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‘Necessary Roughness’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 27, 1991

"Necessary Roughness" can be described in two plays -- the 50-gut and Hail Mary. An infectious albeit formulaic game of Cinderella football, this happy athletic romp seems to know just how wheezy it is, but the team grunts "hut, hut," and puts it right on the numbers anyway. It's "Hoosiers" with a pigskin pumpkin and a lot more sis-boom-bah.

The grandstands are empty this year at Texas State, where the university's corrupt football program has been hogtied by NCAA sanctions against boosters, athletes and TV coverage. All that's left of the once-formidable Fighting Armadillos is shell -- helmets and pads with nobody to put in them. And then, a kind of crazy idea comes to TSU's president (Fred Dalton Thompson): Why not build a football team from the actual student body?

Ha, say the cognoscenti, why not a field of deans?

But dreams come true in the little-engine genre, and soon TSU's new honest coach (Hector Elizondo) has jury-rigged a scrappy bunch to take on the best the league has to throw at 'em. A team right out of the American melting pot, the Armadillos are politically correct not only in terms of race, but also of age, sex and class.

"Quantum Leaper" Scott Bakula is moving a yard at a time here as the quarterback of this lovable bunch of football illiterates, a 34-year-old high school hero who for the noblest of reasons gave up a college scholarship to tend the family farm. Recruited by the crusty offensive coach (Robert Loggia), Bakula, a veritable Ben-Gay commercial, convincingly aches and creaks his way back to the limelight, and still has time to develop a relationship with his journalism professor (Harley Jane Kozak). He's this story's Jimmy Connors.

Hunky adult that he is, Bakula just never quite grew up. He missed out on everything -- cheerleaders even -- out there hoeing his rows in quiet resentment. As coach tells him, he has to learn to lead the men, to somehow make them his team.

The comedian Sinbad offers a sidekick's help as a former star linebacker turned astronomy professor. Also notable among the Armadillos are an enormous Samoan (Peter Navy Tuiasosopo), the center, and an apple-cheeked soccer player (Kathy Ireland), the kicker. A Sports Illustrated swimsuit covergirl, she has to fend off a lot of, uh, passes, but she does so with surprising grace. And it's cute when she and Tuiasosopo fall helmet over cleats for each other.

Of course, winning with a PC team is not easy. And it's all the harder when these stronghearted kids are pestered by a prissy dean (Larry Miller), who hopes to destroy the football program once and for all by giving the Armadillos bad grades.

Everything is not about going to class; sometimes there's "Necessary Roughness." Some guys -- and the occasional supermodel -- just gotta hit and pummel, as John Madden will tell you. It's okay to play hard in America. Just do it.

You get the feeling that's what director Stan ("Mr. Mom") Dragoti said to the cast at the half when the plot takes one more inevitable turn. Ol' Stan must have a way with his pom-poms. Then again, maybe everybody -- including a cameo cast of former football pros -- was just having a lot of fun playing movie.

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