When Celebrity Jocks Run 'The Longest Yard'

Burt Reynolds returns this Friday in a remake of "The Longest Yard," and this time he won't need former President Carter's help before stepping on the football field.

In the early 1970s, Carter was governor of Georgia and he assured Reynolds that he didn't have to worry about the inmates rioting, after he gave the go-ahead for the original "Longest Yard" to be filmed at the state prison at Reidsville, a maximum security lockdown.

"If they take you hostage, I will take your place gladly," Carter told the star.

"This man will be president some day," director Robert Aldrich later told Reynolds. "He's lying through his teeth beautifully."

It wasn't easy to film the grudge match between inmates and prison guards. Cameras are rarely allowed behind prison walls. Aldrich had to petition Carter for months before the governor fully got behind the project.

The result, however, was one of Hollywood's greatest sports movies. Reynolds -- a former running back at Florida State University, who was drafted by the Baltimore Colts -- turned in one of his finest performances as Paul Crewe, a former pro quarterback thrown in prison after a messy drunken incident, and tormented by a sadistic, football-crazy warden.

Shortly after the film's release, real prison tensions actually played out on the gridiron. State troopers actually donned uniforms used in the movie and played prisoners, with spectators seated in bleachers left behind by filmmakers. As prisoners recall, the game got a little rowdy and was called off, with their side winning.

Don't expect anything involving real prisoners this time around, when Adam Sandler takes on Reynolds' role. The new version -- which is not called "The Second Longest Yard" -- was filmed at the now defunct Santa Fe State Penitentiary, which closed two decades ago.

Reynolds, now 69, plays inmate coach Nate Scarborough, with Chris Rock, Nelly, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and NFL greats Michael Irvin and Bill Romanowski rounding out the cast.

Reynolds says it was extremely strange to take on a supporting role in a remake of a movie that ignited his career.

"The first day of filming, Chris called, 'Crewe!' and I turned around and ruined the take," Reynolds says. "But it was a cool feeling to know that we were doing this because the first one is so loved."

'If You Film It, They Will Come'

If America is obsessed with movie stars, it becomes doubly so when sports are involved. The baseball diamond where the "Bad News Bears" became Little League legends, the meat locker where Sylvester Stallone trained in "Rocky" and that magical "Field of Dreams" in Iowa where Kevin Costner communes with the spirit of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson have all become tourist destinations, if not pop culture monuments.

"You have an emotional connection with a movie -- and people come to these places to bring them closer to the events," says Chris Epting, author of "Elvis Presley Passed Here," his third guide to America's newest cultural landmarks.

Unless you're convicted of a serious felony, you'll probably never get to walk the grounds of Georgia State Prison at Reidsville. You'll also never get to see where Gary Cooper stepped up to the plate as Lou Gehrig in "The Pride of the Yankees." Yankee Stadium is still around, but that film was made at Wrigley Field -- and not the one where the Chicago Cubs play, but the one in Los Angeles, which long ago met the wrecking ball.

Still, if you're a serious sports movie buff, you can actually play ball with the stars. Epting's books are a great place to start. Here are some of the spots where you might find me:

1. Dyersville, Iowa: 'Field of Dreams'
"If you build it, they will come," an unseen voice tells Kevin Costner in 1989's "Field of Dreams," and 16 years after he cut a baseball diamond in a cornfield, fathers and sons are still coming to Dyersville to play catch.

The Lansing family farm is open to the public and owner Don Lansing has resisted temptation to commercialize the field where 20,000 people visit each year and sign the guest registry, making it one of the state's top tourist attractions.

Admission is free, and a few token souvenirs are for sale. The field is mowed, manicured and irrigated thanks to voluntary donations. Is this heaven? As they in the movie, "No, it's Iowa,"

2. Chatsworth, Calif.: 'Bad News Bears'
If Yankee Stadium is "The House that Ruth Built," Mason Park might be known as "The Bad News Backstop."

When it came time to make the definitive children's sports movie of the 1970s, Paramount Pictures laid down sod, replaced a backstop, brought in a marquee scoreboard and built a grandstand at the community park in Chatsworth. It was there that Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal led a team of misfits, if not to victory, at least to a little self-respect.

After the film, the scoreboard and infield sod disappeared faster than Matthau and O'Neal could decline to appear in "Bad News" sequels. But the field remained, and many of the Bears returned a few years ago for the 25th reunion, to celebrate a world where hyperactive parents still scream if their little tykes are benchwarmers or the coach bats them last.

A new version of the film, starring Billy Bob Thornton, hits theaters later this year. The Bears will be playing at a new, improved park in Los Angeles, where the parents are bound to complain even louder.

3. Philadelphia (and Los Angeles): Rocky
An 8½-foot-tall statue of Rocky no longer towers over the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but that doesn't stop fans from bounding up the building's 72 steps with fists raised, just like Sylvester Stallone's fictitious boxer.

Stallone commissioned the bronze version of his alter ego for "Rocky III" and wanted it added to the museum's permanent collection, but museum officials argued that it was a movie prop, not art, and it was eventually relocated to Philadelphia's Wachovia Spectrum.

For full pugilistic pleasure, rabid "Rocky" fans can head to California, to the Oscar De la Hoya Youth Center -- an East L.A. gym passed off in the film as gritty Philadelphia -- where Rocky first fights, under a dramatic religious mural. Today young boxers there still learn the sweet science of fisticuffs -- and it's still open to the public, if you dare step into the ring.

In downtown Los Angeles, you'll find Shamrock Meats, where the Italian Stallion famously trained by pounding the hanging sides of beef.

Then, when you're ready to go toe-to-toe with Apollo Creed, Olympic Auditorium, where the movie's climactic scenes were filmed, is a short drive away. Getting ring time there, however, is a little trickier.

4. Knightstown, Ind.: 'Hoosiers'
No professional sporting event ever made better movie fodder than Indiana's high school basketball championship in 1954, when tiny Milan High School -- with just 161 students -- beat powerhouse Muncie High, a school 10 times its size. Hollywood has yet to top "Hoosiers," and Gene Hackman may have set the standard for hard-driving big-screen coaches.

But if you want to see the "Miracle of Milan" as it was portrayed on screen, you'll have to head 50 miles north, to Knightstown's Hoosier Gym, which is now the home of several middle school teams. The movie has turned the sports facility into a veritable shrine to Hoosier hysteria, making it a magnet for after-school programs, church basketball leagues -- and, of course, movie junkies.

5. Johnstown, Pa.: 'Slap Shot'
Perhaps no town has embraced a sports movie as much as Johnstown, which renamed its local team the Chiefs, after Paul Newman's thuggish hockey team in 1977's "Slap Shot."

Three of the movie's surprise stars -- Dave Hanson and Steve and Jeff Carlson -- were players on the Johnstown team when they were cast in the film. They soon became known to the world as Newman's most notorious goons, the Hanson Brothers, famous for their horn-rimmed eyeglasses and savagery.

Informal tours that highlighted the movie's on- and off-ice cavorting still draws thousands of tourists each year, and the Johnstown Jets soon became the Chiefs, if only to cash in on the growing sale of "Slap Shot" movie memorabilia.

Unfortunately, the town was bitterly disappointed a few years ago, when shooting for the "Slap Shot" sequel, "Breaking the Ice," was moved to Vancouver, British Colombia. But Johnstown got the last laugh. That film went straight to video.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.