What Would Happen if the Patriots Played Football Against the Cast of Remember the Titans? and Other Imagined Scenarios
Why is it fun to have conversations about things that will never and could never happen?
I have a cousin named Bryan. We call him Boosh, which is derived from his last name, which I won't print here because I don't want this to come up when people Google him.
He's more like a brother or a best friend than a cousin, and he's one of the few people who will fully join me in hypothesizing weird social and cultural scenarios.
"What would happen if the actors from Remember the Titans played the Patriots in an actual game of football?" he asked me in a conspiratorial tone at the beach about a decade ago.
"Present day or when the movie was filmed?"
"Present day," he clarified.
"Would Denzel Washington be the coach?" I asked.
"The entire coaching staff from the movie would be in tact."
Well, I imagine it'd be a massacre, I told him. That much was obvious to both of us. But then we considered what would actually occur if the New England Patriots played football against a group of 30-somethings who were, at what was presumably their athletic peak more than a decade earlier, just actors in a movie about high school football.
What I appreciate about Boosh is that he'll truly indulge me in these thought experiments. Some friends laugh them off, or just go surface-deep in their response. Others may walk away and delete my number from their phone. Fortunately, like me, Boosh is willing to examine these imagined situations with a serious attention to detail that they absolutely do not merit¹.
In a scenario like the Titans Patriots game, we proceed as if all participants are giving their full (or at least a "game") effort and are motivated by some unknown force. This is a crucial detail. We can't have the actor who plays Sunshine crying about being away from his family, or Gerry Bertier going through some existential angst when he's supposed to be lining up opposite Vince Wilfork.
In that spirit, we debated Ryan Gosling's present physical condition, whether the actors would naturally fall back into the positions they played in the movie, how many players the Titans would actually be able to field against a 53 man Patriots roster, to what extent Bill Belichick would run up the score, and so on.
Our hypotheticals aren't all movies and pop culture, though. In other conversations, Boosh and I imagine cringe-inducing social scenarios. These generally take one of two forms: would-you-rathers, which are usually more interesting, or how-much-would-it-takes.
Everyone is familiar with the would-you-rather game. An easy formula, it can creep into wayward conversations, depending on the context and the company present. But most people don't construct their would-you-rathers very thoughtfully. With all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, many go for the instant gross-out, unimaginable pain, or total revulsion. Boring. Lazily imagined options like these are a death knell to the game itself, because they can always be topped, and they quickly make the participants numb to all scenarios.
Instead, the key to thinking of better would-you-rathers is to prey on the social fears and sensitive relationships that the participants have, violate some taken-for-granted societal norms, and design scenarios backwards from those points. With a little contemplation, we can all do better than "Would you rather walk on the beach naked or..."
Instead, I might ask Boosh, "Would you rather recite the pledge of allegiance every day at midnight on Facebook Live for two weeks, or describe the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 to one different co-worker every day for a week, taking at least six minutes each time?"
There are a few things happening here. In the first scenario, the pledge of allegiance is a small political act, and people may wonder what point Boosh is trying to make by broadcasting it not once, but every day. But to do it at midnight, and this is the kicker, on a medium as weird as Facebook Live²...well that seals it.
As for the other scenario: I imagine that at his job, Boosh is known as a smart, good-humored, diligent guy. This is a reputation that he, like anyone who's built up goodwill in a workplace over a number of years, values very much. Going on for a few seconds too long in a story (when you can tell you're losing your audience) is a bad feeling. Making a colleague sit through an entire movie synopsis for 6 minutes is a brutal proposition. Imagine if they tried to politely object ("Oh yeah, I know, I saw that movie a while back..." or "I should really get back to work...") and you have to just steamroll them in order to hit the six minute mark. Yikes. Note that the choice of movie matters less here. Something like The Indian in the Cupboard would be great, too.
Another format for these scenarios, as I mentioned, is the how-much-would-it-take game. Boosh likes asking these questions more than I do because he enjoys how much thought I put into my answers. He recently asked how much it would take for me to wear zipped-off cargo pants with the bottoms duct-taped on to all of the weddings I'm attending this year. I didn't say "a hundred thousand dollars" or "ten thousand dollars," I said $38,200.
