“Well, Stephen’s just going through a phase”, you could frequently and correctly say. It’s true, I have always tended to go through various phases.
There have been music phases, where for weeks all I’d want to listen to is Pat Metheny, or Glenn Miller, or Bob Dylan, or Tom Waits. I once got on a Blues kick that lasted for over a year, and every few years I’ll find myself going through yet another Mahalia Jackson phase that lasts for a week or two.
It’s happened with books also. I burned through a New Age spirituality phase; a Chistian apologetics phase; a Communism kick (just learning about it, NOT embracing it!); a bunch of books about the Bible Code; everything I could get my hands on pertaining to Virginia City, Nevada; and a P.I.G. phase – that is, I was reading a whole lotta books in Regnery Publishing company’s “Politically Incorrect Guide” series. The Thomas Wolfe phase did not last long because he only wrote three major books. (Wait! Wikipedia says “four”. I must have missed one. Uh-Oh!)
But nothing can “phase” me to the extent that movies do! I just seem to move from one theme-addiction to the next, and sometimes back again. They have been numerous, almost neverending. Twice, many years apart, I went on W.C. Fields and Laurel & Hardy kicks. I had my James Dean phase; my Gene Tierney phase; my Disney phase; William Holden, Judy Holliday, Charles Coburn, Robert Mitchum, Spencer Tracy, Frank Capra, and Alfred Hitchcock phases. I’m currently in the midst of my second Film Noir phase. But nuttin’ lasted longer than the Western Movie kick that The Countess (girlfriend & saddle pal) and I got on. That was a nearly 3-year phase.
But this blog bit is about my 2009 Sports Movies phase. How did it get started? Well, how do these things EVER get started? Some little inconsequential remark from someone gets me mentally moving in a certain direction. Or maybe it’s an article I come across somewhere. Or I watch one movie that I love so much (‘The Ghost And Mrs. Muir’) that it makes me want to watch EVERYTHING that beautiful woman (Gene Tierney) ever appeared in!
In ‘The Case Of The Sports Movies Phase’, that one got born this way: On September 29, 2008, The Airheadzona Republic newspaper’s ‘Heat Index’ (an ongoing opinion series on page 2 of their Sports section) published an article titled ‘He Shoots, He Scores’, in which they provided the lists of ‘Top Sports Movies’ according to Sports Illustrated magazine and ESPN.Com.
Well, I read it and saved it. For a year. No phase or nuttin’. But in the Fall of the following year – 2009 – I just happened to run across that article again when I was sorting through some files of stuffs and – “BOOM!” [to quote John Madden] – all the sudden the Sports Movies phase began and lasted for at least 6 months.
I already had an idea about which Sports-themed movies would make my own Top Ten list if I were to compile it right at that moment, but there were a few movies on the S.I. and ESPN lists that I had never seen, and I thought I really ought to watch them before compiling my own list.
So, that got me started. First I watched the few movies on those aforementioned lists that I’d never viewed before, and then I started watching a whole bunch of other sports movies that I’d never seen. Anything I’d heard was good (‘The Bad News Bears’) or anything that any friend recommended to me (‘Friday Night Lights’), I was willing to rent ‘n’ watch. The phase lasted about half a year and my updated list of Ten Favorites is posted below, following the S.I. & ESPN selections (with my comments in red) . . .
#1: Bull Durham
#2: Raging Bull
#5: Body And Soul
#6: The Hustler
#7: Chariots Of Fire
#8: Requiem For A Heavyweight
#9: Slap Shot
[The only reason to see ‘Slap Shot’ is to view Ralphie’s Mom (Melinda Dillon) from the movie ‘A Christmas Story’, topless and in the role of Paul Newman’s bisexual lover. Not a very good reason, in my opinion.]
#10: Jerry Maguire
[A movie so bad that I actually turned it off before it was over in an attempt to cut my losses short. That this movie was quite popular is a sad commentary on contemporary America.]
#1: Bull Durham
#3: Raging Bull
#5: Slap Shot
#6: The Natural
#7: Field Of Dreams
[Are you kidding me? With all the great sports movies that have been made, you’re selecting a sophomoric movie (with a fake mole) about something that’s more of a “game” than a sport?]
#9: The Hustler
BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY
(1973 – Baseball)
This was Robert De Niro’s first major movie role. He plays a catcher who, unbeknownst to most of his teammates, is dying of cancer. I saw this movie in the very earliest days of cable television, when my Pa sold cable TV subscriptions.
