September 12, 2005

Viewer Discretion Advised

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In honor of the opening week of the NFL, I thought it would be appropriate to list the top five movies about football. As soon as I tried to accomplish this I realized that more than any other sport, football really lacks quality treatment on the silver screen, especially considering its prominence in American culture. Even a sport like golf has better movies than football. In fact it almost seems that football movies are getting worse; Varsity Blues and Remember the Titans had more corn than the Iowa State Fair and Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard was obviously lacking. Fortunately, if you look hard enough, you can still find a few good movies about the good old gridiron. Here’s my top five:

5. Brian’s Song (1971)

Actually, this film was a made as a TV movie first, but was so successful, it made an appearance in theaters. Brian’s Song is the true story of Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), two running backs, one white, one black, competing for spots on the team who also end up being road roommates. While this film reaches the upper echelons of corniness, it still gets credit for being able to bring tears to even the toughest football fan when Piccolo suffers through cancer. When Gale accepts his award at the end of the film and says “I love Brian Piccolo … and tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him,” we’re all reaching for the tissues.

4. Horse Feathers (1932)

While Rudy (see number 3) may have captured the glory and promise of amateur athletics, it took the Marx Brothers to portray the cynical, NCAA-regulation violating side of college sports. Under the leadership of Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx), the football program at Huxley College ends up hanging out at speakeasies, participating in kidnappings, and playing some down and dirty, need I mention hilarious football.

3. Rudy (1993)

You know Charlie Weiss watches this movie at least three times a week, and who can blame him? Rudy is a great feel-good movie that doesn’t dip too much into cheesiness featuring Sean Astin (post Goonies, pre Lord of the Rings) as the small but dedicated Rudy Ruettiger who struggles to achieve his dream playing for the Fighting Irish. The fact that it’s based on a true story makes it that much more heartwarming. Rudy simply is one of the most enjoyable and wholesome movies ever produced about sports or anything else.

2. The Longest Yard (1974)

This movie is so great it makes us want to route for criminals – without having to be Baltimore Ravens fans either. Burt Reynolds, in probably his best performance, plays disgraced quarterback Paul Crewe who redeems himself by organizing a team of his fellow prisoners to play the guards’ team led by a sadistic warden played perfectly by Eddie Albert. What makes this film so good is the fact that so many of the actors, both guards and prisoners, actually were football players. Burt Reynolds himself played for FSU and was actually drafted by the Baltimore Colts. Still it’s this film’s witty mixture of dark comedy with great football that makes it a legend.

1. North Dallas Forty (1979)

Before Oliver Stone’s “all inside look to the dirty world of pro-football,” in Any Given Sunday, came the original spit in the face of football honor: North Dallas Forty. Based loosely on the Dallas Cowboys of the early 1970s with Mac Davis playing the Don Meredith-esque, quarterback Seth Maxwell who gets to spout out lines like, “Ladies, ever have a quarterback sandwich?” However the real protagonist is aging Philip Elliot played by Nick Nolte. Elliot, going through games boosted off team provided pain killers, is the perfect, cynical guide to the dirty underbelly of sex, drugs and violence that hides under all that game day glory.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor