When Celebrity Jocks Run 'The Longest Yard'

From 'Rocky's' Meat Locker to the 'Bad News Bears' Dugout: A Look at Hollywood's 'Field of Dreams'


May 24, 2005 — Burt Reynolds returns this Friday in a remake of "The Longest Yard," and this time he won't need former President Carter's help before stepping on the football field.

In the early 1970s, Carter was governor of Georgia and he assured Reynolds that he didn't have to worry about the inmates rioting, after he gave the go-ahead for the original "Longest Yard" to be filmed at the state prison at Reidsville, a maximum security lockdown.

"If they take you hostage, I will take your place gladly," Carter told the star.

"This man will be president some day," director Robert Aldrich later told Reynolds. "He's lying through his teeth beautifully."

It wasn't easy to film the grudge match between inmates and prison guards. Cameras are rarely allowed behind prison walls. Aldrich had to petition Carter for months before the governor fully got behind the project.

The result, however, was one of Hollywood's greatest sports movies. Reynolds — a former running back at Florida State University, who was drafted by the Baltimore Colts — turned in one of his finest performances as Paul Crewe, a former pro quarterback thrown in prison after a messy drunken incident, and tormented by a sadistic, football-crazy warden.

Shortly after the film's release, real prison tensions actually played out on the gridiron. State troopers actually donned uniforms used in the movie and played prisoners, with spectators seated in bleachers left behind by filmmakers. As prisoners recall, the game got a little rowdy and was called off, with their side winning.

Don't expect anything involving real prisoners this time around, when Adam Sandler takes on Reynolds' role. The new version — which is not called "The Second Longest Yard" — was filmed at the now defunct Santa Fe State Penitentiary, which closed two decades ago.

Reynolds, now 69, plays inmate coach Nate Scarborough, with Chris Rock, Nelly, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and NFL greats Michael Irvin and Bill Romanowski rounding out the cast.

Reynolds says it was extremely strange to take on a supporting role in a remake of a movie that ignited his career.

"The first day of filming, Chris called, 'Crewe!' and I turned around and ruined the take," Reynolds says. "But it was a cool feeling to know that we were doing this because the first one is so loved."