This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.
OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: Football movies
Eric Edholm: "Brian's Song"
It's hard to pick an overrated football movie because there are so few actual good ones. Seriously — what is it about football that makes it such a roundly beloved sport and yet so woefully underrepresented in quality movies? "Brian's Song" has achieved a level of maudlin respect, though, and I think it's mostly through osmosis, or reputation. It's an overly sappy, made-for-TV movie with but a few memorable scenes, and yet its heft carries through each generation because of the heavy subject matters: race relations, cancer and teammates loving one another in a platonic way. It's a bit barfy. Look, I love James Caan for what he is, and Billy Dee Williams deserves his spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Lando Calrissian alone. But this melodrama lacks in the football department, and it's borderline unwatchable from a dialogue standpoint through parts of it. Sorry, devoted fans of this one, but it's a punt for me.
Frank Schwab: "Rudy"
If you look at lists of best football movies, this is the one that tops the list most often. As Eric alluded to, this probably says more about the state of football movies (seriously, we have a hundred great boxing and baseball movies, even a great poker movie for goodness' sake, and not a no-doubt classic about America's favorite sport?), but it's still a fact. And "Rudy" doesn't stink or anything. It has its charm. The hard-working walk-on player finally gets a chance to play (spoiler alert!) at Notre Dame in his last home game, and there are a few great scenes. But man, between the over-the-top sappiness and the two-hour infomercial for The Greatness of Notre Dame, I need some Pepto-Bismol by the end.
The thing is, the story itself is basically taking one true moment (that Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger got a sack on the final play against Georgia Tech) and makes up most everything else.
Coach Dan Devine (poor guy) wasn't this anti-Rudy jerk. The other players never did the whole "give up my jersey for Rudy" thing before the last game. He wasn't the loveable grinder everyone knew and adored.
"He worked his butt off to get where he was and do the things he did, but not any harder than anyone else," Joe Montana told Greg Couch of Fox Sports, in a column that sets the record of "Rudy" straight.
And then Ruettiger, who like any good American tried to capitalize off the movie and his story, was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for securities fraud. The SEC said Ruettiger engaged in a pump-and-dump scheme with a sports drink company built off his fame. He paid about $400,000 to resolve the charges without admitting guilt.
That real-life tidbit shouldn't and doesn't ruin the movie. The movie itself has enough ridiculousness to knock it down a peg or two. If we're universally claiming this as the best football movie ever, it just means there's a lot more work to be done.
EE: "Remember the Titans"
Here's an example of a based-on-a-true-story movie with similar themes to "Brian's Song" — race, death, inequality — set in a similar time that takes the issues and uses them as the backdrop to the story, not the arc of it. Football is king in Alexandria, Va., in 1971, and race relations are bad. So what happens when black students and white students suddenly are attending the same school and playing on the same football team? It's not pretty, but it's the journey through the team on the football field that becomes the meat of the story.
The training camp scenes are great, as is the full-film tug of war between the offensive-minded Denzel Washington and the brilliantly played Will Patton, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer turned defensive coordinator who must be a good soldier for his players. The scene where the team practices all night to car headlights — classic. Oh sure, there are some Hollywood-fueled moments and some stock characters (you expected differently?) and an action shot or two — the kid who is caught from behind and fumbles in the state finals is slower than I am, and that's impossible — that don't hold water. But otherwise, it's about as good as it gets from a football-action standpoint and has a plot that won't make you gag.
FS: "Any Given Sunday"
I'm not really sure why this movie got ripped so much. Expectations, maybe. We were, and still are, waiting for the great football movie and here was Oliver Stone with a pretty impressive cast making a football flick. What could go wrong? Well, it was met with universal scorn, so obviously something went wrong. It's a cliche by this point to go ahead with the crowd and say this movie was terrible.
The common issue is it was overdone. And considering Lawrence Taylor saws a teammate's car in half in the movie, I'll go ahead and concede that point. One thing no director has figured out is that jagged, shaking camera field-level football scenes in movies don't work. But they all do it, including Stone here. Some of the characters in "Any Given Sunday" could have been toned down a bit to make them more believable, too. I get all that. But there's a good movie in there, which tries to look at the world of football in a real way. The "real look at football" thing is nothing new either, and some of the plots are too dramatic, but it's a movie and there will always be some liberties taken. There are a lot of great moments and plots, and let me jump on the bandwagon of the Al Pacino pregame speech being one of the great sports movie moments (WARNING: There's some swearing in the clip below):
There are some good performances in this movie (LT's speech to Jamie Foxx's Willie Beamen character is nearly as good as Pacino's locker room speech even though nobody cites it), great cameos (Johnny U!) and a good, dramatic football story even if it sometimes got buried a bit in the over-production.
"Any Given Sunday" isn't perfect by any means, but no football movie has been perfect yet. I'll be honest: Put "Rudy" on one channel and "Any Given Sunday" on the other, I'm picking the latter.
- - - - - - -