Robert Aldrich was more interested in anti-establishment outcasts and their codes of honor than in morality, and in The Longest Yard, the director pits a team of prison inmates led by Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) – an ex-footballer who bet on games, and was tossed in the slammer for trashing his woman’s car and beating up some cops – against the football-loving guards. That the film’s heroes are criminals doesn’t really matter to Aldrich so long as his incarcerated murderers, rapists, and disgraced former pro athletes learn valuable life lessons about selflessness, sacrifice, and fighting The Man, here personified by Eddie Albert’s callous Warden Hazen. As in The Dirty Dozen, Aldrich’s film is most alive during the team recruitment scenes where we meet Crewe’s supporting cast – including sidekick Caretaker (James Hampton) and a lumbering giant played by Richard Kiel (a.k.a. James Bond’s nemesis Jaws) – and the training sessions in which the players learn to put aside their personal differences and band together against their fascist jailor. The warden loves football because its brutality jibes with his view of America as a kill-or-be-killed meritocracy, and thus when he blackmails Crewe to lead a team of jailbirds against the prison’s organized pigskin crew, his real goal is to crush the inmates’ spirits and assert his ruthless dominance. What this cruel dope doesn’t seem to realize, however, is that he’s messing with Burt Reynolds in his hairy-chested 1974 heyday! Even without his trademark moustache (which is shaved according to prison regulations), Reynolds is a virile stud whose eye-rolling non-conformity allows him to command respect from black and white compatriots alike, and his nonchalant machismo helps him easily bed the film’s only female character (a very young Bernadette Peters as the warden’s beehived secretary). More importantly, however, Crewe’s point-shaving scandal makes him the pre-Pete Rose Pete Rose, and the character's eventual triumph via honesty, courage, and a bit of gridiron ass-whuppin’ suggests that a no-holds-barred baseball throwdown between the real Pete Rose and Bud Selig’s cabal of MLB owners might be the only way for Charlie Hustle to get into Cooperstown.