Casting NFL players as 'Top Gun' stars: Roles for Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes?

Nate Davis

If you're like me – a (proud?) Gen-Xer who grew up devouring 1980s pop culture – surely you can't wait to finally see the pandemic-delayed "Top Gun: Maverick."

This is no slight to my father, but he had help raising me from the likes of Han Solo, Indiana Jones – quite a resemblance between those two? – Optimus Prime and, yes, "Maverick" Mitchell. Those other dudes have all stoked my (re)imagination in recent years, but Mav hasn't put an arm around me since his triumph in that dubious sortie over the Indian Ocean back in 1986. I suspect he's aged quite well over the past 35 years, though I can't confirm since I'm dodging trailers and spoilers for the new flick the way Maverick used to pilot his (now retired) F-14 unscathed through that hail of MiG-28 gunfire.

(Slight detour here ... there's no such thing as a MiG-28. The enemy planes Maverick shot down were actually American-made, Vietnam-era F-5s painted black for cinematic purposes. Also, the swing-wing Navy F-14 has a special place in my heart for its spectacular design and place at the core of brotherly debate as mine – an acclaimed professor at Northwestern who moonlights as an amazing writer and film critic – never could distinguish one from, say, an Air Force F-16. He finally corrected the misidentified jet in his misguided review of "Top Gun," after belatedly accepting my fact checking ... if not my superior viewpoint of a cinematic achievement.)

Back to me as I had the original movie on the other night in the background while researching another article. Admittedly, a recent headline from The Ringer sums it up quite tidily: "'Top Gun' Is Stupid, Brilliant, Dated, Timeless, and Perfect."


Also, it didn't take long for the movie's NFL parallels to present themselves to me in a way they hadn't in my first 247 viewings. Again, I haven't seen the sequel – yet. I refuse to even watch the latest, greatest production from the Los Angeles Rams' brilliant social media team's efforts, which included a recent riff, for the time being.

But I thought you might get a kick out of this attempt to connect the major characters from "Top Gun" to their football counterparts:

Maverick Mitchell, version 1 – Brett Favre: If we're looking at Mav through the 1986 prism, his gifts must be acknowledged ... right alongside his flaws. Immense natural talent, a gifted student of the game – even if he downplays that aspect – basically the goods to be the best, even at the level of a trophy-winning three-time MVP. He'll pull off amazing moves that no one else can execute to win a shootout ... and just might take an unnecessary risk that will lead to a crash and burn. Also, an amazing quote and not afraid to thumb his nose at authority.

Buccaneers QB Tom Brady bested the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (15) to be Super Bowl 55's top gun.

Maverick Mitchell, version 2 – Tom Brady: Despite my general avoidance of all things "Top Gun: Maverick," it seems pretty obvious that (present day) Mav will have fulfilled his desire to lord over the next generation of hotshot pilots. So – apparently – he's endured for decades, maintained the marquee looks of a much younger man and has clearly attained GOAT status.

Nick 'Goose' Bradshaw – Sterling Sharpe: Mav's radar intercept officer (RIO), i.e. the guy in the back seat he constantly relies on. Early in Favre's career that was Sharpe, a three-time All-Pro wide receiver. But, like Goose, his career was cut short – no fault of Mav's – right before the pilot achieved his greatest glory.

Bradley Bradshaw – Patrick Mahomes: I'm working from an assumption here, but I'm guessing Miles Teller's character in the new movie is Goose's son ... and the heir to Mav's throne? Good time to point out old gun Brady is 2-0 vs. Mahomes in the postseason.

Tom 'Iceman' Kazansky – Peyton Manning: Cool. Surgical. Tolerates no nonsense on game day. And don't forget it was Ice who won the Top Gun trophy back in the day, just as Manning earned all those MVPs. But eventually, Mav – after a lengthy competition with Iceman – will prove the better man in the Super Bowl crucible before becoming widely acknowledged as the best to ever do it.

Ron 'Slider' Kerner – Mike Gesicki: Really good volleyball players. Helpful if not indispensable to the offense. Hopefully Gesicki's hygienic habits are superior.

Tom 'Stinger' Jordan – Bruce Arians: Maverick's balding, unfailingly colorful air group commander – rubber dog(bleep) and all – on the USS Enterprise. 

Rick 'Hollywood' Neven – Dan Fouts: Really gifted aerial artist back in the day but couldn't sustain it when the playoff bullets flew.

Leonard 'Wolfman' Wolfe – Kellen Winslow: Did some great things working with Hollywood Fouts but ultimately got shot down. (Shame Wolfman was a RIO instead of a pilot as his call sign works better with the bearded Fouts.)

Marcus 'Sundown' Williams – Terrell Owens: Another RIO, one who obviously excels at his craft ... even if it's not clear which team he's on. Tends to complain when his quarterback doesn't take a shot. "It doesn't get to look any better than that. ... Hey, (Mav), we could have had him. Hey, we could have had him, man!" Pipe down, guy.

Bill 'Cougar' Cortell – Don Majkowski/Drew Bledsoe: Pro Bowl-caliber pilot who ultimately loses his edge and QB1 status to Maverick. Hopefully Majkowski/Bledsoe have enjoyed the time with the wife and kids in the intervening years and maybe even built quite a vineyard in retirement?

Sam 'Merlin' Wells – Troy Brown: Front-line back seater for both Bledsoe and Brady.

Charlotte 'Charlie' Blackwood – Andy Reid: A disclaimer off the top about any literal comparisons to Big Red and Kelly McGillis, but it's not easy to find a comp for Mav's love interest. But Favre earned his wings with the help of Reid, an assistant for the Packers during the QB's MVP heyday. Like Charlie, Reid is adept at play design, analyzing game film, tried to keep his ace centered ... all before using him as a steppingstone to bigger and better things.

Mike 'Viper' Metcalf – Mike Holmgren: Boss mustaches. Both were pilots in their primes in the 1960s, though not necessarily apparent how good either was. Viper flew with Mav's legendary father, Duke, in Vietnam, while Holmgren was a QB2 at USC. But both are nails as no-nonsense instructors – Viper for Maverick and other elite fliers, Holmgren for legends like Joe Montana and Favre and a pretty good one in ...

Rick 'Jester' Heatherly – Matt Hasselbeck: Seems like a solid – maybe underappreciated? – starter ... and one with a glorious dome. Yet he might've gotten this far thanks largely to Viper/Holmgren. "Jester" would be an apropos call sign for Hasselbeck, one of the funnier guys I've interviewed.

Pete Mitchell – Pete Mitchell: In case you'd forgotten, it's Maverick's rarely used name sans call sign. In case you'd forgotten the nonfictional Mitchell, he was a journeyman NFL tight end who played with Hasselbeck at Boston College.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.