Most people don't belabor the dollar amounts they include in their hypotheticals. Once, while working at a summer camp, I was watching kids go down a particularly daunting slide at a water park with my co-worker and now sister-in-law, Linda. Riders would stand in an enclosed tube for a few moments before the floor dropped out, sending them plunging (almost) straight down.
"I wouldn't do that for a million dollars," Linda said to me as kid after kid flew down, sending water cascading over the edges of the slide as it flattened out at the ride's conclusion.
"Yes you would," I told her.
"OK, for a million dollars, yeah," she said.
You would do it for a hundred thousand too, I told Linda. That's a life-changing sum of money, especially for a 20-something working at a summer camp. That's a down payment on a house.
"OK, sure. You're right," Linda said, eyeing the slide. "I would do it for a hundred thousand."
"Linda, be real," I said. "You'd do go down that slide for ten thousand dollars. That's like a full summer of work. More. You would do it for 10k. Come on."
"I guesssss I would. Yes," she said.
A thousand dollars, I pushed. That's a shopping spree. All for taking 3 minutes to climb the stairs and go down a ride that's been proven to be safe summer after summer.
She thought about it for a while. "I would," she conceded, "but no lower. That's really it. A thousand."
"Linda, you're telling me that if there was a crisp hundred dollar bill waiting for you right here, you wouldn't go down a slide that we're watching 7 year-olds enjoy right now?"
She paused. "I would," she admitted, fully defeated. I didn't bother trying to bring the number down any more. We both knew I could get her to $10. After briefly reflecting on her willingness to come down $999,900 in price over a span of two minutes, we ventured over to the Dippin' Dots stand.
Linda, like most people, probably just wants a little latitude to make throwaway comments like, "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars" without being accosted. I get it. That's reasonable. Boosh, on the other hand, is able to speak with precision on the most pointless of topics, and is willing to go down rabbit holes that have no bearing in reality.
"Imagine a celebrity was assigned to follow you for a week. They'd basically be your sidekick. Who would the ideal person be? Who would the worst person be?" one of us proposed at a cookout several years ago.
We batted around some names. Jonah Hill would be awesome, we agreed. Good for a laugh, capable of intellectual conversation, and it feels like he would have your back. Brad Pitt would be cool, but his star power would be overwhelming, and it just wouldn't work. Others would be too intense.
"I would not want Tom Cruise shadowing me," Boosh said, mentally crossing another name off the list.
The thing about these scenarios is that they are shared and debated within a bubble, and, like a pin to a balloon, die when that bubble is broken.
"What are you guys talking about?" one of our friends at the cookout asked, overhearing us. We told her.
"OK...but why would they follow you? Wouldn't they have something better to do?"
Not in this scenario, no, we explained.
"So do they have an awareness that they're an actor or whatever and have had this great career? Do they remember their own family or life?"
Yes, they still know all that, but for whatever reason, they fully believe that this is the only place they need be at this moment, we told her.
"But they're not under any sort of duress?"
No, of course not, we said.
"But they also can't leave?"
That's right, we answered.
"I don't get it," she decided.
But in hindsight, maybe she did get it, in a way, and was trying to play the game at a level ever deeper than what we were capable of. Hmm. Something to think about.
¹Once, when discussing the merits of late 1990s-early 2000s Disney Channel Original Movies, Boosh shared, with grave sincerity, that he would rather "Watch Johnny Tsunami one hundred times before watching Smart House or Luck of the Irish once." I found this particularly interesting because the latter two films shared the same lead actor, Ryan Merriman, who carried kids cable TV movies during our preteen years.
²Facebook is the perfect social media channel for maximum awkwardness because there's absolutely no shared context. Your decaying friends list includes old neighbors, former teachers, relatives who you're not close with, ex-coworkers, and so on. Wonderful ingredients for social embarrassment.
Thanks for reading! This is the third of five stories I’m going to do between now and the end of June. If you liked this one, please subscribe below, and you’ll receive them in your inbox.
It is so fun reliving these conversations through your writing, Adam. You have such a gift!