It’s a real sad, tearjerking story - sort of the ‘Brian’s Song’ of baseball. Watching this movie now, as an adult, it is clear to me that few if any of the actors had any real athletic ability. However, despite the fact that at one time I was probably a better baseball player than any ‘Bang The Drum Slowly’ cast member, this is still a big favorite of mine.
I love the scenes where the players take money from their naïve fans via the card game TEGWAR (“The Exciting Game Without Any Rules”).
THE BLACK STALLION
(1979 – Horse Racing)
If I were rating these movies by preference, ‘The Black Stallion’ would certainly get the #2 spot. It’s a gorgeous movie about a little boy shipwrecked on an island and who is befriended and saved by a wild stallion. Eventually both boy and horse are rescued (uh, “No, thanks”, I would have said) and returned to civilization.
The little boy eventually becomes fond of an old, retired jockey - Mickey Rooney – who serves as a mentor and surrogate father.
‘The Black Stallion’ includes some of the most delightful and creative photography in the history of cinema, and Mickey Rooney is downright amazing in his supporting role.
To the average viewer, it will appear as if Rooney isn’t doing any great acting at all. EXACTLY! He is so natural and he is so often “reacting” rather than “acting”, that you don’t notice a “performance” taking place. But at the same time, watch carefully and you will discover that he is wonderfully inventive (look for the itch he scratches while playing solitaire!)
I once spent a lot of time and money in professional acting classes trying to learn how to effectively “do nothing” like Mickey Rooney does in ‘The Black Stallion’. Sadly, I never did master the difficult ‘Art Of Nothing’.
(1979 – Bicycle Racing)
This is a movie that many of my friends and acquaintances referred to over the years but I somehow missed seeing until my 2009 Sports Movies Phase. Well, I may have been 30 years late, but I really loved it when I finally caught up to it.
It’s a low-budget movie about some small-town boys and one in particular whose coming-of-age includes bicycle racing, girl-crazy crushes, and a confused family life. This really is the sort of movie that “they don’t make anymore”, but if they did, I would perhaps start “going to the movies” again.
No special effects, no explosions or machine guns, no women unrealistically beating the crap out of men; just a straightforward, well-told, heartwarming and often humorous story about a simpler and far better time.
FIELD OF DREAMS
(1989 – Baseball)
“If you build it, they will come.”
Baseball presented as mythology, chimerical morality play, and a healing balm for the spirit. Despite the dippy hippie delusions, it's the best and most poetic movie about America's pastime.
It’s hard to believe there could be anybody who hasn’t already seen this movie. It’s also hard to believe that for many years I thought Kevin Costner’s other A-list baseball movie, ‘Bull Durham’, was better than ‘Field Of Dreams’. Uhp! I was an idiot!
Both of those excellent movies should be seen by all baseball fans and everyone else. And true, ‘Bull Durham’ contains some really classic scenes and lines of dialogue [“So, is somebody going to go to bed with somebody, or what?”], but for my baseball movie money . . . make mine “mysterious”.
THE LONGEST YARD
(1974 – Football)
This is another one I first saw on television during cable TV’s infancy (Z-Channel on THETA Cable Television).
Incarcerated professional quarterback Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) is coerced into organizing a football team o’ criminals to battle the evil warden’s team o’ prison guards, BUT . . . he is not allowed to let his team win the game! Will the always self-centered quarterback save his own neck while disappointing the ragtag group of inmates who have come to trust him? Or will he really go for “the longest yard”?
Was this really worth watching about 20 times? “Yeah. For me it was.”
‘The Longest Yard’ is a hilarious movie that needed to be remade in 2005 with Adam Sandler like I need a pink bonnet and a bouquet of pansies!
(2004 – Ice Hockey)
How many of you were old enough and aware enough to remember the U.S. Olympic hockey team upsetting “the seemingly invincible Russian squad” in 1980? It was probably that, more than anything else, that started the Soviet Union toward its eventual break-up.
Like every other American at the time, I was rejoicing over that incredible and totally unexpected outcome. Our hearts were regularly skipping beats!
More incredible than the U.S. victory, however, is that it took Hollywood nearly a quarter of a century to put this story on film!
In the ensuing years, I have come to absolutely despise the Olympic Games and I never ever watch ANY of them. Therefore, it wasn’t until my 2009 Sports Movies Phase kicked in that I got around to seeing ‘Miracle’.
Considering how I now feel about the Olympics, and considering that I don’t even understand all the rules to hockey, much less watch any of it or root for any team, the fact that I enjoyed this movie so much was almost as incredible as the U.S. hockey team’s gold medal accomplishment in 1980.
