No matter who you are, no matter what you do for a living, there’s always somebody younger, faster and stronger coming right up behind you. At the crossroads of his life, Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) has finally come to that realization.
Four years ago, D’Amato’s Miami Sharks had nailed two AFFA (Associated Football Franchises of America) championships in a row, but in pro years, that’s a lifetime. Now, his team is struggling with three consecutive losses, sliding attendance, and aging heroes, particularly 39-year-old quarterback Jack “Cap” Rooney (Dennis Quaid), who’s desperately clinging to what’s left for him as a player.
Off the field, D’Amato is dealing with a failed marriage and estranged children, and is on a collision course with Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), the young president/co-owner of the Sharks organization.
Unlike her late father, an Old-School protector of the sport’s sanctity, Christina maintains a take-no-prisoners style of management. She knows that the harsh realities of the modern game means that profitable portions must be parceled out to the highest bidders from the world of media, marketing and merchandising…and a losing team means a losing investment. Although she may start off as a novice, she evolves more and more as her team’s crisis escalates, and eventually becomes a force of nature of the modern world of professional sports.
Cap Rooney is a quarterback who symbolizes the great recent past of the Sharks; he’s football royalty. But he’s getting older and fighting to hold onto his own legend. When a devastating hit knocks Rooney and the second-string quarterback out of the game, the Sharks’ third-string, seventh-round draft pick, Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), is called onto the field. After a shaky start, and against all expectations, Beamen begins to stun both fans and management with his spectacular gridiron performance, throwing the great Cap Rooney’s future into doubt and forcing D’Amato to grapple with his long-cherished ideals of personal and professional loyalty.
Whereas D’Amato firmly believes that the game “has got to be about something more than winning,” the only goal that the pragmatic “Steamin’ Beamen” has is winning– with all of the material perks that he can acquire during the short life span of a pro football player.
With Beamen pushing from one side, Christina Pagniacci pressuring from the other, and his old quarterback Cap trying desperately to get back onto the field, Tony D’Amato sees the Sharks coming apart at the seams. Pressured and disillusioned, he wonders if he’s losing his edge, his team and his very reason to wake up in the morning.