Too many headlines about concussions. Plummeting participation numbers. Snowflaky rules changes. And don’t get started on the anthem business.
The football establishment has mobilized and its message is clear: football is under siege.
Except it’s not. But I know what should be.
C’mon, they’re the cliché combo meal: you pick an entrée (the moral price of winning at all costs, the plucky and ragtag underdogs, the old-pro-hanging-on vs. the hotshot rookie), a side (the despicable coach, the evil owner with agenda, the often-disapproving love interest) and a drink (the football-obsessed town, the party-hearty players and adoring females, the goofball-loser-fat-guy comic relief).
These days, the Marvel franchise movies are the Eagles and Alabama of Hollywood; football flicks are the Browns and UTEP.
And yet if you’re channel-surfing and waiting for the pizza guy or Uber Eats to bring that late-night grub, you’re all but praying to hit on a football movie – one you’ve seen, preferably in progress. Lame as they might be the first time around, many of them have an oddly high re-watchability factor. Which is good, because right now “Varsity Blues” is in the rotation on cable more often than “Shawshank.”
So naturally you want to know my Top 25 – and, no, not Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Washington…
First some caveats:
- My idea of a football movie is pretty elastic. I almost included the filmed-in-Seattle “Twice in a Lifetime” if only because Gene Hackman character is a season-ticket holder and at one point says, “This town would be nothing without the Seahawks.” Which was true enough in 1985 when the movie was made, and only slightly less now.
- No “Rudy.” Ever. Joe Montana hated it and so do I. Leave it to Notre Dame to allow itself to be used to make a celluloid version of a participation trophy.
- I can’t come up with 25. You’ll have to settle for 15. But I’ll give you a JV team: The Express, Varsity Blues, Heaven Can Wait, Any Given Sunday, Remember the Titans, Draft Day, Paper Lion, Everybody’s All-American, The Replacements, Gridiron Gang, Little Giants (Steve Emtman cameo for you Huskies),
On to the rankings:
15. The Program (1993). Let’s see, in one season the ESU Timberwolves deal with a steroid freak shooting his bladder with clean urine, the starting quarterback getting a DUI, the backup quarterback being expelled for having the coach’s daughter take a test, sexual assault and alcohol rehab. But the coach wins enough to save his job. That sounds about right.
14. Diner (1982). Not a football movie? You do realize the entire thing turns on the Baltimore Colts trivia quiz Steve Guttenberg gives his fiancée to prove her worth as a wife. By the way, what were the original Colts colors?
13. The Blind Side (2009). Coaches should hate football movies more than anybody else. For every do-gooder-builder-of-men Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans,” there’s five Jon Voights, Craig T. Nelsons or G.D. Spradlins. “Rudy” turned Dan Devine into a schmuck. And poor Hugh Freeze. Not only did he cheat and get outed for keeping escort services thriving while coaching Ole Miss, he has to wear this movie making him look like a buffoon in his high school days while Sandra Bullock called him from the stands to question his game plan.
12. All the Right Moves (1983). So why didn’t Nickerson have Rifleman keep the ball? Or take the safety? For that matter, why did Norman Dale want to use Jimmy Chitwood as a decoy on the last play in “Hoosiers?” Who vets these Hollywood game plans?
11. The Slaughter Rule (2002). Six-man football in Montana played by kids cut from their high school varsity, coached by a societal discard who sells newspapers fresh off the press in the bars. The whole what-it-means-to-be-a-man thing actually gets some multi-dimensional treatment, which is why it had to be an indie movie. Between this and Mike Webster in “Concussion,” David Morse plays the two most tortured souls in cinema football.
10. Knute Rockne, All American (1940). “Rock, sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock, but… I dare you not to think of Leslie Nielsen finishing that thought with, ‘But I won’t smell too good, that’s for sure.’ “
9. Leatherheads (2008). It’s “His Girl Friday” meets Coen Brothers lite. But George Clooney’s comedy about the 1925 Duluth Bulldogs speaks to at least one thing the modern fan is feeling when his character says, “Goddamn rules are ruining this game.”
8. Invincible (2006). Vince Papale went from season ticket holder to special teams kamikaze. In Philly, no less. So, yeah, it’s “Rocky” without the pet turtles or “Eye of the Tiger.” Or the seven numbing sequels.
7. Jerry Maguire (1996). OK, not a football movie. Tom Cruise could have been a movie agent, a sub-prime bandito or a Mafia hit man with a crisis of conscience. But Rod Tidwell remains the most compelling football character written for the big-budget screen – and I dig that about him. Also a Drew Bledsoe cameo for you Cougs.
6. North Dallas Forty (1979). It would have been nice if Don Meredith had agreed to star in the role that was based on him. Or almost anybody other than Mac Davis, really. Pad up, Joe Bob.
5. Big Fan (2009). OK, they didn’t have to have him living with his mother. Patton Oswalt’s Paul from Staten Island is pitiful enough. Especially when he’s scripting his calls to sports talk radio. We know this guy. Too many of us have been this guy.
4. Brian’s Song (1971). Yeah, it’s getting a little dusty in here. Shut up.
3. Friday Night Lights (2004). It succeeded as a book, a movie and a TV series in virtually equal measures. Take that, Bill Shakespeare.
2. The Longest Yard (1974). Accept no substitutes, especially if Adam Sandler’s involved. Burt Reynolds remains the most authentic Hollywood quarterback, and not just for the two tight spirals he delivers to Ray Nitschke’s nethers.
1. Horse Feathers (1932). The Marx Brothers explore cheating in ways the SEC never imagined, resorting to kidnapping and chariots to propel Huxley College over the ringers of rival Darwin. Groucho: “Go to college, meet all the beautiful girls, get yourself a coed.” Chico: “Hah! I got a coed. Last week for $18, I got a coed with two pair of pants.”
Talk about football under siege.