ON ANY SUNDAY
(1971 – Motocross Racing)
This is the biggest surprise on my list. The surprise isn’t that ‘On Any Sunday’ is on my list, but that it’s on my list when the surfing movie ‘Endless Summer’ isn’t.
Bruce Brown has made a number of lighthearted documentaries, his most famous being ‘Endless Summer’ (1966), which I love only slightly more than its long-awaited sequel ‘Endless Summer II’ (1994). Mr. Brown also made ‘On Any Sunday’.
Although I never did any board surfing (unless you’re including Boogie Boards, which I’m not), I grew up body-surfing on Santa Monica Beach and, in my youth, I went through a couple pairs of good quality fins. I never rode motorcycles or was the least bit interested in Motocross – although my brother Napoleon was into motorcycles and Motocross at one time. But then Nappy also likes Tony Orlando And Dawn, so what does HE know?
I’m not the least bit mechanical-minded; a motorcycle engine looks like Greek to me. My curiosity about how things work does not extend beyond taking apart a Keurig coffee kup to see its internal design (which I did just a couple days ago). So, it’s a real head-scratcher to find ‘On Any Sunday’ on this list when ‘Endless Summer’ isn’t.
I can’t watch ‘On Any Sunday’ without being reminded of John Milner in the two ‘American Graffiti’ movies.
I remember in the days before BETA and VHS tapes, they’d occasionally show Bruce Brown’s movies at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and I went there more than once. All I can say is that although both of his early documentaries take me back in time to the innocence of my wonderfilled childhood days and engender in me a bittersweet mood or saudade, somehow ‘On Any Sunday’ does it a shade more intensely for me than does ‘Endless Summer’ - despite my love of wave-riding and general disinterest in motorsports.
There’s something about that scene at the end of ‘On Any Sunday’ showing Steve McQueen and his buddies riding motorcycles on a beach at sunset, while that theme song plays, that just wrings my heart of sadness over my
On Any Sunday Bruce Brown Steve McQueen
REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT
(1962 – Boxing)
I watched this in 2009 only because it came in at #8 on Sports Illustrated’s ‘Top Ten’ list. Here you have a boxing movie with no boxing in it. Which means, of course, that it’s really more of a character study than it is a boxing movie.
Anthony Quinn (whom I normally do not care for) plays a washed-up fighter who is being ill-treated by his conniving manager (Jackie Gleason). Mickey Rooney, giving his standard excellent performance, plays Quinn’s trainer who goes to bat for the down ‘n’ out pug. And sweet Julie Harris (who played opposite James Dean in the classic ‘East Of Eden’) is the social worker who tries to help Quinn as he becomes increasingly sweet on her.
It is well known that a large part of the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky Balboa’ character was supplied by Chuck Wepner and his surprising tenacity in a fight with Muhammad Ali – a boxing match that all the so-called “experts” said would be over at just about the ringing of the bell for round one.
Well, after watching ‘Requiem For A Heavyweight’, I realized (despite never having heard or read this) that Sylvester Stallone must have also been aware of this movie before sitting down to write the first ‘Rocky’ movie. Anthony Quinn is clearly the pre-Rocky Rocky.
The only criticism I have to make about ‘Requiem…’ is that it includes one of the worst punches (if not the VERY WORST punch) I have ever seen thrown in a movie or television show – and believe me, I have seen some really bad movie/TV punches thrown!
The offending punch is thrown by Michael "Let's Be Careful Out There" Conrad of TV show ‘Hill Street Blues’ fame.
[By the way - for the record - I always HATED ‘Hill Street Blues’, regardless of the fact that all these years later I’m still receiving an occasional pittance of a residual check for a little “bit” I did as an Irish gang member in one early-1980s episode. I gladly accepted their money, but I HATED their show!]
Anyway, ‘Requiem For A Heavyweight’ is a nicely told, nicely acted, heartbreaking story. I’ve already watched it a second time!
(1976 – Boxing)
If this list were in order of preference, ‘Rocky’ would be #1. It’s a crying shame that Sylvester Stallone went on to make 364 sequels – one ‘Rocky’ movie for every day of the year – which really tarnished the memory of the original classic. But let’s not allow Stallone’s stupidity to make us forget just how great the first installment was!
I had the good fortune to visit Philadelphia in 2005 with my dear friend Pooh. I’ll never forget the year because Hurricane Katrina hit while I was in Rocky Balboa’s “City Of Brotherly Love”.
