Sports are such an ideal backdrop for heartwarming stories about perseverance and human spirit that there is an entire genre dedicated to them. From Cool Runnings to Moneyball and Remember the Titans, there have been plenty of movies that simply adapted real-life moments that already felt like they were scripted by Hollywood. And the underdog arc that often defines sports is so compelling and flexible that it’s also been molded onto fictional films about hockey, boxing, even arm-wrestling. There are so many of these movies because the formula works. Which is why it’s so puzzling that Netflix decided to spin an inspirational sports comedy out of … a coach’s one-year suspension from the NFL for presiding over a system that incentivized inflicting brain trauma.
In the fallout from Bountygate, head coach Sean Payton was subsequently banned from coaching during the 2012 season. Here’s where the, uh, inspirational angle comes in: During his time away from the NFL, Payton scratched his football itch by working with his son’s sixth-grade football team. And that’s why we have Home Team, which follows Payton (played, astonishingly, by Kevin James) as he coaches pee-wee football and grows closer to his son, all while the film avoids meaningfully addressing the elephant in the room—in this case, the elephant being a coach who technically oversaw his players getting a thousand dollars every time an opponent was carted off the field.
Suffice it to say, Home Team’s tonal balancing act between wholesome family comedy and disturbing real-life context is quite jarring. To help make (some) sense out of Netflix making a Bountygate-inspired kids movie starring Kevin James and the horny wolf-man from Twilight, here are the 25 most pressing questions I have about Home Team.
1. Let’s start with the obvious: Why did Sean Payton agree to this movie? It’s not like he needed this kind of publicity, which mostly draws attention back to a scandal that’s an ugly stain on an otherwise impressive coaching career. (Bountygate was awful, but also: When was the last time you thought about Bountygate? The NFL has had plenty of controversies since then.) It’s also low-key a film about how NFL coaches aren’t good fathers. But Home Team definitely has the Payton stamp of approval (more on that later), which is probably why the movie opens on the Saints winning Super Bowl XLIV instead of, like, a press conference in which Kevin James as Sean Payton hangs his head in shame. Speaking of that opening shot …
2. Why, instead of using archival footage of Payton, did they go with Kevin James doing his best Payton impression on the sideline?
3. Does the film ever acknowledge that Bountygate was happening during the season that the Saints won the Super Bowl? Of course not!
4. With all due respect to James, why is he playing Sean Payton? These two men don’t look anything alike.
5. Was the casting pool for Home Team—a Happy Madison production, by the way—limited to Adam Sandler’s inner circle? Sandler’s wife plays Payton’s ex-wife, Beth; Sandler’s daughter also has a small role in the movie; ROB SCHNEIDER PLAYS A PROMINENT ROLE. I suppose that, among all of Sandler’s bros, James does bear the closest resemblance to Payton?
6. Still, was William Fichtner unavailable?
7. While Bountygate is mentioned a few times throughout Home Team, the film doesn’t ever mention Gregg Williams by name. But that won’t stop me from wondering: Who should’ve played him? Present-day Williams kind of looks like Stephen Root, but the dude was definitely giving off Guy Fieri vibes during his Saints days.
8. Is it really a coincidence that Payton abruptly announced his retirement just days before Home Team came out?
9. Did Payton watch an early screening of the film and then decide to retire? Did he belatedly realize that turning a Bountygate-adjacent story into family-friendly entertainment was actually a bad idea? Or, as my colleague Rodger Sherman has theorized, is Home Team just an elaborate scheme for Payton to take over the Dallas Cowboys?
10. What controversial moment in recent sports history should Netflix turn into a family comedy next? My vote is that we get the [clears throat] redemptive tale of Karim Benzema, the French soccer player who was arrested in 2015 for blackmailing his teammate over a sex tape, finally getting back onto the national team in 2021.
11. Back to Schneider: While Sandler doesn’t show up in Home Team, Schneider does have a supporting role as Jamie, Beth’s new partner, who is the polar opposite of an NFL head coach. Jamie isn’t a character so much as a collection of liberal stereotypes, from extolling the virtues of vegan ice cream to practicing transcendental meditation at home:
You can tell that Schneider is relishing the opportunity to roast liberals, and there’s a reason for that: He’s been very vocal about not just leaving the Democratic Party, but being against COVID vaccines. Which raises a question: What does Rob Schneider find scarier, the thought of being tackled by NFL players with a financial incentive to injure him, or being immunized against a virus that’s killed millions across the globe?
