He missed out on one for “Gilbert Grape” in 1994, and it’s been eating at him ever since. But last Sunday night, some 22 years later, and at the revenant-ripe age of 41, Leonardo DiCaprio has finally won an Oscar for Best Actor.
Despite his early work portraying basketball star/heroin addict Jim Carroll in “The Basketball Diaries,” however, DiCaprio himself isn’t much of an athlete. And, let’s face it, when it comes to tales of redemption, aging athlete is gonna Donald trump frustrated thespian every time. Unless, of course, you’re Sylvester Stallone, in which case both instances are equally applicable.
There is, however, a real-life athlete with a tale of redemption not much unlike Leo’s, and in doing some half-baked research, it turns out that DiCaprio and former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway are a lot alike — like, almost to the conspiratorial level, a lot alike.
It all started back in 1983. Ronald Reagan was president. Leonardo DiCaprio was 7 (hey — that’s Elway’s jersey number) and still six years away from making his acting debut in “The New Lassie.” The Baltimore Colts were all set to select John Elway No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. And, on an unrelated note, everyone was doing a lot of cocaine.
If you know your Baltimore sports history, you know that John Elway snubbed the city big-time by refusing to play for the Colts when they tried to draft him that year. The story shakes out a bunch of different ways, but, basically, even though “The Wire” wouldn’t come out on HBO for another 17-some years, ol’ John Denver didn’t see a whole lot of charm when it came to Charm City.
Stanford boy that he is, lucky No. 7 was able to weasel his way out of blue horseshoes and potential run-ins with real-life-Omar-Little-type-dues, mostly by whining a lot and vaguely threatening to play baseball or something, I guess, and he (Elway) ended up instead tossing leather eggs for the National Football League organization referring to themselves as “the Denver Broncos” — an A-1-type organization much more privy to an ol’ Stanford boy like John, in all his leather-egg tossing talent and just-short-of-Ivy-League-caliber power of persuasion.
But John’s ability to manipulate top-tier sharks like then-agent Marvin Demoff didn’t translate to the field, in terms of Super Bowl success, at least, as immediately as it did that fateful Reagan-’80s-esque day at Radio City Music Hall. He’d go on to make three-Super Bowl appearances (XXI, XXII and XXIV) and lose them all before finally winning one in 1997 (XXII) at the redemption-ripe age of 37.
DiCaprio lost three times, too. After being nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1994, 2006 and 2007 (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Aviator,” “Blood Diamond”), Leo would miss out, just like ol’ John.
Tom Hanks and “Philadelphia” were his Phil Simms and the New York Giants. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Ray” was his Washington Redskins, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman his Joe Montana, as he saw his “Blood Diamond” Oscar hopes go bling-bang.
But just like Elway, an aging star like DiCaprio would finally have his own Rocky-type comeback tale after winning for the “The Revenant,” somewhat ironically, in the same year that “Creed” (a.k.a. “Rocky 7,” or “Black Rocky,” or, somewhat less commonly, “Blocky”) came out and wasn’t even nominated.
Elway became the oldest quarter-thrower to ever win a Super Bowl in 1998 (XXXIII), just a year after claiming his first ring, hanging up his cleats at the retirement-ripe age of 38 in claiming his second, and going out the same way that he came in — still waiting for HBO to debut “The Wire” and with an education not quite of Ivy League pedigree.
But while 38 is old for the NFL, it’s not really so much for an actor, or, like, just generally for the earth. So even at 41, DiCaprio has plenty of chances to win another trophy, just like Elway did, and just might have his second statue at 42.
Who knows? Maybe he’ll follow up “The Basketball Diaries” with another sports flick, this one, hopefully, with considerably less heroin use and possibly about a good ol’ Stanford boy — one with a toothy smile and smug disdain for industrial cities named after 17th Century English Barons, and who, for good luck, would rather wear lucky No. 7 than a horseshoe.