Every so often we’ll take a break from analyzing real-life events and take a look back at some of our favorite sports movies with the intention of setting odds on the film’s pinnacle game. With starters potentially resting in Week 17 for the Eagles, Chiefs, and others, let’s breakdown how the bookmakers would have potentially treated sport’s premiere backup-turned-superstar story: The Replacements.
The Washington Sentinels’ 2000 season was turned upside down when the players chose to strike following the conclusion of Week 13. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as ratings were down with the recent retirements of John Elway and Dan Marino, and the league had to act quickly with rumors of Vince McMahon starting a competing league tentatively dubbed the “XFL” for the following offseason.
Coach Jimmy McGinty entrusts the offense with ex-Ohio State quarterback Shane “Footsteps” Falco, and the defense with ex-Michigan State walk-on/current SWAT team officer Danny Bateman. The film discusses gambling quite frequently (mostly due to the Sentinels’ degenerate kicker Nigel Gruff), but the spread for the season-defining game in Week 17 is never revealed. In order to right this wrong, let’s take a look at a few key events from the movie to help set a line for the Sentinels’ ultimate showdown against the Cowboys.
“The truth is, you guys have been given something that every athlete dreams of: a second chance. And you’re afraid of blowing it. We all are. But now our fear is shared, and we can overcome it together.” – McGinty
McGinty surrounded Falco with a fairly mediocre surrounding cast including a professional sumo wrestler, ex-NFL guards who were only good when they could play together, a deaf tight end who *allegedly* had first-round talent, as well as star cornerback Earl Wilkinson (playing under the alias “Ray Smith” due to a prison exemption from the governor of Maryland). Wilkinson in particular showed great pre-snap awareness and playmaking ability:
Clay Matthews calling the wheel route last week is honestly whatever. Earl Wilkinson AKA Ray Smith called that shit out back in 2000 for the Washington Sentinels and took it to the house: pic.twitter.com/2w158w6ChO
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 23, 2017
One or two injuries likely would have resulted in two-way players, and this alarming lack of depth undoubtedly created massive sharp interest in whoever lined up across from this lovable bunch of losers. Luckily for the Sentinels, they didn’t suffer any key injuries in Weeks 13-16 and were able to grow as a team to overcome the massive odds stacked against them.
“I want you to know that if anything like this bar fight happens again, there’ll be no place on the football team for any of you!… Do I make myself perfectly clear? And just for the record, I would’ve loved to have been there to see Martel get his ass kicked!” – McGinty
McGinty makes incredibly questionable decisions that would make it hard for any serious bettor to take the Sentinels seriously. His antics included dousing his WR1’s hands in stick ’em, not disciplining anyone following a massive barroom brawl, and allowing his team to commit an overwhelming amount of personal fouls. This all points to a man who didn’t have control over his team.
And yet, McGinty got the job done – especially against the spread. The Sentinels lost their first game 14-10 to the Lions, but certainly covered considering the Lions had simply leased a semi-pro team. His 17-16 win over the San Diego Chargers was the final straw of the Ryan Leaf era, and an improbable 22-21 win over the Jake Plummer and the Cardinals followed in Week 16. Both wins likely saw Sentinels backers cash in moneylines upwards of +500, creating an absolutely ecstatic fan base and following in the process. This set the Sentinels up for a do-or-die matchup against a Cowboys team that had helped keep Washington out of the playoffs for seven straight seasons.
What could the public possibly love more than a bunch of castoffs and characters that managed to routinely keep the game close and cover double-digit spreads? You can bet they’d be lining up to take McGinty & Co. vs. public enemy No. 1 behind the strike: Jerry Jones. There was just one problem: Falco.
“Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.” – McGinty
Surrounding a quarterback nicknamed “Footsteps” with a make-shift offensive line and one relevant receiver most known for his inability to catch isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Still, it’s tough to overstate just how ineffective Falco was, particularly when the game was on the line. The amount of mooses the Sentinels caused for moneyline bettors is just absurd:
- Game 1: Down 14-10 with just 1:15 to go in the 4th quarter, Falco loses his second fumble of the game, and later ignores his coach’s instructions to throw the ball in the end zone on the final play of regulation resulting in a loss. Falco would’ve fit right in on the Browns.
- Game 2: Down 16-14 and participating on the onside-kick team, Falco tackles his teammate who recovered the ball and proceeds to inexplicably blow the team’s final timeout. This forced McGinty to call on kicker Nigel Gruff for a game-winning/record-breaking 65-yard field goal, which Gruff made to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.
