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Column: A Rams Super Bowl win could be sequel to ‘Heaven Can Wait’

Dick Enberg And Warren Beatty In ‘Heaven Can Wait’
Dick Enberg interviews Warren Beatty after a Super Bowl victory in a scene from the 1978 film “Heaven Can Wait.”
(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

The Rams win the Super Bowl.

They win it wearing bright blue-and-yellow throwback uniforms, in overtime, against a favored traditional powerhouse.

They win it with a play made by a quarterback wearing the number 16 whose name sounds like “Jared.’’

This is not a prediction. This is recorded history. This actually happened 41 years ago in a Super Bowl game that was viewed on big screens all across the country.

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Warren Beatty laughs: “Pretty interesting, huh?’’

Only in Hollywood could a football team make it to the Super Bowl and discover that Hollywood already beat it there.

Only in Hollywood could a sports franchise play in a championship game and have it be considered a sequel.

Only in movie heaven could actual movie heaven provide the stage for the reality of Super Bowl LIII Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Rams will try to be the only Los Angeles Rams team to match the mystique of its ancestors.

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“Heaven Can Wait’’ is still waiting, but maybe not for much longer.

“You never know,’’ Beatty said, laughing again during a phone interview. “You never know.’’

Beatty is having a good chuckle these days over his involvement in what was a fantasy football movie that could soon be reality. He starred in, co-wrote and co-directed “Heaven Can Wait,’’ a 1978 film that won an Academy Award.

“I can’t help but be fascinated,’’ Beatty said.

The movie, the second film adaptation of a Harry Segall play, is about a veteran Rams quarterback who is killed and taken to heaven just before the start of what he thinks will be a Super Bowl season. But it turns out, he wasn’t supposed to die, and the movie centers the efforts of his guardian angel to place him back into an available earthly body.

Everyone tells us we are a Hollywood story. Well, this is a story Hollywood has told before.
Kevin Demoff, Rams’ chief operating officer

At first, Beatty’s character is given the body of millionaire industrial Leo Farnsworth, who buys the Rams and installs himself as quarterback just in time for the Super Bowl. But then Farnsworth is murdered, and Beatty needs another body to fulfill his Super Bowl dream.

In both movie magic and horror, Rams quarterback Tom Jarrett is killed by a vicious tackle during the Super Bowl, so Beatty is given his body as the game heads into overtime. He then leads the Rams downfield to victory.

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There is a love story in there, and lots of comedy, particularly from Farnsworth’s scheming wife, played by Dyan Cannon. But Rams fans will be most interested in the football.

“Everyone tells us we are a Hollywood story,’’ said Kevin Demoff, chief operating officer of the real Rams. “Well, this is a story Hollywood has told before.’’

It is eerie watching the “Heaven Can Wait’’ climactic scene, the Rams driving for the winning score against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Suddenly, the old movie plays like a current highlights video.

It shows the Rams wearing basically the same uniforms you will see on Sunday, with quarterback Beatty wearing the same No. 16 of current Rams quarterback Jared Goff. And it gets even weirder.

Because the movie’s radio broadcaster uses only the quarterback’s last name, Jarrett, it sounds as if he is saying “Jared’’ as No. 16 leads his team down the field.

“Sudden death overtime, ‘Jared’ is sending this crowd into delirium, he’s guiding the Rams … remarkable comeback by ‘Jared’ … ‘Jared’ trying to get them into field-goal position!’’

To add a final bit of the supernatural to the scene, it was filmed at the Coliseum during halftime of a Rams exhibition game before the 1977 regular season, and you’ll never guess the opponent.

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It was the San Diego Chargers. It turns out, by knowing there would be enough screaming fans to support a football scene, Beatty understood the Fight for L.A. before there was a Fight for L.A.

“It’s amazing we were even able to pull that off,’’ said Buck Henry, who co-directed and had a supporting role.

That’s only one of the amazing things about that scene, which ends when Beatty’s character, Jarrett, completes a pass to a running back, the running back fumbles, and Jarrett picks the ball up and carries it 50 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

First, that was actually Warren Beatty playing quarterback. The former high school football center and linebacker hired a Canadian Football League quarterback to throw the ball, but then changed his mind when he realized he could do it himself.

“I told the guy, ‘I’ve got 12 plays here. I’m going to do the first play, see what happens. I’m sure I’ll be calling you to come onto the field,’ ’’ Beatty recalled. “I did the first play, and to my surprise, it worked quite well. I thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll do the second play.’ Then I did a third one. Then I ended up doing all 12.’’

He is three-for-three passing in the shots that appear on film, completing one deep ball and two short throws while absorbing a sack. But equally as impressive, he was doing it in a hurry-up offense, because they had to get off the field before the second half of the real game began.

“People joke about the fact I like to do a lot of takes,” Beatty said. “Well, we only had a few minutes, there was no time.’’

When the scene ended with his 50-yard sprint, Beatty was so wiped out that his character’s gasping breaths were real.

“I’m pretty winded, they’re carrying me off the field on their shoulders, and [co-star] Julie Christie is saying to me, ‘You’re not going to do 10 takes of that,’ ’’ he said.

As Beatty’s character sat atop his teammates’ shoulders and he thrust his hands to the sky, the crowd stood and roared, which might be the most impressive part of the scene because the fans had no idea they were watching the filming of a movie.

“We didn’t tell them what was happening, we just did it,’’ Beatty said.

Both teams in the scene were composed of retired football players, former Rams stars such as Deacon Jones and Jack Snow among them, further confusing the crowd.

”It was really strange. It’s halftime of a real game, and all of sudden all of these old players run out on the field in uniform,’’ recalled former Rams running back Les Josephson, who acted in the movie. “It took the fans a few minutes to recognize some of us and realize what was happening.’’

Josephson caught 194 passes in his 10-year Rams career, and it appears that he is the running back who catches the pass and then fumbles, setting up Beatty’s recovery and winning touchdown. This would make Josephson a cool part of the movie, except, well, just don’t expect a former football player to ever celebrate a turnover.

“I don’t remember if that was me,’’ he said. “But if I fumbled, it was only because the script told me to fumble.’’

Beatty, who says he is a “loyal Rams fan,’’ will be watching Sunday’s game as the Rams take on the New England Patriots. And he will be rooting especially hard for his sound-alike namesake.

“For Jared Goff, I remove my chapeau. He’s really terrific, but he’s so young, and you’ve got Tom Brady, who is a veteran and … I would not want to be so arrogant as to make a prediction,’’ Beatty said.

Also cheering for the Rams will be the most notable Los Angeles sports fan from “Heaven Can Wait,’’ although Dyan Cannon looks back on the film with a twinge of regret. Because of a communications breakdown, she never appeared in the football scenes.

While Cannon was vacationing in Big Sur during a break in the shooting, her character was written into an extra scene on the football field, but there was one problem.

“We didn’t have cellphones back then, and they couldn’t reach me in Big Sur. And by the time I got back, it was too late,’’ she said. “It was so sad.’’

Cannon, a legendary celebrity Lakers fan who also sat at Dodger Stadium for all 18 innings of Game 3 of last October’s World Series, plans to support the Rams during the Super Bowl.

“I’m buying a Rams jersey just for the game,’’ she said.

The number? Good Heavens Can Wait, what number do you think?

Tom Jarrett, Warren Beatty and Jared Goff could all be coming together Sunday under one magical integer, and the wait for a Super Bowl champion Rams team in Los Angeles could finally be over.

“There is no question,’’ she said. “I’ll be wearing No. 16.’’

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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