Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Dec. 26, 27 or 28
Football movies range from “Little Giants,” “Wildcats,” “Grambling's White Tiger,” “The Best of Times,” and “Everybody's All-American” to Disney’s “Moochie of Pop Warner Football,” “The Program,” “Easy Living,” “Jim Thorpe: All American” and “Rudy” – even cable’s “Monday Night Mayhem and “1st and Ten.” In fact, TCM recently scheduled some fun, obscure football films: “The Big Game,” “College Coach,” “Cowboy Quarterback,” “Good News,” “Gridiron Flash,” “Huddle,” “Over the Goal,” “Saturday’s Heroes” and “Trouble Along the Way.” A few other movies also have memorable football moments: “The Waterboy,” “M*A*S*H,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “Two-Minute Warning” and “Black Sunday.”
For your download or rental convenience, here’s a “starting lineup” of 11 football movies:
“All The Right Moves” (1983). Tom Cruise stars in this gritty look at a gifted high school athlete looking to earn a scholarship to escape his dying Pennsylvania mill town. He gets in trouble with his coach, is kicked off the team, loses his chance for college, then takes a factory job until the coach eventually helps him. Craig T. Nelson, Lea Thompson and Chris Penn co-star.
“Any Given Sunday” (1999). Oliver Stone directs Al Pacino as an NFL coach dealing with a demanding owner (Carmen Diaz), a veteran quarterback (Dennis Quaid), and a hotshot rookie QB (Jamie Foxx). It's a realistic look, with effective cinematography and a solid script depicting the manipulations, machinations and machismo of the sport. A 170-minute movie, its supporting cast includes Charlton Heston, James Woods, Matthew Modine, Ann-Margaret and LL Cool J.
“Brian's Song” (1971). Billy Dee Williams and James Caan star as Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo in this tearjerker about a cancer-stricken Chicago Bears running back, his friends, family and teammates. The inspirational story – and it's being essentially true – makes even a 2001 TV remake starring Mekhi Phifer and Sean Maher adequate. The original, 74-minute movie co-stars Jack Warden, Shelley Fabares and Bernie Casey.
“Knute Rockne, All American” (1940). Pat O'Brien stars as Notre Dame's legendary coach in this affectionate biopic. Co-starring as George Gipp (“The Gipper”), Ronald Reagan has a couple of terrific scenes.
“The Longest Yard” (1974). Burt Reynolds stars as a former pro quarterback sentenced to the penitentiary, where the warden wants to organize a game of guards vs. inmates. The grudge match has consequences. Co-starring Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Richard Kiel and Bernadette Peters, the 121-minute movie is better than the disappointing 2005 remake with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Nelly.
“North Dallas Forty” (1979). Nick Nolte and Mac Davis star in the film version of the book by ex-Dallas Cowboys player Peter Gent. Funny and enlightening, it shows how the game exploits players. The 119-minute movie co-stars Charles Durning, Brian Dennehy, Dabney Coleman and John Matuszak.
“Paper Lion” (1968). This mock-documentary comedy stars Alan Alda in his screen debut as journalist George Plimpton, who trains with the Detroit Lions, suits up and writes about it. The 107-minute movie co-stars Alex Karras, Lauren Hutton and Roy Scheider.
“Remember The Titans” (2001). Denzel Washington and Will Patton are reluctant coaching partners in 1971, when integration hits a football team, high school and community. Based on a true story, the 113-minute film co-stars Donald Faison and Ethan Suplee.
“The Replacements” (2000). Keanu Reeves is a washed-up college star and Gene Hackman a has-been coach brought together when NFL players strike and teams cobble together ragtag scab teams to keep playing. The 118-minute film features Orlando Jones, Jack Warden and cameos from Pat Summerall and John Madden.
“Semi-Tough” (1977). Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson star as footballers who share an interest in the daughter (Jill Clayburgh) of their team's owner. Based on Dan Jenkins' novel, the film nicely blends romantic comedy and sports goofiness. The 107-minute feature co-stars Bert Convy, Carl Weathers, Brian Dennehy, Ron Silver and John Matuszak.
“Varsity Blues” (1999). James Van Der Beek and the late Paul Walker star as competing quarterbacks in this light drama about Texas football. Jon Voight and Scott Caan co-star in the 103-minute picture, which eventually focuses on a mutiny of players against a megalomaniacal coach before a key game.
[PICTURED: Poster from "Jim Thorpe -- All-American,' starring Burt Lancaster.]