Best Fictional Sports Characters: Johnny Utah
March is Movie Month here at Throwback Attack where we revisit some sports classics, create lists and remind everyone of some of the best – and worst – sports movies. As part of Movie Month, we will sometimes break down some of the best sports stars in non-sports movies. Today, we look at Johnny Utah from Point Break.
What do we know about Johnny Utah?
Not much. We learn about his past in one nighttime beach football game when his competitive streak causes him to tackle Bodhi in the ocean.
And he’s famous enough that a group of bank-robbing surfers recognize him. Maybe after a little prodding from Bodhi, but one of them remembers that Utah wore No. 9.
So, Utah was famous enough as a college quarterback but his playing future was derailed in the Rose Bowl game when his knee was bent backwards. Imagine a Joe Theismann-type of injury here.
Utah was Ohio State’s quarterback, leading the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl – at the time the Holy Grail of football for Big 10 and Pac 10 teams – and he helped Ohio State beat USC.
What does that mean?
Utah QB’d in the late 80s so playing USC in the Rose Bowl – and beating them – was a big deal. It wasn’t like Arizona State snuck in or Stanford or Washington State. This was two big-time football programs.
Which leads us to the next point about Utah: he received a scholarship to be the star quarterback at a football factory, so he automatically becomes one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the nation.
Judging from Utah’s injury and how he is remembered a few years later by a bunch of guys who probably don’t watch a ton of football, we can presume that Utah was a scrambling quarterback.
And, we hate to use the term, but based on his personality in the movie, Utah was a gunslinger. He would probably force a few balls into coverage and perhaps take off running a little too often, but he was an exciting quarterback destined for the NFL before that 90-degree knee bend.
Who is he comparable to? Maybe Michael Vick. Maybe Fran Tarkenton. But, really, Utah was Steve Young before Steve Young.
What makes Point Break so lovably bad though (aside from the fact it was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker and was nominated for Zero Dark Thirty … man, talk about a career arc), is that Utah is supposed to an undercover “EFF BEE EYE AGENT” yet a group of surfers that don’t give off the football fan vibe are able to recognize him. And, despite a career-ending debilitating injury (that crops up during a foot chase through Los Angeles), Utah is able to still run down a super-athletic Patrick Swayze on the beach.
Have you ever tried running in soft sand on the beach? You couldn’t catch a toddler with a head start in soft sand.
Not only does Utah run through four guys, but all of a sudden, the “field” they were playing on seems a hell of a lot longer. I don’t think that sort of attention to detail is something Bigelow carried forward in her directing career.
Either way, though, because of the cult following of Point Break, we are always reminded of Utah’s greatness – if only for the few minutes of the beach scene.