with bettors entering January, but they were still a top-two team in their conference coming off a much-needed bye week. Still, their status as six-point home dogs with Cap under center is alarming and indicates the lack of respect for both the aging quarterback and his supporting cast. Then again, plugging in an erratic journeyman against a league-best defense that specializes in pulverizing the quarterback doesn’t seem to bode well for the Sharks either. Given the utter lack of respect Vegas is showing for a home team coming off a bye that is also welcoming back their two-time championship quarterback, the line WITH Beamen under center would be …
Knights (-7.5) vs. Sharks. Over/under: 49.5.
Ultimately, D’Amato convinced Cap to play and the Knights would be favored by six for most of the week. Wise guys balked at the idea of backing a statue under center against the biggest and baddest pass rush in the league, while all the public seemed to care about was pounding the over after Adam Schefter leaked the alarming amount of defensive injuries the Sharks had failed to relay on the injury report all season.
D’Amato fully embraces his role as the best motivational coach outside of Herm Edwards by delivering the most-electric pregame speech the sport has ever heard. The move immediately proved to be fruitless as the Knights took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Cap managed to quickly move the offense down the field while displaying decent mobility despite his back issues. The passing game was particularly dominant thanks to the play of Terrell Owens (seriously), who fearlessly attacked the Knights down the middle of the field:
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 28, 2018
Over bettors were continuously rewarded by big plays from both teams throughout the first half and a late Rooney touchdown left the Sharks down 21-17 with 30 minutes to go. Sports books were quickly overwhelmed following news that D’Amato was turning to Beamen with the Sharks’ season on the line. The public quickly forgot about Beamen’s tumultuous Week 17 performance and pounded the Sharks’ +300 2H moneyline. With spread offenses still years away from infiltrating professional football, wise guys didn’t see the change as a reason to hedge their original bet.
D’Amato then proceeded to forget about his reputation as the league’s most-conservative coach, calling for a “Go 999” play to start the second half in order to simply “Shock the sh*t out of them!” The sideline was understandably deflated following Beamen’s ensuing interception, but the offense managed to tack on an additional 14 points thanks to some aggressive play-calling and big throws from Beamen. Lavay’s broken neck held up long enough for him to make a incentive-cashing tackle on a monstrous 4th-and-one stop, giving the offense one last chance to eat a W and completely bankrupt Vegas.
The Sharks’ final drive was immediately a profitable one for prop bettors, as Beamen cashed in on his -250 odds to once again throw up at some point during the viewing. He proceeded to send the world into a state of chaos with an 80-yard touchdown pass, but it was called back by an ill-timed holding penalty. Still, the offense kept their composure and drove down inside the Knights’ three-yard line with just four seconds to play. The public rejoiced as Beamen skied over the line of scrimmage to win the game on a short quarterback draw, while wise guys swore they would never underestimate Steamin’ Willie again.
Ultimately, the Sharks’ season ended with a 32-13 loss to San Francisco. D’Amato was released, but quickly became the New Mexico Aztecs head coach, poaching Beamen from the Sharks. The duo never quite recaptured their prior magic, but bettors would never forget the time Vegas was pounded into oblivion by a home dog who was willing to go that extra inch. D’Amato’s own slogan would become a rallying cry for degenerates everywhere. On any given Sunday you’re gonna win or you’re gonna lose. The point is – can you win or lose like a man?