Bromances, Sexcapades and an Actual Lawsuit: 20 Fun Facts You Forgot About Varsity Blues

The legendary teen flick is marking its 20th birthday! Celebrate by reliving all of the magic both on and off the field.

By Sarah Grossbart Jan 15, 2019 11:00 AMTags

Think back to when you were partying like it's 1999. 

Yup, Prince was still around. Michael Jackson too. Hillary Clinton, years ahead of her presidential run, was standing by husband Bill Clinton's side as impeachment proceedings began and everyone was starting to fret about what was to come with Y2K. Thankfully, pop culture was offering much in the way of distraction. In a land before DVR, families were gathering to watch The Sopranos or test their trivia knowledge with the latest installment of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and there were these two emerging pop stars by the names of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera producing impossibly catchy tunes. 

It was also a year that brought us some of the best teenage cinema to date with She's All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, American Pie and Cruel Intentions offering up a plethora of angsty high school fare for the under-18 set. 

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But before Heath Ledger and Ryan Philippe could become the lovable bad boys of our dreams and Jason Biggs could teach prepubescent boys about the wonders of pastries, we were introduced to Jonathan "Mox" Moxon and his troubled existence in West Canaan, Tex. 

Starring the likes of Ali Larter, Amy Smart, Paul Walker and a Dawson Leery-era James Van Der Beek, Varsity Blues brought to life the high-stakes, win-at-all-costs world of Texas high school football. Van Der Beek's Mox was the second-string quarterback, just biding his time down South until he could escape to the sports-free world of Brown University when star hurler Lance Harbor (Walker, may he rest in peace) injured his knee, bumping Mox up the depth chart. His promotion to big man on campus brought the requisite chaos and the realization for Mox that he did not want that life. 

In addition to giving us that oh-so-repeatable line, the flick also taught some valuable lessons about the dangers of steroids and whipped cream bikinis and provided endless amusement. In honor of its 20th anniversary today, behold 20 factoids you may have forgotten. We'd give 'em a 10—a f--kin' 10!

1. Chris Klein lost out on the role of Mox for one specific reason. 
The future star of American Pie was done in by his 6-foot-1 frame, insists Ron Lester, who played the hulking, but sensitive offensive guard Billy Bob. In a 2014 interview with VH1—two years before the actor succumbed to liver and kidney failure—he recalled screen testing "with eight different Moxons" including Chris Klein and Van Der Beek. Afterwards, he shared, director Brian Robbins approached and asked his opinion on who he thought would make the best Mox. "I told him Van Der Beek," he recalled of the star, who, interestingly enough, is also listed as being 6-foot-1. "I remember that [Klein] was so much taller than me. It sucked." 

2. Van Der Beek had some experience with a pigskin. 
In fact, the Connecticut native didn't turn to acting until a concussion suffered during an eighth grade game forced him to take a break from the field. By 16, he was making his professional off-Broadway debut. Fortunately he could glean insight from the experiences of younger brother Jared, who played for a high school that won the state championship five years in a row. "I watched him go through all that insanity and I watched him deal with coaches like Kilmer," he told E! News. "So it was one of the ways this film spoke to me."

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3. But, uh, he wasn't all that skilled.
According to Lester, Van Der Beek's arm wasn't exactly up to snuff, so they enlisted a University of Texas quarterback (at the time, Major Applewhite was the Longhorns' starter) to sub in. "Every time you see a straight ball thrown from Van Der Beek, it was the UT quarterback. I promise you," he told VH1. "Van Der Beek couldn't throw a ball. He played a role. He worked his heart off. He did a great job. But at the end of the day Paul was a more athletic-type person than Van Der Beek was."

4. In fact, there was only one true baller in the cast. 
That would be Eliel Swinton, a.k.a. Wendell, the running back with big college dreams. "He was the only one who really played football," insisted Lester. Following a standout career at L.A.'s Montclair Prep, Swinton headed to Stanford and then Kansas City, where he signed with the Chiefs. But when an injury cut his playing days short, he went back to L.A. to work as a production assistant and, as it turns out, return to his roots.

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5. The film birthed a lifelong friendship. 
Smart and Larter may have been painted as romantic rivals in the film, but as the sole female stars, they bonded instantly. "We were the only two girls on set and we're still best friends to this day," Smart told Bustle in 2014. And while she admitted to enduring "a little bit" of teasing from the entirely frat-tastic cast, she says Oscar nominee Jon Voight, the actor behind the easy to hate Coach Kilmer, "was a huge mentor. He was a guiding light for all of us."

6. A true bromance as well. 
Earning the part of cocky wide receiver Charlie Tweeder sent Scott Caan into a bit of a panic. "I had never really been on location for a long amount of time," he told Entertainment Weekly in a tribute to Walker after his 2013 death. "When you're in your 20s and leaving all your friends and family, you have no idea what it's going to be like. I was complaining to my friends like, 'I'm not going to like any of these guys.' A bunch of actors, you know?" Then he met Walker and the pair jibed over a mutual love of surfing and jujitsu. They got an Austin apartment together that night ("It was like a frat house," he said of the two-bedroom rental) and remained friends until Walker was killed in a car accident. 

