It’s that wonderful time of the year again, when families and friends festively convene over fried foods and alcoholic beverages to celebrate the end of another season. It’s not Christmas, Labor Day or New Year's Eve I’m speaking of – it’s Super Bowl Sunday!
There’s a reason why the Big Game is a near religious holiday in the United States. Football has become the new national pastime – a game of brains and brawn that inspires, excites, upsets and causes debate amongst the masses. Teams develop devoted fans and critics, much like another favorite American amusement: movies.
And so, now that the New Orleans Saints are Super Bowl champions, we want to talk about the best of both worlds – our favorite football films.
There are few corners of the country that live for the gridiron quite like Texas. Many residents of the small towns within the nation’s largest state put their unrealized hopes and aspirations on the shoulder pads of the youth, placing enormous pressure on students in high school and college. There have been numerous films that tackle this subject and setting, but one of the most enjoyable is Varsity Blues, which follows a second-string quarter back who has to step up after the school’s star suffers an injury. And no, we don't want your life.
What would football be without steep rivalry? This-oft overlooked comedic gem centers on two brothers’ never-ending quarrel that trickles down into their local peewee football league, prompting the younger and less athletic sibling to challenge his ex-Pro Bowler older brother. The unenthusiastic Little Giants battle the superior Little Cowboys, adding a hint of real-life rivalry to the fictional film.
The Longest Yard (1974)
I can think of few things more macho and wish fulfilling than pummeling a group of prison guards in a no-holds-barred game of football. Luckily, I’ve seen how this tantalizing fantasy plays out in Burt Reynolds hit film, where a former pro quarterback- turned-convict must lead a group of inmates to victory over corrupt corrections officers or throw the warden-ordered game in exchange for an early release. Beneath the comedy is a timeless story about the bond between teammates, not to mention a great game of filmed football.
Slightly similar to the aforementioned Burt Reynolds starrer, this film finds a ragtag group of manly misfits subbing in for prissy professional players after they strike. It is inspired by the events of the 1987 strike, only with a lot more laughs. Though it’s no Chariots of Fire; it’s one of those guilty pleasures that goes down easily when you catch it on TV.
This film provided a searing look into the competitive and cutthroat business that is college football. With an alcoholic quarterback, a 'roid-raging lineman and a star running back whose career ended in the blink of an eye, we get to see the enormous amount of pressure that goes along with Heisman prospects and athletic ability. Some have called it a dark film, but I like to think of it as boldly honest, if somewhat over the top.
We Are Marshall
McG’s heartfelt film about the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed nearly all of the Marshall University Thundering Herd, is a poignant ode to the fallen football players and a touching tribute to the community that mourned them. It is a quintessential sports drama marked by fantastic performances from the likes of Ian McShane and Matthew Fox and game sequences as rousing as any. Its small-town setting may make the film seem inaccessible to some of us on the coasts, but its emotional themes and narrative circumstances are universal.
Far from a prestigious picture, Adam Sandler made one of the most enjoyable and profitable football movies ever, thanks to his socially inept but charming Bobby Boucher, who escapes the grasp of an overbearing mother to become the star he was born to be. Surrounded by an eclectic cast of southern misfits, the audience gets more laughs than the South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs get points and at the end of the day, Bobby gets the girl and the opportunity to get his education.
Remember The Titans
Based on a true story, Denzel Washington stars as real life high school football coach Herman Boone, who united the titular team that had been severely divided over racial tensions between the players and society at large in the early 1970s. Director Boaz Yakin crafted a film equally insightful as engaging, if sometimes hoakey, and the unlikely respectful relationships that develop between characters, particularly Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell, define the true triumph of the picture.
Another true story that tugs on the heart, James Caan stars as Brian Piccolo, a Chicago Bears running back who befriends the team’s new player Gale Sayers. The two men become extremely close and they help each other through the trials of life, especially significant when Brian is diagnosed with cancer. The resulting struggle tests the boundaries of their courage and friendship, which is as strong as the Bears’ themselves. Keep the Kleenex close when watching this one; we guarantee that tears will spill.
Perhaps the ultimate underdog story, Rudy grew up in a steel mill town where most people ended up working, but wanted to play football at Notre Dame instead. Despite his academic and athletic shortcomings, his persistence and spirit led him to the Fighting Irish’s final home game of the season, where he sacks the opposing QB during the last play and receives a hero’s tribute as a result. This film summarizes everything about sport that we have grown to love – the fact that hard work, dedication and a love of the game can make your dreams come true against all impossible odds. Director David Anspaugh makes you feel like you’re a rightful part of the team, or at least an onlooker who cheers “Rudy, Rudy!” during that final game.