The film takes place during an NFL players strike and the team they focus on is the fictitious Washington Sentinels.
The owner of the team, Jack Warden, hires Gene Hackman to be the coach of the replacement team. Hackman demands complete control over the selection of players and the running of the team. Warden agrees.
Hackman has a group of people all picked out that he wants to hire, many of them misfits. He wants players that don't care about the money and just want to play with heart and a will to win. The field goal kicker is a soccer player from Wales and the QB (Keanu Reeves) is an ex college player whose college team was destroyed in the Sugar bowl. To help spice things up they even hire a bunch of strippers for Cheerleaders. .
The Sentinels have to win three of the four remaining games in order to make the playoffs.
They blow the first game after Keanu shows no leadership qualities, not wanting to be a part of the crucial play. Hackman explains to Keanu that a true champion always wants the ball.
One night at a bar the replacement players get into a bar fight with the regular players led by the regular starting QB. The team slowly develops a bond that remains with them on the field.
This camaraderie enables them to win the next two games with Keanu leading them to victory.
One of the victories is helped by the stripper cheerleaders doing a unique cheer causing the opposing team to lose its concentration.
The last game is against Dallas. The regular QB decides to cross the picket line and play in the game. Keanu is forced off the team and goes back to his boat.
The first half of the game is a complete disaster. The players don't respect the old QB and vica-verca. He is pretty much wimp of a QB, not liking to get hit.
Keanu is watching the game on TV and sees Hackman at halftime telling the press that the team needs to play with heart to win.
In the locker room, Hackman is talking to the players when Keanu walks in. Hackman tells the regular QB that he is out and Keanu is back in.
Hackman also tells the team that this is their last game because the strike has been settled so they should play their very best, having something to look back on and be proud of.
The second half goes well and with just seconds remaining and being down by 2 points the coach decides to go for a field goal.
The kicker tells Keanu that he can't do it because he has been threatened by lowlife gamblers to throw the game. Keanu takes the snap and instead of placing it down for the kicker he runs for the touchdown.
There is a penalty and the play is called back. With just seconds remaining, they have to try again. This time they don't even attempt a field goal and Keanu passes it for a touchdown and they win the game.
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