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7. Though Caan may not have had a pal in Lester. 
The Georgia native cites his nearly 500-pound girth as the reason he hadn't snagged a girlfriend at the time of filming. So when he connected with an extra from the strip club scene and brought her back to his place, he was stoked. "Right when things started getting good, Scott walks into my room and says, 'I need to borrow your camera for an audition,'" he recalled to VH1. "Dude! I was so close! Are you kidding me?" Later, with the help of gastric bypass surgery, Lester shed an impressive 300 pounds. 

8. Van Der Beek looked up to a real football star.
In a 2010 tweet, the Dawson's Creek alum revealed he wore a number four jersey in honor of Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre, writing, "What more can you ask of a hero than to never give up & go out like a true warrior?"

9. The crew used legitimate high school football stadiums. 
During the eight-week shoot, they filmed in 8500-seat high school stadiums in Elgin and Georgetown.

10. Real announcers, too. reports the play-by-play guys used called actual local games. 

11. And the cast suffered very realistic injuries. 
While Walker broke his leg during the shoot, Lester tore a patellar tendon. His condition made capturing the final, victorious play particularly tricky. "The biggest problem was, when it was time for him to get that close-up right before the hook-and-ladder play," Mark Robert Ellis, the film's football coordinator told Grantland. "Getting him into that three-point stance was the hardest thing to do. He could make the catch on the hook and ladder. He had good hands, was a good athlete; he just had all that weight."

12. The director couldn't resist a cameo. 
In a locker room scene, Robbins appears alongside the extras as one of the players—his real name is even inscribed on the jersey he wears. 

13. Whipped cream doesn't hold all that well. 
To make sure it stuck, Larter's famed bikini was actually crafted out of shaving cream and is likely the reason she's hesitant about letting son Theodore, 8, and daughter Vivienne, 3, ever see the film. 

14. Lester scored the role thanks to his work in Good Burger.
Robbins directed the Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell tween comedy and was so impressed with the Groundlings alum's take on fry cook Spatch that he kept him in mind while casting Varsity Blues. "Ron really is a sensitive, sweet guy. Billy Bob as a character was such a sensitive soul. He was Billy Bob," he told Grantland. "There was no second choice."

15. And almost ran away with the whole film. 
"I don't mean this in an ego way, but I have never met anyone who has seen the movie who hasn't said to me, 'You stole that movie,'" he boasted in the Grantland profile. "In fact, there was a point where Paramount was getting complaints from Van Der Beek's people that I was stealing the movie from him." As for the actor's signature "I don't want your life" line, the Southerner was unimpressed with his take: "The accent, the way it's delivered, it bones me, it bends me over and bones me bad."

16. You can thank Ol' Blue Eyes for his emotional climax. 
For the scene in which Billy Bob, wracked with guilt over letting the team down, contemplates suicide, sitting in the back of his pickup with a carton of pee wee football trophies, a bottle of tequila and a loaded shotgun, Lester had plenty of life experience to borrow from. He had once attempted to shoot himself after the premature death of his sister, but nothing happened when he pulled the trigger: "I actually have the bullet, still. It's not a dud; it's live. It just didn't go off." But he says the passing that day of Frank Sinatra pushed him over the edge. "I find out Frank Sinatra dies just as I was about to go film," he told VH1. "A lot of what you see in that shot, I give credit to the fact that we lost the Chairman."

17. The film inspired a legal battle.
With the University of Toronto holding the trademark on the term "Varsity Blues" for their intercollegiate athletic department, they sued studio Paramount, alleging the film portrayed an unfavorable depiction of college sports. As part of the settlement, Bruce Kidd, dean of the faculty of physical education and health, said Paramount offered a "significant donation" that was put toward scholarships and agreed to put a disclaimer on the video and book clarifying it wasn't associated with U of T. 

18. The end zone dance was borrowed, too. 
Tweeter's victory dance is believed to be a take on The Ickey Shuffle, perfected by Cincinnati Bengals fullback Elbert "Ickey" Woods.

19. Filming was brutal. 
Two-a-days in Austin's May heat isn't exactly ideal, so football coordinator Ellis did his best to foist Gatorade on the actors and always have an ice towel nearby. 

20. And yet there's still a chance the cast could reprise their roles. 
Though the reported CMT series hasn't come to fruition, Van Der Beek hinted to Yahoo TV in 2017 that a film version was in the works. "I'm not sure how much I can say, but there are some very serious talks about that," he revealed. "We are talking actively about that world and modernizing it." His idea involves some sort of Mox redemption tale. The title: Varsity Blues: He Doesn't Want Your Life.