PREVIEW: Paramount+’s ‘Fantasy Football’ gives UGA Bulldog alum Omari Hardwick a chance to wear an Atlanta Falcons uniform

Credit: Awesomeness

Credit: Awesomeness

He was never able to make it to the NFL in real life.

Decatur native Omari Hardwick was a successful cornerback for The University of Georgia Bulldogs in 1995 but couldn’t quite parlay that into an NFL career. Instead, he built up an acting career punctuated by his vaunted lead role as drug kingpin Ghost in the Starz series “Power” from 2014 to 2020.

But his life has gone full circle because in the new Nickelodeon/Paramount+ film “Fantasy Football,” Hardwick gets to play out a fantasy of sorts by donning an Atlanta Falcons uniform and scoring fictional touchdowns at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The movie comes out Friday, Nov. 25 on Paramount+.

Hardwick plays Bobby Coleman, a former Heisman Trophy winner who never fulfilled his promise, instead becoming a journeyman running back who tended to fumble the ball too much. His loyal wife Keisha (Atlanta singer Kelly Rowland) and super smart teen daughter Carmen (Marsai Martin of “black-ish” fame) patiently follow him around the country from NFL team to NFL team. The Falcons are his last shot to make any impact as a player.

After lightning strikes a Madden video game, Carmen ― who is super adept at playing that game ― discovers she can control her dad in real life via her game console. She secretly makes him a much better player on the field. The film largely revolves around Carmen struggling to help her dad while also trying to build her own identity with the school robotics team.

Naturally, Bobby is suddenly living his dream and harbors shockingly little guilt over why it’s happening. A suspicious hotshot young player Anderson Fisher (Rome Flynn) becomes his adversary, openly questioning how an aging player like Bobby suddenly became peak Jamal Anderson overnight.

In a brief interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on set earlier this year in the bowels of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Hardwick was just thrilled to be wearing a football outfit again.

“This has been so much fun,” he said moments after shooting a scene where he got tackled by extras who were largely former NFL players. “And getting hit like that? They’re like hugs to me. I can take it! I’m just thrilled that I’m 48 and I can play 33.”

He said he did have a crick in his neck from wearing the NFL shoulder pads. “This whole thing is surreal,” he admitted. “I’m doing all my own stunts. This is truly living out a dream.”

Indeed, Hardwick gets to ham it up, a significantly different feel from his time as the hard-nosed Ghost on “Power.”

“He’s usually in dramas so to see him in this light being in this dad zone has been so great,” said Martin.

Martin, an executive producer for the movie at just age 18, said her own father gave her pointers on how to play the Madden game. “He plays Madden all the time,” she said. “He has his own fantasy football league. He was like a professor teaching me everything. He’s a kid all over again.”

Rowland, a long-time Atlantan who was part of Destiny’s Child in the 1990s, said the opportunity to work with Martin was a gift.

“She is truly a boss,” Rowland said. “For her, the possibilities are endless. I went to a ‘black-ish’ press day and she was asked a question of who she wanted to be. ‘A legend,’ she said. She is a young Black girl able to say that with such pride and assurance. For her to have that level of self awareness speaks volumes about her parents.”

IF YOU WATCH

“Fantasy Football,” debuts on Friday, Nov. 25 on Paramount+