Burt Reynolds has been sent down a white-water river to escape cannibals, driven a Pontiac Trans-Am across state lines while being pursued by a sheriff, and even had to contend with Mark Wahlberg. But maybe the toughest experience he had was on sports movie The Longest Yard, when professional football players kept tackling him out of nowhere to keep him on his toes.
In 1998, Reynolds recalled to Entertainment Weekly how, while filming the comedy movie, pro-player and Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke “hit me hard every play, and I kept saying ‘Ray, this is a movie, not the Super Bowl,’ and he’d say, ‘Not to me.’ One time he tackled me on the way back to the huddle just to remind me he was there.”
The Longest Yard was filmed in a real prison (with filming occasionally being interrupted by prisoner uprisings), and featured many real-life NFL players including Mike Henry, Joe Kapp, Pervis Atkins, Ernie Wheelwright, and Ray Ogden. Reynolds had played college football for Florida State, but had to stop due to injuries.
The Longest Yard was remade as the British film Mean Machine in 2001. American football was replaced by actual football (we kid) and it starred ex-footballer Vinnie Jones, as well as Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, Danny Dyer, and Vas Blackwood… and somehow the comedy thriller movie not directed by Guy Ritchie.
The Longest Yard joins the likes of Cool Hand Luke and The Great Escape as one of the best prison movies. Burt Reynolds had a career resurgence after starring in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Boogie Nights in 1997. He died in 2018 at the age of 82.
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