- Game 3: Falco helps erase another 14-plus point deficit with the assistance of the aforementioned stick ’em to get within one point as time expired. McGinty goes for the win, and Falco calmly bounces the ball off a defenders face mask before it finds its way to Franklin to win the game.
Essentially, the Sentinels won in Weeks 15-16 despite atrocious mental and physical errors from Falco. The team scored 49 points over this three-game stretch, but it’d be hard to credit more than 23 of those points to the QB. The defense essentially rode its way to relevance behind their psychopathic middle linebacker and playmaking corner. Basically, the Sentinels were the 2000 Ravens … only worse at QB, not nearly as historic on defense, and much better at kicker.
The Sentinels’ regular starters stuck with their strike even with the season on the line – except for two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eddie Martel. Facing a Dallas Cowboys team that had just welcomed back its entire active roster, the Sentinels owner forced McGinty to start Martel over Footsteps; essentially like replacing Trent Dilfer for an even more elite version of Joe Flacco.
Per our tools at Bet Labs, we know the largest spread since 2003 was when the winless Jaguars were 27-point dogs against Peyton Manning and the 5-0 Broncos at Mile High. Renowned handicapper Danny Sheridan said the then-historically-great 2016 Alabama team would be 27-point underdogs against the then-winless Browns on a neutral field. We’ll use this as a starting point if Falco was under center.
The Sentinels’ fully-healthy defense didn’t allow more than 21 points in any of their three games despite the offensive struggles. The 2000 Cowboys weren’t exactly a juggernaut, as Troy Aikman produced the worst non-rookie season of his career. The Sentinels also had a record-breaking kicker, and roster full of mostly average-to-below-average players.
But how do you account for Martel’s clear edge over Falco? Well, only 12 quarterbacks have won multiple Super Bowls, with Eli Manning subjectively being the worst one. Still, even the worst multi-champion quarterback carries plenty of weight. Sports Insight’s 2017 preseason Player Point Spread Values report indicated only Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger were worth between 6-7.5 points on the spread. This makes the return of the division’s No. 2 QB worth roughly 5.5 points more than Falco. Add in three points for an absolutely wild home crowd looking to secure the team’s first playoff appearance in seven seasons and you get a line of …
Cowboys (-18.5) @ Sentinels. Over/under: 41.5.
To no one’s surprise, the wise guys immediately pounded the road chalk and the roster consisting of actual NFL players, while the public took the points and squad of underdogs that had produced millionaires in recent weeks. A teaser on the Cowboys and over quickly became one of the most-popular touts in the industry.
Despite unrivaled Week 17 motivation, Martel was crushed after having no time to look downfield on the first play of the game, although the team’s owner and offensive linemen placed the blame on the quarterback’s inability to scramble:
Martel’s inability to adapt to the Russell Wilson-esque offense the Sentinels had grown used to under Falco became the main storyline, as the Cowboys worked their way to a 17-0 halftime lead. Still, Martel wasn’t responsible for either of the team’s turnovers, and McGinty’s primary beef was when Martel audibled to a pass before halftime; essentially taking the game into his own hands like McGinty had instructed Falco earlier in the movie.
While Falco informed the team Martel would start against Dallas, he added, “So while you guys are getting pounded by Dallas, I’ll be kicking back, drinking beer on my boat.” It’s highly probable Falco did just this given his affinity for bars throughout the movie. It’s possible the 2H line doubled upon linemakers seeing Falco emerge from the locker room. When Falco entered the game in the third quarter, both the public and sharps poured out their bank accounts on the Cowboys in live betting. I mean, it’s not every day you get to bet against a shitty QB who’s also buzzed.
Falco rewarded bettors who kept the faith, throwing a 98-yard touchdown on a short screen, along with a touchdown pass to Franklin, cutting the Cowboys’ lead to 17-14. Falco nearly blew the game after running a solo fake field goal that was called back on a holding penalty (IMAGINE THE SWEAT), but he took the outcome into his own hands on the final play of the game. After a brief sideline meeting, Falco proceeded to hit the deaf tight end to win the game 20-17, becoming one of the largest underdogs to win outright in NFL history (the Jets beat the Colts as 18-point dogs in 1969).
Moneyline bettors (+2500) reveled in their winnings, drunkenly quoting Falco’s simple motto: Pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever.