Who Ya Got: Johnny Utah Vs. Shane Falco

There is no mention of an amateur football career anywhere on Keanu Reeves’s Wikipedia Page. That’s shocking information, considering the two star-turning roles in which Reeves plays a washed-up college quarterback. Now, I’m not saying that Reeves is playing out some fantasy he had as a child. Nor am I trying to suggest that The Replacements just took Reeves’s backstory from Point Break, recycled it, and changed his name. But it is remarkable that he plays THE SAME CHARACTER in both films.

In the 1995 action film Point Break, Reeves stars as FBI agent Johnny Utah. Before the FBI, Utah had been a star quarterback at The Ohio State University until a devastating knee injury ended his career. He washed up in the FBI, and eventually landed on the shores of Hawaii tracking down The Ex-Presidents. In The Replacements, a movie about a fictional NFL strike, Reeves plays Washington Sentinels replacement quarterback Shane Falco. Where did Falco play his college ball? You guessed it: Ohio State. Unlike Utah, Falco’s run to stardom ended when he (metaphorically) pooped his pants on national television and choked in the Sugar Bowl. Falco was never the same after that game, and ended up cleaning boats for a living until the strike.

The similarities are easy to see. But now we must tackle the differences. Which Reeves washed-up quarterback is best? Who do you want leading your offense in a tight game? The choice may not be as easy as you believe.

After substantial research (see: Jon Gruden clips on SportsCenter), I’ve determined a list of characteristics that every great quarterback must have. We’ll judge our fictional has-beens on this criteria and pick a winner. Our traits:

  • Technique
  • Athletic Ability
  • Performance Under Pressure
  • Leadership
  • Does He Win?


The game tape is limited on Johnny Utah, so we’ll start with him. We here mostly whispers about Utah’s football career in Point Break, and in fact it’s mostly irrelevant. Except, that is, for the epic beach football game that serves as Utah’s initiation into Bodhi’s gang. While Bodhi (the late Patrick Swayze) runs a smash-mouth, run-through-everybody style offense, our man Johnny Utah leads a sophisticated aerial assault. He’s tossing lasers around the field, taking contact, and demonstrating the tools that could’ve made him an All-Pro (though, admittedly, he’s got a bit of a short-arm thing going on). Just check out the play action around 17 seconds. He dekes everyone before throwing an absolute dime to his open receiver. That type of deception could make Tom Brady jealous and give defenders nightmares.

With Falco, there’s a lot more footage against much better competition. Despite a rough start, Coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) talks about Falco’s first-round ability, and Falco hits some tough passes. As he gets more comfortable in the offense while the movie goes on, Falco throws some beautiful passes, even when they are dropped by his receiving core. He makes a pretty atrocious pass on a game-winning two-point conversion attempt, but it is miraculously caught, and he shows a willingness to better his craft after the game. It’s all topped off by an incredible second half performance in the movie’s final game, which Falco wins with a gorgeous deep ball.

Johnny Utah shows off some impressive skills in the pocket in his lone football scene, but Falco displayed more ability against tougher competition. I have to give this one to him.

Athletic Ability

This is drastically different from technique, though perhaps just as important. Technique deals with skills as a quarterback. But that might not be enough for today’s NFL. I want the whole package when I’m building a team.

We’ll start with Falco in this part. The peak of his athleticism has to be in the final moments of the Dallas game, when Falco decides to fake a field goal and runs the ball in for a score (it was called back for holding, but still). He breaks tackles, jukes defenders, and miraculously finds the pylon. It’s quite the run. However, if we want to look at the peak, we also have to look at the nadir. That, of course, is how goofy Falco looks doing the Electric Slide. He’s like your random “cool” uncle at a Bar Mitzvah. Great effort, but it’s clumsy.

