Screen tests: few compare with 'Diner'

Accorsi framed Levinson's Colts' questions in more than blue and white

Baltimore ... Or Less

October 20, 2002|By Jon Morgan | By Jon Morgan,Sun Staff

It was simultaneously endearing and appalling, this idea of requiring a potential mate to pass a test of football trivia as a condition of matrimony.

The concept forms a climactic scene in the movie Diner, when a character solemnly submits his fiancee to a rigorous exam on Baltimore Colts history. The bit delightfully conveyed the struggle between maturity and immaturity that is the crux of the film.

It is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, which was released 20 years ago and made pop culture heroes out of a clique of Forest Park High School grads upon whom the film was loosely based.

The screenplay won writer / director Barry Levinson an Academy Award nomination. The quiz scene was named recently a runner-up to the football game played in the movie M*A*S*H as one of the "best sports scenes in a non-sports movie" by ESPN's Web site.

The man most responsible for the quiz, Ernie Accorsi, received no credit for his labor. He was an assistant general manager for the Colts in 1981 when someone -- he doesn't recall who, but is sure it wasn't Levinson -- called from the studio to talk about the movie. It was set in a football-obsessed Baltimore in late 1959, just days before the championship game in which the Colts and John Unitas would, for the second consecutive year, bring home the NFL trophy.

When the script was delivered to Accorsi to review for historical accuracy, it contained a scene in a knotty pine club room in which Eddie Simmons, played by Steve Guttenberg, presents his fiancee, Elyse, with a 140-question test (only six appear in the film).

Now widely known as the "Colts Quiz," it was actually called a "football test" in the movie. And it was hard. Accorsi saw to that.

The original script contained such easy fare as "What are the Colts' colors?"

That would have elicited derision in Baltimore, where caskets were being lined with blue and white in honor of the team.

"It was too easy. It would have gone over in Topeka, but not Baltimore," said Accorsi, who grew up a Colts fan in Pennsylvania and is now general manager of the New York Giants. "I made it a lot harder."

For example, he changed the question about the team's colors from what they wore in 1959 to what they wore when the franchise relocated from Miami to Baltimore in 1947. But the toughest question he wrote was a trick one: George Shaw was a first-round draft choice, true or false?

The answer, which Elyse got right, was false. Shaw, the team's quarterback before Unitas, was actually selected in the first round with a one-time "bonus pick" that the NFL distributed to each team on a random basis. So the Colts in 1955 got the first two selections in the draft, Shaw with the bonus pick and Alan Ameche with the regular pick.

"I made it tough so she could have flunked it. But they weren't going to let her flunk it," he said.

In fact, Elyse, who is heard but never seen in the film, did fail, by two points. But Eddie, despite his qualms about marriage, decided to overlook the score. He put aside his doubts and took her up the aisle, conspicuously lined with a blue-and-white carpet runner, to the chuppah, metaphorically entering the world of grown-ups.

The difficulty of Accorsi's questions imbued the quiz scene with the verismilitude it needed. If Elyse had failed an easy test, we would be left wondering about her preparation, and her desire to be married, rather than Eddie's.

Accorsi didn't keep the original quiz sent to him by the studio, but he believes he wrote all of the questions except the one about Billy Vessels.

It turns out the film -- and Eddie -- had this one wrong. Vessels played for the Colts in 1956, not 1959, according to NFL and team records. The movie describes him as a current player.

A small error, perhaps, but out of place for a film that went to great lengths to get such facts straight. They even asked Colts -- now Ravens -- band director and unofficial historian John Ziemann to review some sets and provide historically appropriate memorabilia. That is his little stuffed Colt on Eddie's headboard in the scene when Billy (Timothy Daly) wakes him up.

Small truths matter in the most unexpected ways. As Modell, played by a youthful Paul Reiser, notes in his toast to the newlyweds at the film's conclusion: "Most marriages depend on a firm grasp of football trivia."

THE COLTS QUIZ FROM 'DINER'

1. George Shaw was a first-round draft choice. True or false?

2. Before the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL, they were in another league. What was it called?

3. Buddy Young played for a team that no longer exists. What was the name of that team?

4. What was the longest run from scrimmage by a rookie in his first game?

5. The Colts signed him. A Heisman Trophy winner who decided to play in Canada. Now, however, he plays for the team. What's his name?

6. The Colts had a team here, lost the franchise, then got one from Dallas. What were the colors of the original Colts team?

ANSWERS

1: False

2: All-American Football Conference

3: New York Yankees football team

4: Alan Ameche. Opening day, 1955, 79 yards.

5: Billy Vessels

6: Green and gray

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.