A 1993 sports drama set in the fictional Eastern State University (ESU), where coach Sam Winters (James Caan) is under intense pressure to deliver a winning season after two straight losing campaigns, or face the prospect of getting fired. His team is not without talent, as junior quarterback Joe Kane (Craig Sheffer) is a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, junior linebacker Alvin Mack (Duane Davis) is arguably the country's best defensive player, and Darnell Jefferson (Omar Epps) is a highly-regarded freshman recruit at tailback. He's also got Steve Lattimer (Andrew Bryniarski), a senior defensive end who mysteriously gained 35 pounds in the offseason, and is likely to start after spending his first three seasons on the punt return team.
However, each of these young men have their own personal challenges that could jeopardize the team's chances of making it to a bowl game and saving Winters' job Joe comes from a family of alcoholics, Alvin is functionally-illiterate and sees the NFL as his family's ticket out of poverty, Lattimer is obviously and blatantly doping to get big, and Darnell is a cocky kid from the ghetto whose love interest, the pretty, smart, and hard-working upperclassman Autumn Haley (Halle Berry), is way out of his league. And dating the guy who's starting ahead of him at TB.
The Program received mixed reviews upon its release, although the late Roger Ebert did give the film three stars out of four for its fairly realistic depiction of a big-name college football program.
Let's put the women and children to bed and go lookin' for tropes!
- The Alcoholic: Joe's father and brothers are alcoholics, and he seems to be venturing down a similar path. Until Coach Winters sends him to rehab so that his DWI and assault charges can be dropped.
- Big Fun: Bud-Lite Kaminski, the offensive tackle and comic relief of the Timberwolves. Understandable, as he's played by Abraham Benrubi, aka Larry Kubiac of Parker Lewis Can't Lose fame.
- Bittersweet Ending: The Timberwolves narrowly defeat Georgia Tech and get a bowl game invite, effectively allowing Coach Winters to keep his job. Darnell and Autumn are in a relationship, with Mr. Haley approving of Darnell due to his improved grades and work ethic. He's also become friends with his old rival, Ray Griffen. Joe is finally sober and has reconciled with Camille. But his 28-day rehab stint and his crunchtime interception against Michigan have cost him a chance at the Heisman, though he has his senior year to make another shot at the trophy. Alvin's football career is essentially over after his serious injury. And Lattimer knows he's going to be an NFL bust and/or a loser in life, now that he knows that his sudden rise to stardom was almost exclusively due to the steroids, and that he didn't take his studies seriously.
- Blatant Lies: Coach Winters' daughter Louanne, upon getting caught by the exam proctor taking a test for her boyfriend. She tells the proctor that her name is "Bobby Collins," which would have been plausible (as the name could pass for the feminine "Bobbi" or "Bobbie") had the proctor not asked for her ID.
- Book Dumb: Many of the main characters, except Ray Griffen, who is planning to attend medical school after he graduates.
- Deadpan Snarker: The Regent Chairman at Bobby Collins' reinstatement hearing. He is so full of snark when it comes to the academically-challenged Bobby."In what, swimming pool management?", in response to a school official pointing out that Bobby is on track to completing his degree."This is not a football vocational school. It's an institute for higher learning."
- Decoy Protagonist: James Caan receives top billing in the film, and is the first main character introduced. And while he is prominently featured as the ESU Timberwolves' tough, but fair and oftentimes compassionate head coach, the film mostly revolves around the personal issues of his star players, particularly Heisman-candidate quarterback Joe Kane.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Although the film came out a good seven years before Remember the Titans, it also features a fullback named Ray deliberately missing a block to make his tailback look bad. The Ray in this film, however, redeems himself after getting a stern warning from his coach.
- Dumb Jock: Bobby and Alvin. The former reads at a fourth-grade level, the latter is functionally illiterate.
- Gentle Giant: Bud-Lite. His idea of trash talk is singing cowboy songs on the field.
- Girl Next Door: Camille, who becomes Joe's girlfriend midway through the film. She's a dedicated tennis player who isn't much for partying, and typically doesn't date football players.
- HeelFace Turn: Ray Griffen. Initially, he is almost a male version of an Academic Alpha Bitch, looking down on his less academically-inclined romantic rival Darnell as "just another gangbanger with speed." Originally a starting tailback, he gets moved to fullback, much to his chagrin, and he purposely misses a block in the first half against Georgia Tech, so as to make new starting TB Darnell look bad. Both men then slug it out in the locker room during halftime, until Coach Winters breaks up the fight and privately tells Ray that he knew he missed the block on purpose. Chastened by his coach's warning, Ray opens up a ton of holes for Darnell in the second half, and graciously accepts the fact that Darnell is now dating his ex-girlfriend Autumn, while also accepting Darnell as a friend and teammate.
- Heel Realization: Although Lattimer is more anti-hero than villain for most of the movie, the scene where he cries by himself while the rest of the team celebrates the final win against Georgia Tech finally shows him regretting his constant steroid use, among other shenanigans.
- Jerkass: Lattimer on steroids. The movie has him screaming about being a starter while head-butting car windows, and on a much darker note, attacking the daughter of one of ESU's boosters when she refused to have sex with him.
- Large Ham: Alvin Mack while playing defense. He LOVES riling up opponents with his trash talk, which often involves loud accusations that the players did something bad to his loved ones.Mack: You're the guy who shot my mother, aren't you?Mississippi St. RB: Shut up, man, you know I never knew your mother.
- Lattimer when under the influence of steroids.
- Last-Name Basis: Lattimer. Hardly anyone calls him by his given name, Steve.
- Love Triangle: Darnell, Autumn, and Ray.
- Only Sane Man: Coach Winters for most of the film, especially when things begin to go awry for the Timberwolves and their loved ones his daughter gets expelled for taking a test for her boyfriend, backup QB Bobby, a roided-up Lattimer violently assaults a female student for rejecting his sexual advances, Darnell doesn't feel good enough for Autumn and her father, Joe injures a bar patron after the man accused him of smiling at his girlfriend.
- Bud-Lite Kaminsky can also qualify, as he's mostly there to provide laughs as the Gentle Giant of the team.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Coach Winters. Yes, he does scream and cuss at some points, but he doesn't need to do it to earn respect from his players. And, as mentioned, he can be compassionate if he needs to be.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Darnell's initial attempts to woo Autumn are marked by his tendency to use, or should we say misuse, big words. Needless to say, she isn't impressed.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Bobby. Against his principles, Coach Winters went out of his way to get him reinstated. And when he gets benched in the final game for his ineffective play, then asked to clean up the mess Winters made when he toppled the table filled with Gatorade cups, he reacts angrily. This could justify Winters' concern about his character when he scolded his daughter after she got expelled for taking a test for Bobby.