Speaking of love – I loved being in Philadelphia, the true birthplace of our country, and having the opportunity to visit Independence Hall, to see the Liberty Bell, and to climb the steps of Rocky’s Museum of Art. (Actually, it is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but it might as well bear Rocky’s name now, because he truly put it on The American Map of popular tourist attractions.)
I would love to return to Philly again someday to spend several more days there; I felt I had only scratched the surface in 2005.
On a personal note: Although ‘Rocky’ takes place in Philadelphia, and most of the external shots were filmed there, the ice skating rink where Rocky takes Adrian on their first date was actually located in downtown Santa Monica (it’s now a Fred Segal store).
That ice skating rink was a regular hangout for my Sister and her friends around the same time ‘Rocky’ was filmed there, and that is also the first ice skating rink I ever stepped on. I also went there occasionally in the mid-1970s in an attempt to pick up girls. It didn’t work. I was such a lousy ice-skater that the only person I ever picked up there was me, from off the ice where I had fallen . . . again.
Rocky - First Date Scene
At the conclusion of ‘Rocky’, Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa are holding each other up in the middle of the ring, both of them utterly spent and barely alive. Then, Creed, the victor in a split decision, informs Rocky, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.”
Rocky replies, “Don’t want one.”
What a PERFECT ending! Alas, if only dunderhead Stallone had listened to his own characters and honored their wishes.
(1993 – Football)
You can’t be anything even remotely resembling a sports fan without having heard of this movie - comparisons to real-life athletes are made weekly! So, obviously, I’d been aware of ‘Rudy’ for years, but it wasn’t until my 2009 Sports Movie Phase that I finally got around to watching it.
It’s the story of too-small, minimally-talented Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who had a dream. The dream? To play on the Notre Dame football team.
I was sure I would enjoy the movie, after all, it’s an underdog
But, heck, I’ve seen and heard lots of underdog sports stories and, really, the odds of ‘Rudy’ making my Top Ten list were about the same as the real-life “Rudy” making the Notre Dame football team. So I was greatly surprised to find myself “leaking from the eyes” on more than one occasion while watching the movie.
Of course, we all know that most of these “based on a true story” movies usually means that it’s 1% truth vs. 99% Hollywood fabrication (e.g., ‘The Blind Side’). Therefore I was greatly surprised to learn after doing a little research that ‘Rudy’ was predominately nonfiction - most importantly those final minutes!
Bottom line: If you don’t like the emotionally moving movie ‘Rudy’, all I can say is, "Heavens to Murgatroyd!” Why don’t you make like Snagglepuss and get out of my life? You can "exit, stage left!"
The True Rudy Story ( Part 2 )
I would be remiss if I did not mention . . .
HEAVEN CAN WAIT
(1978 – Football)
This movie was solidly on my Top Ten list until right up to the very end when - in a stunning upset – the underdog, ‘Rudy’, displaced it. Nevertheless, I want it known that I love ‘Heaven Can Wait’!
Warren Beatty plays quarterback Joe Pendleton who dies in a roadway accident “before his time”. The Heavenly Powers That Be are persuaded to find another earthly body for Joe to inhabit and they settle on Leo Farnsworth, a greedy, corporate bastard. Enter Betty Logan (Julie Christie), a determined young environmental activist who hates everything Farnsworth stands for.
Farnsworth sets out to purchase the Los Angeles Rams so he can lead them to the Super Bowl, while he is simultaneously falling in love with Betty and attempting to convince her that he isn’t really the greedy, corporate bastard she thinks he is. ‘Heaven Can Wait’ is equal parts fantasy, sports movie, and love story.
Ladies, here’s what I suggest: With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, why don’t you get yourself a copy of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and surprise your husband or boyfriend with it on February 14th. He will be pleasantly shocked that you got him a sports movie (after all the complaining you’ve done about how much time he spends watching sports on TV), and he will never suspect that you really got the movie so you could watch an A-list love story with him.
I know for a fact that you will BOTH enjoy ‘Heaven Can Wait’ because . . . “It is written!”
And, fellas, I have a Valentine’s Day suggestion for you as well: Get your wife a copy of ‘The Ghost And Mrs. Muir’ (1947) in honor of The Sport Of Love. That incredibly romantic story will have her eyes so full of tears that she’ll never be able to see that you really got the movie so you could vicariously live the sailor’s life of ultramacho-man Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison), and lust after actress Gene Tierney, the most beautiful woman God ever created!
Watch ‘The Ghost And Mrs. Muir’ with your wife and, trust me, dudeguys, you’re going to get some on Valentine’s Day night!
OK then, tell me now, y’all, what are YOUR favorite sports movies?
~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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