by Kent Jackson, Respect My Blog
Football is a game that ignites passion in millions of fans across the country, with the fever spreading further across the globe every year. As a sport it often plays out a very human drama in the compressed space and time. It can symbolize us at our very best, and at our very worst, but there’s certainly something very special about the haphazard flight of an oddly shaped ball thousands of miles away that make strangers cheer and hug a cry in bars across the country on any given Sunday.
As such, it’s been easy fodder for movies throughout the years, both great and terrible. Perhaps this would have been better timed last week, to coincide with the kick off of the football season (the NFL anyway, the college game burst out of the gates a few weeks ago, but now I’m mixing metaphors), but we thought what better time to count down some of the greatest football movies of all time. There are tons to choose from, and I openly admit at least a few of my selections are very questionable. Let us know what you think of this list, and what changes you would have made, in the comments section below.
(IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
Plot: A counselor at a juvenile detention center teaches a group of teens the meaning of self-esteem and teamwork through football.
Based on: Every redemption movie, ever, but this was based on a true story of the Kilpatrick Mustangs, a team of juvenile detainees in Los Angeles.
Stars: The Rock (two for him) and Xzibit.
What went right: The documentary footage at the end, which shows most of the players on this team who went on to do good things.
Purchase ‘Gridiron Gang’ here.
Plot: A high school football coach takes a special needs student under his wing.
Based on: A true story of T.L. Hanna High School football coach Harold Jones and “Radio” Kennedy that you might have read in Sports Illustrated in 1996.
Stars: Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr.
What went right: Gooding’s acting wasn’t as bad as the critics made it out to be.
Purchase ‘Radio’ here
Plot: Misfits cut from the local powerhouse peewee football team form their own squad led by the coach’s nerdy brother.
Based on: Every sports movie, ever. But in reality, it was based on McDonald’s ad on pee wee football that ran during the Super Bowl in 1990.
Stars: Ed O’Neill and Rick Moranis.
Notable Cameos: John Madden, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith Tim Brown and Steve Emtman.
What went right: Well, the villainous team is the pee wee Cowboys, so that works.
Purchase Little Giants here
Plot: A gruff, but likeable football player tries to save his fledgling sport by recruiting the hot-shot college football star.
Based on: This was loosely based on George Halas’ courtship of Red Grange. (Google Grange, he was awesome.)
Stars: George Clooney, Jim Halpert (I know it’s not his real name but would you have known who I was talking about if I said John Krasinski?) and Renee Zellweger.
Biggest beef: Instead of a story loosely based on Halas and Grange, how about a story on them?
Purchase ‘Leatherheads’ here
The Water Boy
Plot: A downtrodden college football team discovers a defensive superstar in its water boy.
Stars: Adam Sandler, Henry Winkler and Kathy Bates.
Notable cameos: The Big Show and Lawrence Taylor (“don’t smoke crack”).
What went right: I probably liked this movie more than most. And I still liked to drop the term “foosball” when talking about football, so it does have some quotable lines.
Purchase ‘The WaterBoy’ here.
All the right moves
Plot: A high school football player and his coach both have dreams of leaving their depressed Pennsylvania steel town, which causes a conflict between them.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Lea Thompson and Craig T. Nelson.
What went right: Cruise is actually believable as a football player, though the movie tries to be — as critics pointed out at the time — the “Flashdance” of football. And yeah, you’ll likely need to Google “Flashdance” (the original).
Purchase ‘All the Right Moves’ here.
Plot: A local bartender gets a tryout with the Eagles, makes the team and scores a touchdown.
Based on: Vince Papale, who really did play for the Eagles.
Stars: Mark Walberg, Gerg Kinnear (Dick Vermeil) and Elizabeth Banks.
What went wrong: Well, it’s based on a true story but really stretches it. Papale was not some curtain-jerker. He played semi-pro ball, and in the WFL so he had some serious playing credentials. And he never scored a touchdown in an NFL game.
Scene stealer: The white belt on Kinnear’s pants. What a look.
Purchase ‘Invincible’ here.
We Are Marshall
Plot: The true story of the Marshall football program after a plane crash takes the lives of virtually the entire team.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox.
What went right: The movie doesn’t end with the victory, but tells the story of how there was still a lot of work to be done. I have to respect them for that.
Purchase ‘We Are Marshall’ here.
Plot: The life of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.
Stars: Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid.
The big hang up: This was a good movie, but the factual inaccuracy of the West Virginia vs. Syracuse game hangs over this (the game was actually played in Syracuse). Other players have spoken out against this movie, which moves it way down the list.
