Learning The Game
To turn Krasinski, Clooney and the rest of the performers into the Duluth
Bulldogs, there would be much training on and off the field. Invariably, the new team
would find itself playing football in swamps of mud in Greenville, South Carolina, while
wearing scratchy woolen uniforms as the weather took one of her various phases—from
blazing sunshine to plummeting temperatures when the skies turned ugly.
During two weeks of football camp, which occurred prior to principal
photography, the guys learned to play “period football,” as well as how to execute plays
that were both comedic and athletic. Coach TJ TROUP, a scholar of the period, onetime
defensive back and longtime high school and college coach, led them through the paces.
For the consultant, the trick was to help Clooney accurately depict early football, while
also serving the needs of the story and the cameras capturing it.
Troup states that Clooney proved to be as prepared a historian as he was a
filmmaker. “George shared some points with me on how he wanted the games to
proceed,” the coach offers. “He and Grant had really done their homework on not only
early football, but the subtle nuances of that era. My job was to tie all those pieces
together. They wanted to ensure the authenticity of the plays, formations and stances, as
well as how the game was played, because it was so much different.”
The free-for-all nature of the game in the ’20s made for a brutal experience for
players of that generation. Troup explains, “The field had the same dimensions, but the
philosophy and rules were different. For instance, there were no hash marks on the field.
If a player was knocked out of bounds in 1925, the ball was placed one yard from the
sideline. You had virtually the entire field to either your right or your left. And coaches
in that era believed it was unmanly to win a game by passing. So, teams basically ended
up in a rugby scrum where they would pound at each other, with up-the-middle running
That worked for these Bulldogs. Adds on-screen coach Wayne Duvall, “Back in
the day, coaches were more like the managers of the team. They didn’t give the teams
plays. In fact, they weren’t allowed to call them from the sidelines; that was a penalty.
The players knew the plays and, in this case, Dodge was in charge of strategizing and
The role of team captain was one Clooney took seriously both on-and off-screen.
Duvall surmises the experience the whole group had with their director. He tells that
Clooney’s style was not micromanaging, but more, “‘do that thing you do.’ If it’s not
what he wants, he’ll tell you. But even better, there’s a real safety net with George; he
gives you the liberty to make mistakes, but you know he’ll protect you from being a
The ensuing camaraderie and team spirit that came from Troupe’s camp had its
effect on Clooney’s men, with on-screen and off-screen friendships that continued
throughout production. Notes the director, “They had plays they understood, so I could
come out and step into a play and go, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re doing.’ You had to learn
how to play differently, and you had to make it look mean—which is hard to do because
you don’t have any pads. The guys all had to learn the plays—how to grapple yank. But
we also put them in hotel rooms all together, so it was like a dorm in Greenville. They all
spent time together, went to movies, hung out.”
Clooney had worked with several of the actors before, from Tommy Hinkley in
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to Keith Loneker in Out of Sight. While helpful to
have familiar faces around when you’re being
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