February 8, 2008

Perez Spreads the Valentine’s Day Love to Sports

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Happy times are most definitely here again, SpyGate and steroids notwithstanding. The Giants beat the Patriots on Sunday, and the coming week ushers in the first wave of spring training. As Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Legends Field this coming Thursday, Feb. 14 is a fateful day for another reason as well: Valentine’s Day.

To commemorate the hallowed All Hallmarks Eve, I would like to suggest a few sports movies that anyone can enjoy individually, with a significant other or a good friend on the occasion of our nation’s annual obsession with love.

When I was coming up with items for this Valentine’s Day movie mix, I noticed that they tended to fall into a few categories, which I’ve listed below. But it must be said that there are many other “sports movies” which would easily fit into a more detailed list. I just wanted to mention these particular examples for my own selfish reasons. Enjoy …

The Ones That Are No-brainers: Love and Basketball and Ice Castles

As the category title implies, these are no-brainers as movies that match the theme of Valentine’s Day, and the choices don’t require much explanation.

Love and Basketball follows the evolution of a relationship between two gifted basketball players, as well as the challenges that the relationship faces as a result of their skills — how to balance love of a sport with love of another person and how each love fuels the other.

If you don’t think ice skating is a sport, you can just skip over this section or watch the movie and be convinced that skating takes just as much athletic skill and grit as any other sport. But sorry, that’s the subject of another column. Ice Castles is the story of a gifted figure skater whose tragic accident leads her to real love. I can’t say anymore without giving away the tear-jerker’s entire plotline.

Disclaimer: Ice Castles is a no-brainer because it is the biggest chick flick I’ve ever seen in my life. Gagging expressions aside, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie. Give it a chance.

The Ones That Have a Message: Rocky and Pat and Mike

At first glance, these films might not seem like regular Valentine’s fare. Each one, however, projects (sorry, there’s no other way to put it) an uplifting message about love.

In 1976, local bum Rocky Balboa (the magnificent grunting Sly Stallone in all his glory) gets the chance to fight the Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, and he just wants “to go the distance.” Though the Italian Stallion’s training and performance in the ring is the focus of the movie, the real story is Rocky’s relationship with his girlfriend Adrian.

Though Adrian has faults of her own, she supports Rocky in his quest to prove himself. No matter how strange the couple might look to the outside world, Rocky and Adrian perfectly complemented each other. Their relationship gives the rest of us hope for finding our own perfect match.

The movie explains the concept best in the words of the title character himself: “She’s got gaps. I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”

In the vein of Love and Basketball, Rocky is one of the most realistic portrayals of love I’ve ever seen. I think it’s funny that you have to go to “sports movies” to find the truth about love.

In addition to the deep, emotional message of Rocky, the movie also features one of the classic lines in film history about “relationships,” as Rocky’s trainer Mickey gruffly imparts this pearl of wisdom, “Women weaken legs.” (Yeah, I keel over laughing every time I picture that scene, with Mickey looking like his eyes are going to pop out of his head.)

Going back even further in cinematic history, the 1952 black and white movie Pat and Mike also puts sports and love together on the screen. Pat Pemberton (Katherine Hepburn) is such an amazing athlete that sports promoter Mike Conovan (Spencer Tracy) immediately sees a star potential (a.k.a. dollar signs). The only problem is that Pat chokes whenever her fiancé watches her compete. It’s all in her head, and she is able to find inner strength by the end, as the hero/heroine always does in a sports movie.

As Pat and Mike fall in love, one of the most important aspects of their relationship is that Mike is the person who helps Pat work out her problems to become the best athlete she can be, and Pat helps Mike become the best person he can be.

Clichés left and right, I know, but both these movies represent one of the most important aspects of love — bringing out the best in each other. It’s a nice idea to remember on a day like Valentine’s Day.

The Ones that Keanu Has Touched: The Replacements and Hardball

And this category is where the selfish reasons I mentioned earlier are on full display. Some people believe in retail therapy to combat the stresses of a holiday like Valentine’s Day. I, on the other hand, believe in something much more powerful … Reeves therapy.

A double dose of Keanu is just what the love doctor ordered: The Replacements and Hardball.
Keanu Reeves may be reviled by many as a horrible actor, but I believe that his Shane Falco and Conor O’Neill, respectively, are two of the great Valentine’s Day heroes of modern times. These two movies match the mood of Feb. 14 for two reasons:

1. Almost all of The Replacements and many parts of Hardball are side-splitting, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and laughing is loving. Enough said &
2. Sports isn’t just about the action on the football or baseball field. It’s about the action off the field … Wait, that sounds wrong. I meant that it’s about the motivation behind athletic achievement. That kind of devotion is something I would want to be observing on a day like next Thursday when devotion is celebrated.

The One With the Cornell Connection: Love Story

Last but not least, though the Ithacan tundra sometimes makes Cornell’s campus seem a bit remote, love has not abandoned us. It was recently brought to my attention that the 1970 film Love Story, perhaps the most classic weeper of all time, includes a Cornell-Harvard hockey game.

Of course, the greatest lesson we can take from this movie does not stem from the story of everlasting love between Ryan O’Neill and Ali MacGraw. It is the result of the hockey game — Cornell wins.

Have a happy Valentine’s Day Ithaca!