Purchase ‘The Express’ here.
The Last Boy Scout
Plot: A down-and-out former secret service agent turned detective partners with an ex-quarterback to investigate a murder around a pro football team.
Based on: Every buddy cop picture, ever. Seriously.
Stars: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans and Halle Berry.
What went right/wrong: The opening scene depicts a running back ingesting PCP, and then pulling a gun out of his pants as he goes on a rampage down the field. Highly unbelievable, yet you can’t take your eyes off it.
Purchase ‘The Last Boy Scout’ here.
The Longest Yard (Original)
Plot: A former football player serving time is ordered by the warden to put together a team of inmates to take on (and get beaten by) the guards. Based on: Still not going there. Stars: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter This might only interest me: Reynolds actually played football for Florida State. And this one has Ray Nitschke. Spoiler alert: You don’t watch many movies if you need a spoiler alert for this one. But no, Paul Crewe does not get shot.
Purchase ‘The Longest Yard’ (1974) here.
Brian’s Song (Original)
Plot: The true story of Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers’ friendship that develops after Piccolo discovers he’s dying of a terminal illness.
Stars: Billy Dee Williams and James Caan.
Notable cameos: Dick Butkus and many members of the Chicago Bears.
But you’re only talking around the original right? Right. It’s a complete embarrassment they even tried to remake this movie as they could never recapture the magic of Billy Dee and Jimmy Caan.
Spoiler alert: You’re not getting through this without crying.
Purchase ‘Brian’s Song’ here.
The Blind Side
The story of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.
Purchase ‘The Blind Side’ here.
Plot: A Heisman Trophy candidate suffers the highs and lows as he tries to overcome his demons to lead his team to a bowl game.
Stars: James Caan, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Craig Sheffer and Kristy Swanson.
Notable cameos: Lynn Swann.
What went right: When a movie makes sports people uncomfortable it’s always good, in particular the movie’s illustration of how easy it was to beat the NCAA’s drug-testing policy.
Purchase ‘The Program’ here.
Plot: A backup quarterback becomes the reluctant hero for his small Texas town when the team’s starter is lost for the year.
Not to be confused with: “Friday Night Lights.”
Stars: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker and Scott Caan.
What went right: Captured the small subtleties of football in Texas, without being too serious. And there’s a whipped cream bikini. “Lights” could have learned something from this.
Purchase ‘Varsity Blues’ here.
Plot: An agent is fired for showing a soul, and he has one last client to prove a conscious can exist with sports agents.
Based on: Sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who also served as technical director.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Renee Zellwegger (two for her) and Jay Mohr.
What went right: Women loved it.
What went wrong: “Show me the money” became a part of our vernacular.
Purchase ‘Jerry Maguire’ here.
Plot: The true story of Rudy Ruettiger, who overcame the odds the play football at Notre Dame.
Stars: Sean Astin, John Favreau and Ned Beatty.
Notable cameos: Al Snow plays a Notre Dame player.
Was it true? The sack (true), carried off the field (true) and the player’s turning in their jerseys before the Georgia Tech game (not true).
What went right: Even the most ardent anti-Notre Dame person (like me) can still tear up at the end of this movie.
Purchase ‘Rudy (Special Edition)’ here.
Any Given Sunday
Plot: A coach must juggle a meddling owner and ego of his new star QB after his trusted veteran signal caller goes down with an injury.
Based on: This is based on a book by former Raiders trainer Rob Huizenga. The book was better.
Stars: Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz and LL Cool J.
Notable cameos: Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown and Barry Switzer among others.
But you’re forgiven for: One of my biggest beefs with the movie was Willie Beamen eating chips on the sidelines. And then Mark Sanchez ate a hot dog on the sidelines.
Purchase ‘Any Given Sunday (Special Edition Director’s Cut)’ here.
Friday Night Lights
Plot: The Permian High Panthers of Odessa, Texas must overcome the loss of their star running back.
Based on: A true story based on H.G. Bissinger’s book about high school football life in Texas.
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton.
Notable cameos: Roy Williams.
What went wrong: The football scenes are a little too over the top, especially for high school.
Purchase ‘Friday Night Lights’ here.
Remember the Titans
Plot: The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.
Not based on: The final season of the Cal State Fullerton Titans.
Stars: Denzel Washington and William Patton.
What went right: Two powerhouse performances by Denzel and Patton. The movie can be somewhat predictable, but the acting makes it enjoyable.
Purchase ‘Remember the Titans’ here