ith just seconds left in the fourth quarter, the crowd starts chanting "block that kick" while the underdogs strategize their next move. "There's an open man in the end zone," the announcer yells over the stadium sound system. "It's Charlie Banks!" And it's good! The Fighting Armadillos defeat the Texas Colts 22-21 in a nail-biter of a game in Fouts Field.
Sound familiar? As a North Texas fan, you’ve probably watched this movie at least once, and if you’re of a certain age, you may have even been in the stands for the filming. Necessary Roughness hit theaters 30 years ago and still has an impact on our Mean Green Family.
While watching this football comedy, you'll notice several key locations — Paul and Manu's dorm room in Kerr Hall, Dr. Suzanne Carter's office in the old Biology Building, a hospital room that features a great view of the Hurley Administration Building, and all of the game day action at Fouts Field. In April 1991, Paramount Pictures began production at UNT, making this football movie magic happen — with actors Scott Bakula, Sinbad, Jason Bateman, Marcus Giamatti, Harley Jane Kozak, Rob Schneider and Kathy Ireland, to name a few, as well as famous athletes for cameo roles.
Not only did they bring a great cast and crew to Denton, but they also gave students a chance to work as assistants and interns and, along with faculty and staff, as extras.
There was an even larger role waiting for one new graduate. Rick McKinney (’90) was looking for a job when he was approached by Jim Hobdy (’69), then UNT’s assistant athletic director of marketing, about a request from Paramount to be in the film.
"I got a call from the assistant head costumer, Barry Kellogg,” McKinney recalls, “and later that month, I met head costumer Dan Moore, who took me to Dallas to get costume fit for the Armadillo mascot suit."
As a former member of Talons who had a passion for football and served as the Eagle mascot Eppy (later re-named Scrappy) during UNT basketball games, McKinney was hired as Rowdy the Armadillo. He also served as the equipment liaison between the film crew and the athletic department.
"The filming was different than anything I had ever experienced, in life, playing ball, going to school, and growing up on a farm. The people you were side-by-side with were the sweetest folks ever, but the hours were extremely long," McKinney says.
With the Texas heat, the day shoots at Fouts took a toll on him while he performed in the multi-layer, 4-inch-thick armadillo suit, but that didn't stop him from entertaining the crowds of extras in Fouts Field. Practically living on set for the full shoot, which lasted several months, McKinney assisted the actors with their football equipment needs, and he wasn't the only one serving double duty.
Steve Selby (’70), then director of the UNT Coliseum, also was asked to help lend a hand.
"They needed officials for the game sequences of the movie, and I was a football official for about 24 years. So I put together a crew of my officiating friends, all from the Denton area, to cover those games,” says Selby, who along with his crew worked roughly 18 days on the set. "It was interesting to see the movie's final cut and how they put together the shooting of the scenes."
The UNT connections don't stop there. Most of the fill-in football players were UNT students. And several alumni kickstarted their careers with their experience on the set, including Micheline Mundo (’91), who worked as an extras casting coordinator; Michael “Jocco” Phillips (’92), who was a production assistant; and Bone Hampton (’93), a football extra who got encouragement from Sinbad to pursue his career as a stand-up comic.
So while they've paved “paradise” (or at least Fouts Field) and put up a parking lot, the memories of the Fightin' Armadillos live on.
We were able to catch up with a few of the actors who shared memories of their time in Denton. Marcus Giamatti, better known as Sargie "Fumblina" Wilkinson in the film, remembers the fun on set.
"We had a blast, we became great friends, and it was so much fun working together and playing football together. As a young actor at the time, it was an incredible experience to work with and learn from such pros as Scott Bakula and Hector Elizondo,” he says. “Truly a wonderful memory and experience. The town of Denton and all the people from North Texas who worked with us could not have been nicer and more supportive."
Harley Jane Kozak, Dr. Suzanne Carter in the film, also has fond memories of the cast and the football players.
"As great as Hollywood is, there are things you just can't find here, including a whole college campus to take over and film a movie on! The problem with memory is: the bad moments seem to stick more easily than the good ones, and there were no bad ones for me on the set of Necessary Roughness,” she says. “So what I remember most were how adorable the football players were, how thrilling it was to work with Robert Loggia and Hector Elizondo, both of whom I'd long admired, and Scott Bakula, the nicest guy in the world, and Larry Miller and Kathy Ireland, both of whom I'd acted with in other films.”
There are a few details that stick out in her mind, including one that wouldn’t be a problem for her on campus today (as our vegan Mean Greens Café celebrates its 10th anniversary).
“I remember liking my costumes, and learning to play handball — or was it racquetball? — and liking that, too, despite not being very good at it. I remember that my biggest challenge was to find vegetarian food when not on set — the producer hired on-set caterers who are used to picky-eater actors. I remember loving the writers, Rick [Natkin] and David [Fuller], and the director, Stan [Dragoti], and the producer, Hawk [Koch], the one who worried about my vegetarianism, and honestly, to love absolutely everyone on a movie set is rare,” she says. “And every single local we encountered was great. I truly believed Denton, Texas, was inhabited only by nice people.”
For more about the filming on campus: