"I played football growing up in Texas," Powell says. "And I don't get the rules of dogfight football. They make absolutely no sense."
He is correct: The first rule of the film's dogfight football is that it makes zero sense. It's not so much a game employed by Tom Cruise's flight instructor Pete "Maverick" Mitchell but a baby-oiled excuse to show the skin-baring, beautiful physical specimens who make up the "Top Gun: Maverick" cast. Not a criticism, a thank-you.
The muscle show is a direct call-out to the legendary beach volleyball game from the original movie, featuring a buff Cruise, Val Kilmer and Rick Rossovich vying for the Top Guns in best flex (Anthony Edwards wore a shirt).
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The shirtless dogfight football scene is a callback to the original 'Top Gun'
Director Joseph Kosinski knew he had to bring some sort of sweat-filled nod to the sequel.
"When anyone and everyone found out I was making this movie, they told me: 'You know you've got to have a volleyball scene. It's not a 'Top Gun' movie without it,' " he says. "But it can't just be a random montage. It has to push the story forward."
Kosinski credits screenwriter Ehren Kruger with coming up with Maverick's onscreen team-building exercise. There are actual rules: two balls in play, offense and defense at the same time, lots of running and touchdowns. "To me, that was a brilliant solve," Kosinski says.
Rossovich, who believes he won the original body contest, told USA TODAY how hard the original "Top Gun" stars competed ("We were all trying to get an edge"). But the late "Top Gun" director Tony Scott surprised them all with the filming date, dumping a truckload of sand and telling the actors to play.
Kosinski allowed his actors to zero in on the big day.
"Everyone had their calendar circled with: 'This is dogfight football day. Break out the coconut oil and the spray tan, let's do this!' " Kosinski says. "And I knew I just had to shoot the hell out of it."
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Greg Davis, who plays pilot Coyote, recalls his intense workouts, which took place before and after arduous shooting days.
"Each of us went crazy. We'd all seen the original 'Top Gun' scene," he says. "I was eating more grass than a bunny rabbit, and protein bars. I was in peak form. It was like, 'Oh, yes.' "
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Only Cruise, 59, insists he did not work out differently to prepare for the big game. "I just did it," he says.
Powell recalls the night before the football scene as muscle pandemonium at the hotel gym, with all the actors furiously working out – except for Monica Barbaro. "She was like, 'I'm good,' " Powell says.
"There was a lot of male insecurity, guys were eating protein paste," says Powell, who recalls the prep work continuing right until game time. "Everybody had resistance bands and weights on the beach, trying to get one last pump before we played football."
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Kosinski made the most of an epic autumn day on the beach in Coronado, California. Former pro football quarterback Matt Moore worked as a choreography consultant to help get the most physical bang onscreen.
"At first it was like, 'How does this game work?' " says Danny Ramirez, who plays pilot Fanboy. The former professional soccer prospect was recruited to hurl epic 60-yard bombs for the camera. "We found some flow and were able to set up some classic moments."
Powell set up the scene's best group celebration "biting off the end of the football and tossing it behind me so it kind of explodes," he says. "I was most proud of it because it got to include everybody in what I hope becomes an iconic moment."
Cruise repeated his infamous volleyball fashion choice: shirtless with blue jeans. "Maverick wears jeans, it's what he does," Kosinski says.
But Cruise still managed to outrun the kids, according to Davis, who tossed a scoring pass to Cruise. "Tom takes off running, burning past everyone. I felt like Tom Brady."
The first thing the cast ate after the beach shoot? Tater tots
At day's end, the cast put shirts on and celebrated at the bar Bubs with plenty of fattening tater tots.
"We lived it up," Powell says. "Then we get a call right after dinner. It was like: 'We got the vibe, but we need more. We're going to have to reshoot in a couple of weeks.' "
The group celebrated anyway, Powell says. "Right then, we took down more tater tots than a human has ever eaten."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Top Gun: Maverick' sheds shirts, logic for dogfight football scene