While Falco is busy dancing in prison, Johnny Utah joins a surfing gang. After his electric slide performance, I just couldn’t imagine Falco fitting in with a group of extreme sport athletes. Nor could he fit in with bank robbers. Utah, despite his bad knee, becomes a pretty good surfer. There’s also his Ben Watson-esque chase down of Bodhi at the end of the football scene, along with a foot chase after an Ex-Presidents robbery. Plus, Utah goes skydiving WITHOUT A PARACHUTE.

Falco had some impressive runs, but Utah (injury aside) is the more versatile athlete.

20th Century Fox | Giphy

Performance Under Pressure

Shane Falco’s career ended because of his inability to perform under pressure. During the film, Falco calls a terrible audible in his first crunch-time moment, and the Sentinels lose. Later, Falco nearly chokes away a second game with an errant throw on a two-point conversion attempt. Sure, in the waning moments of his final game, Falco delivers a performance to remember, capped off by a fifty-yard bomb as time expires. But there’s too much history there for me to trust him every time. Even Peyton Manning won a couple Super Bowls.

Unlike Falco, Johnny Utah thrives under pressure. He goes undercover with a gang of bank robbers (though, unfortunately, is eventually discovered.) He aids in a bank robbery in order to save the life of his friend/lover. Again, for emphasis, he SKYDIVES WITHOUT A PARACHUTE. That’s crazy. Ludicrous, even. But with the money on the line, Utah knew what he had to do. He sacrificed his body, and took a leap of faith. It may have nothing to do with his football ability, but I have a hard time believing Johnny Utah would be phased by the pressure of a football game.

20th Century Fox | Giphy


Spoiler alert: Shane Falco wins this category. Hands down, no contest. Utah struggles to get along with his partner and superiors for most of the film, and (as mentioned above) gets his love-interest kidnapped. He gets his partner killed. He can’t convince the Ex-Presidents to stop robbing banks. He’s a lone wolf.

As for Falco? Here is a highlight reel of his most inspirational moments:

Watch through those and tell me you don’t have goosebumps. It doesn’t even include Falco saving Nigel Gruff’s life. Falco might not be the best football player, but he is a born leader. Eddie Martel, the “best quarterback in the league” couldn’t lead these replacement players. But Shane Falco can.

Point, Falco.

Does He Win?

I’ve saved the most important category for last, and as we head in all tied up, it’s a fitting ending. You hear talking heads talk about guys all the time as “winners.” They’ve just got that edge. Sometimes, it can sound like a load of baloney. But if you’ve ever played sports, you know what that means. There are some guys that just have that edge, that confidence, that air about them. If they’re on your team, you expect to win. It’s not just ability — it’s something else.

Johnny Utah, despite all of his talent and ability, doesn’t really have it. During the movie, his cover gets blown, his lover is kidnapped, and his partner gets killed. Those are some pretty big L’s he’s taking over there. Then, Utah twice loses the opportunity to apprehend Bodhi. Finally, in the last scene of the movie, Utah seems like he has a victory. He is finally one step ahead of Bodhi, and corners him at a great wave in Australia. What does Utah do? He pulls the ultimate nice-guy move and lets Bodhi go out surfing to his certain death. Sure, you like Utah better as a character, but that isn’t the killer instinct you need to win.

Shane Falco wins. Period. That’s (almost) all he does. After the flub in the first game, Falco leads his band of misfits on a tour de force that ends with a Sentinels playoff berth. He’s like Tim Tebow, but with a better throwing motion, pocket presence, and completion percentage. When it comes down to it, he wants the ball, “because winners always do.”

Warner Bros | Giphy

Perhaps it was always going to end this way. Shane Falco’s NFL experience just proves to be too much for Johnny Utah. I don’t know if I can trust him on the biggest stage, but I think Falco has to be Keanu Reeves’s better washed-up quarterback. The only question remaining: was John Wick also a quarterback?

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  1. Pingback: It’s So Crazy, It Just Might Happen… – Hot Takes With Hotwheels

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