12. The other main cast member in Home Team is Taylor Lautner, who plays Troy, the genial head coach of the Liberty Christian Warriors. In the nicest way possible, I have to ask: What’s your plan, Taylor Lautner? His Twilight costars have become Oscar hopefuls and, um, Batman, while his career has pretty much fizzled. But perhaps Lautner has found something of a home in the Sandlerverse: Home Team marks the actor’s third Happy Madison collaboration, after appearing in The Ridiculous 6 and Grown Ups 2. I hope it works out for him; as we’ve already covered, Sandler takes good care of his own. Besides, compared to Schneider and James, Lautner might as well be Daniel Day-Lewis.
13. After agreeing to help Troy coach his son’s team, Payton makes some changes to the Warriors, like converting the team’s quarterback into a running back because he’s so good at evading pressure. This causes some of the parents to question Payton’s methods, which, are you kidding me? Can you imagine telling a Super Bowl–winning coach that you’re not sure he knows what he’s doing?
14. Unsurprisingly, Payton’s adjustments make the Warriors better, and the parents get off his case. In fact, one of the moms invites Payton over to try her gumbo. If you think that sounds like innuendo, well, it pretty much is: She basically propositions him while her son is in the room. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, even before one of her eyelashes gets stuck when she tries winking at Payton.
Since Home Team is based on a true story, did a mom really try to hook up with Sean Payton? Or does Sean Payton just want us to believe that Sean Payton is a sex symbol for single moms across the country?
15. One of the biggest reasons that Payton decides to help coach the Warriors—aside from missing being on an NFL sideline—is so that he can bond with his son, Connor (Tait Blum). But based on some of their moments together in Home Team, Payton might actually be a terrible dad?
Nothing quite says “absent father” like asking your kid if they like music.
16. How many Saints-branded visors were manufactured for this movie?
17. While the Warriors improve, they still aren’t a match for the regional champion Porcupines, who are coached by—wait, is that the Old Spice Guy?!
Yep, that’s Isaiah Mustafa. What the hell is going on here?
18. Between the wolf from Twilight, the Old Spice Guy, and Kevin James playing Sean Payton, is Home Town an early contender for the most chaotically cast film of the year?
19. As the Warriors improve on the field, Payton turns more of his focus toward winning. To do this, he starts benching some of the kids who aren’t as talented, which hurts their feelings. It isn’t until Connor confronts his dad for prioritizing winning above the well-being of sixth-graders that Payton changes his ways. My point is: Considering that Payton was only in this situation because of a Bountygate-imposed suspension, is Home Team secretly a brilliant film about how the NFL’s culture of winning at all costs corrupts the soul?
20. Am I giving way too much credit to a film that features a sequence of youth football players projectile vomiting because Hippie Rob Schneider fed them homemade energy bars?
21. In the final game of the season—a championship rematch against the Porcupines—Payton decides to heed Connor’s advice and let some of his teammates get their moment in the spotlight at the expense of winning. (The team’s timid kicker ends up missing a field goal by destroying the scoreboard instead.) Did Payton take these lessons back with him when he returned to the Saints? “Maybe,” responds Taysom Hill’s restructured contract.
22. Throughout Home Team, it’s hard to shake the feeling of a looming Sean Payton cameo. And sure enough, when James’s Payton arrives back to his office post-suspension, he’s greeted by “Lionel” the janitor:
I’m sure you don’t need the clarification, but yes, that is Sean Payton in arguably the worst wig committed to film since, coincidentally, Taylor Lautner in Twilight. Is the wig this bad on purpose?
23. Is Payton throwing shade at the Saints with this comment?
Bold words coming from a guy who stole Peter Dinklage’s hair from The Boss.
24. Have I become a Payton-used-the-movie-to-comment-about-his-impending-retirement truther? Yes, my third eye has been opened.
25. Could you pay me to watch Home Team again? Probably not. Will I immediately click Play whenever Netflix drops its Spy Kids–esque riff on Bill Belichick’s Spygate? Absolutely.