Created by John Eisendrath, this was the first (and I think last) scripted drama that aired on EPSN. Debuting in 2003 it lasted one season of 12 episodes. The show revolved around the members of a pro-football team called The Cougars (somehow the show managed to avoid ever referring to what city they were in).
Omar Gooding played a star rookie named Demetrius, who was dealing with the excesses of instant fame. He was a womanizer who drank and partied all the time, and had group of his thug friends from the hood who hung around him and occasionally got into trouble (such as when one shoots and kills a man that was hassling Demetrius, and Demetrius has to decide if he should lie to the police to help his friend). He was cocky and rude and developed a severe cocaine addiction that he eventually had to go to rehab for. Although this was an ensemble show he felt like the star, at least for the first half of the season. Snoop Dogg appeared in a couple of episodes, playing Demetrius’ older brother.
Russell Hornsby played Leon, a longtime veteran on the team. He frequently butts heads with Demetrius, feeling that the rookie doesn’t have the right attitude or show him proper respect. He also worries that Demetrius is taking his spotlight on the team, and worries about his career as he’s getting older. His main storyline in the beginning is when he accidentally hits his wife Robin (Karen LeBlanc) and he becomes publicly branded a wife-beater. He later has a story where he becomes tempted to take steroids in order to compete with younger players like Demetrius.
Jason Matthew Smith played Eric, another veteran on the team. He and Leon are best friends. As the show begins he’s facing self-doubt after he accidentally crippled another player during a game. He slowly regains his confidence and starts to develop a relationship with a woman named Beth (Sarah Lafleur), but that is threatened when he has a one night stand with a groupie who then turns up pregnant and comes after him for child support.
Dan Petronijevic plays Thad, who is a closet homosexual. He tries to hide it from the team and the public, even planning to get into a sham marriage to a supermodel (Laura Jordan), because of how the team may react if they find out. But his male lover (Frank Chiesurin) threatens to out him.
Tony Denison plays George, the team coach. He initially has conflicts with Demetrius and tries to keep him in line, he also some health issues that he tries to keep secret from the team.
Those are the characters with the biggest storylines this season. There’s also Marcello Thedford as Kelvin, who is Demetrius’ best friend on the team. Their friendship is tested when both of them are late to a game because Demetrius had to stop to buy some cocaine on the way, but when they get to the came only Kelvin is forced to sit out while Demetrius still gets to suit-up and play. Later he helps Demetrius sneak out of rehab for a night. He’s also portrayed as a religious man, who leads the team in prayer before each game, and he doesn’t accept Thad’s homosexuality. Bruce Gray plays Mr. Willbanks, the team owner. He gives Demetrius preferential treatment, seeing him as his future star. When he finds out about Thad’s homosexuality he tries to force him to stay in the closet. . Mr. Willbanks also has conflicts with Leon, not willing to give him more playing time nor to trade him, which makes Leon feeling like he’s just stuck.
Christopher Wiehl plays Derek, a carefree playboy. He has a brief story where he gets injured, but he feels pressure from Willbanks to keep playing instead of taking time off to properly recover. He also seeks out and seduces Willbanks’s daughter in one episode. Stephen Bogaert plays the assistant coach, Phil, he helps the team members with various problems (including taking a groupie that Derek knocked up to go get an abortion). He feels unappreciated and taken for granted by the team and Willbanks, and considers quitting to take a job coaching a High School football team. And Thea Andrews plays a sports reporter named Samantha who is friends with Leon and may want to be a little more than that.
Altogether there was a great cast, and the stories were dramatic and riveting. Even though the problems the characters faced felt like were somewhat cliche, none of the characters felt like stereotypes. They were all given multiple dimensions to their personalities (like Demetrius may be a bit of a thug, but he also was the most tolerant about Thad’s homosexuality), which helped make them relatable. I watched every episode while it was on. It ended with a cliffhanger, as the team plays the final game of the season while a couple of members face physical problems that could affect their careers. The episode ends before we find out if the team wins the game or not. I was disappointed when it wasn’t renewed. Rumor has it that the ratings were actually very good for ESPN, but that they canceled it due to pressure from officials at the NFL who felt that the show made pro-football look bad. But I loved it.
I didn’t watch this show but I remember the uproar it caused from the NFL as it was kind of a real, maybe too real look at what goes on it their locker rooms. I heard too the NFL may have pressured ESPN to cancel even though the show was performing well otherwise.