'Necessary Roughness' reunion: Kathy Ireland and Scott Bakula on how comedy predicted real-life female football players

When Necessary Roughness hit theaters three decades ago ago, the idea of a woman playing in a college football game was pure fantasy. But there was model-turned-actress Kathy Ireland as Lucy Draper, a soccer player recruited to play placekicker on the Texas State University Fightin' Armadillos after nearly their entire title-winning team is expunged following massive NCAA violations.

“Nobody had even contemplated it,” Scott Bakula, who starred as 34-year-old college QB Paul Blake, told us during a recent interview (watch above) commemorating the film’s 30th anniversary (the movie was released on Sept. 27, 1991). “And the fact that they cast Kathy to do it was, in the tone of the piece, it was perfect.”

“I’ll tell you something that I don’t share, because it’s a little bit embarrassing. When I read the script, I didn’t realize it was a comedy. I thought it was a drama,” Ireland admitted. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, she’s a kicker on a football team,’ I was telling one of my husband’s friends. So he was like, ‘Oh, so it’s a comedy, right?’ I’m like, ‘No. It’s a drama.’ I’m very literal.”

Photo: Everett Collection
Photo: Everett Collection

It may have felt unlikely at the time, but Necessary Roughness proved prescient. In 1997, Willamette University’s Liz Heaston became the first woman to kick in a collegiate game in the NAIA. In 2002, University of New Mexico kicker Kate Hnida became the first female to play in an NCAA Division I game. And in 2020, Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller became the first woman to both play in and score in a Power 5 game.

“It took years for that vision to manifest itself,” Ireland says now. “But I’m so excited that it happened.”

Ireland’s confusion around the film’s tone may have had to do with the fact that, according to Bakula, the original screenplay by David Fuller and Rick Natkin was not intended to be as comedic as what ultimately ended up on the screen.

“The movie changed a little bit in the course of making [it],” says Bakula, who filmed Necessary Roughness in between seasons of his popular NBC series Quantum Leap. “They Major League-ed it up a bit, if you will, having been in that franchise [Bakula appeared in the 1998 sequel Major League: Back to the Minors]. I wish they hadn’t done that. But all of a sudden things that weren’t in the script that I read were all of a sudden on the screen.

“I don’t know if it would’ve been more successful if it didn’t have some of the goofiness that they kind of added. But that certainly wasn’t my call to make.”

Photo: Everett Collection
Photo: Everett Collection

Necessary Roughness, directed by Stan Dragoti and also starring Robert Loggia, Hector Elizondo, Sinbad, Rob Schneider and Jason Bateman, received mostly unfavorable reviews and only scored $26 million at the box office, making it 1991’s 50th-highest-grossing film. But the film earned a group of dedicated followers and its stature has grown over the years, with both Bakula and Ireland saying fans continually bring up the movie to them.

While Ireland, one of the most popular and successful supermodels of the ’80s and ’90s was also accumulating several acting credits at the time, she doesn’t necessarily give herself winning marks for her onscreen performances.

“I share with people, ‘I’m not an actress, I have the movies to prove it,’” laughs Ireland, who became a football fan from Necessary Roughness and now sits on the board of NFL Players, Inc. in addition to overseeing her fortune-making kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) branding company, various humanitarian endeavors and the opening of the first of many planned substance abuse recovery centers bearing her name.

While Bakula remains proud of Necessary Roughness’s legacy, he also still feels the stings of the production. And it has nothing to do with the critics.

“I got hurt the first day of shooting football,” he says. “The first scene was I get blindsided by two linemen. I did a lot of my own stuff in that movie. And the two guys that landed on me — and they were doing it with care — they were still 250 pounds each or whatever. My right shoulder was underneath them and I just remember hearing little violin strings just plucking away in my shoulder.

And it was Day 1. And then I had to throw for the next eight or 10 weeks. My shoulder’s never been the same.”

Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo