OK, so your team didn’t make it into the Super Bowl. Perhaps you’ll tune in anyway. The commercials are always fun and maybe there will be another wardrobe malfunction during the half time show. But if you are too bummed to watch, you can still celebrate the game with a movie. Football has produced great drama on the screen. Here are some wonderful movies to catch now or in the off-season:
The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her performance as Leigh Ann Tuohy, an interior designer married to a wealthy businessman, played by Tim McGraw. Driving home with their children after a Thanksgiving play at the tony Briarcrest Christian School, the Tuohys pass Michael Oher, shivering as he walks on the road. Others might have passed him by, but not Leigh Anne. She offers him a ride and when she discovers he has no place to sleep, a bed. The story might have ended there, but Leigh Anne sees Michael’s potential and refuses to give up, or allow him to lose hope. With the family’s help, Michael completes school, college, and goes on to play for the Baltimore Ravens. Bullock is at the top of her game, but Quinton Aaron as Michael displays an incredible range as he struggles to defeat his demons on and off the field.
Marshall University’s 37-Member foortball team and coaches die in a plane crash in the Appalachian Mountains on Nov. 14, 1970. Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, who becomes head coach and is given the job of rebuilding the team. Besides finding the players, he must go up against the college president (David Strathairn) who wants to shut down the football program, a depressed assistant coach (Matthew Fox), and a player who missed being killed because an injury kept him off the flight. Kate Mara (who knows football since her family owns the New York Giants), gives a standout performance. Of course, the underlying theme is how an entire community heals after such a devastating loss.
Heaven Can Wait
Warren Beatty plays Joe Pendleton, the second string quarterback for the LA Rams, intent on getting to the Super Bowl. He receives the good news from one of his coaches, Max Corkle, played by Jack Warden: he’s getting the start in Sunday’s game. On the way to the stadium, however, he collides with a truck and an overeager angel (Buck Henry) removes him from his body before waiting for the outcome. Pendleton, a great athlete, would have avoided being killed, but after he’s cremated, there’s no way he can be put back into his body. He is forced to “borrow” the body of a multi-millionaire, Leo Farnsworth, whose scheming wife (Dyan Cannon) and assistant (Charles Grodin) try, unsuccessfully, to murder him. Pendleton makes it to the Super Bowl, on the way falling in love with a crusading environmentalist (Julie Christie), buying the LA Rams, and setting the corporate world on its heels.
Dennis Quaid stars as Gavin Grey who morphs from a football hero into a has-been. Jessica Lange plays Babs, the Louisiana State homecoming queen who married Gavin, gave up her own identity, and now must cope with his anger and moodiness. John Goodman, in one of his first major screen roles, steals more than one scene.
In the early 1970s, two schools in Alexandria, Virginia—one primarily black, one predominately white—are combined creating a firestorm in the community. Denzel Washington, in a tour de force performance as Coach Herman Boone, must manage the football team simmering with prejudice and mistrust. The players learn to depend upon each other on and off the field. The team’s success forces the entire community to face and accept integration. Alexandria is in the shadow of Washington D.C., and we can reflect on how times have changed.
Get ready for a good cry. Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), are running backs and the Chicago Bears,’ first interracial roommates. Starting out as fierce rivals, the two soon become fast friends on and off the field. When Sayers is injured, Piccolo supports him. However, it’s Piccolo who will need all the support he can find when he is diagnosed with cancer. A real tear-jerker, this movie was originally an ABC-TV Movie of the Week in 1971, and helped launch the concept of movies made for TV. Watch for teen sweetheart, Shelley Fabares, who plays Piccolo’s wife. An added bonus is the film’s theme song, “The Hands of Time,” with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. (The movie was remade in 2001 with Sean Maher and Mehki Phifer. Go for the original).
One of Tom Cruise’s best roles as the sports agent with a heart and a difficult client. Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Academy Award in a supporting role as the football player, Rod Tidwell, who keeps telling Maguire, “Show me the money.” In the end, the loyalty and bond that develops between Jerry and Tidwell demonstrates that even football is about more than money. Renee Zellweger, in her first major role, gets to deliver one of the movie’s most memorable lines, “You had me at hello.” This movie will have you til the end.
The professional football players go on strike and the owners of the Washington Sentinels ask Jimmy McGinty, played by Gene Hackman, to pull together a team. Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) is McGinty’s choice to lead the squad, but the other players are an odd ball collection of atheletes from anything but football—Welsh soccer player, a sumo wrestler, and a couple of professional bodyguards. There’s the inevitable fighting and bickering which culminate in the team being thrown in jail. Reviews focused on an impromptu dance number as a major reason to see this film. You decide.
Sean Astin (from the Rings triology) stars as Rudy Ruettiger who dreams of playing for the Notre Dame football team. While lacking in the physical requirements needed for football, Rudy has heart and soul to spare. Ned Beatty plays Rudy’s father, a blue-collar worker who idolizes the team and dreams one of his sons will finally find his away onto the field. Rudy makes it in the end, but it’s not the final play that is the reward, but the journey itself. Other great supporting roles are from Lili Taylor as a hometown girl, and Robert Prosky and Charles S. Dutton as one of Rudy’s mentors.
This film was added to the National Film Registry in 1997 and not just because it starred future President Ronald Reagan. This is the story of the legendary football coach, Rockne, played by Pat O’Brien, who says one of film land’s oft-quoted lines, particularly during the Reagan years: “Let’s win one for the Gipper.” The Gipper is George Gipp, Notre Dame’s first All-American who died of pneumonia in 1920.
The Express tells the real-life story of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) a star athlete at Syracuse University who was the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy in 1963. He was prohibited from attending his own awards dinner because the venue didn’t serve blacks. He died of leukemia at the young age of 23. While the film covers Davis’s accomplishments on the field, it focuses more closely on the player’s relationship with his coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, played by Dennis Quaid, who seems to be hitting his stride on screen. A great story of triumphing against unbeatable odds that will have you cheering Davis on and off the field.