Football is undoubtedly America’s game. I’m not a violent man myself which is why I was never into Boxing or UFC. But you know what, I cannot explain how much I love football. The carnage mixed with the element of a human chess game gets me yelling at the T.V. every Sunday. Not to mention the Friday night high school games and Saturday College Gameday showdowns (those kids should be paid). Football brings out something in the American culture that is brutal, yet also beautiful. Thank whatever lord might exist that it’s back! To celebrate, this is my Top 10 Football Movies ever.
10. “Draft Day” (2014):
To be honest “Draft Day” is at times a bit of a mess that feels more like it was commissioned by the NFL instead of an honest portrayal of the stressful process of trying to build a team. Picture “Moneyball” lite. However, legendary director Ivan Reitman holds things together enough to make a climatic look at one of die hard football fans favorite nights, the NFL draft. Kevin Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, the General Manager for the Cleveland Browns. Just like in real life, the Browns have been abysmal and hold the number one pick. The team owner (Frank Langella) wants to make a splash with the pick for a big time QB or RB star to sell jerseys. Sonny is more focused on a pass rusher played by the late Chadwick Boseman. While the scouting and evaluating of players process is pretty by the numbers, once the draft starts this movie gets going. Obviously it is Hollywoodized, but the emotions the players are going through being juxtaposed with executives who could be fired in seconds is perfectly captured as Costner’s character has to literally tell everyone to shut the hell up so he can do his job. Again, “Draft Day” is not a great movie. But for the die hard football fans it definitely hits the overall theme on the head.
9. “The Replacements” (2000):
A forgotten hidden gem in my book, “The Replacements” is a charming comedy about misfits that you cannot help but root for. To use another baseball movie reference, this is “Major League” lite. “The Replacements” is a silly farce that pokes fun at the multitude of professional sports league players that have gone on strike over the years. NFL players refuse to play because they want more money. Owners say fine, we’re bringing in scabs. The combination of washed coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) and failed quarterback Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) lead a bunch of misfits ready to play ball. The new look Washington Sentinels are a mess and the pros give them nothing but grief. Yet somehow the goofy group comes together, particularly while singing “I Will Survive!” in a prison cell. “The Replacements” is about cast-offs refusing to give up.
8. “Little Giants” (1994):
I never played YAFL football as a kid, but I’ve covered it a few times as a reporter. Parents take that stuff wayyyyyyy too seriously. You may think so, but you’re son ain’t the next Patrick Mahomes sweetheart. “Little Giants” captures how, especially at the youth league level, it is just a game. An elite youth coach and douche bag played by Ed O’Neill hosts a tryout for his team and all of the young sub-par players are embarrassed as they are asked to leave. O’Neill’s nerdy brother hears about this and decides to create a team full of metaphorical cast away toys to beat the cocky bastard and his privileged squad. Armed with a star player that happens to be a girl (Oh heavens to betsy!) the Little Giants make it all the way to a championship game pitting elite versus downtrodden. If you are rooting for the rich team, I’m guessing you’re one of those egotistical parents I mentioned previously.
7. “Concussion” (2015):
I love watching the game, but if I ever have kids they will never play football. “Concussion” deals with that dichotomy. We can continue to implement safer rules both in practice as well as on the field, but years of slamming helmets is going to have a cumulative affect. “Concussion” attempts to confront that issue the NFL can no longer deny. Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, an accomplished African pathologist doing research in Pittsburgh. After studying multiple ex-players, Omalu discovers that multiple minds contain CTE and the NFL does not want to admit it. A scene in which Smith shakes a brain in a jar full of water as an example to show what multiple hits to the head is frightening. I have no issue with any athlete deciding to play football. But the NFL needs to make athletes aware of what could be at stake.
6. “Brian’s Song” (1971):
To be fare, “Brian’s Song” has not aged well. No doubt it has some dated-ness on it. To also be fare “Brian’s Song” was a made-for-tv movie in 1971 that football fans still love it in 2020. The Chicago Bears bring in future H.O.F Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) at running back to compete with his white counterpart and current starter Brian Piccolo (James Caan). The black & white players clash both because of race but also sheer competition on the field. But after being forced to room together during training camp, the two come to form a friendship. Their wives learn to respect each other as human beings over dinner. Then finally, and remember this is the 70’s, Gale Sayers is the main teammate in the hospital supporting his friend Brian who is dying of cancer. A great show of how football can create life changing friendships.
5. “The Waterboy” (1998):
Short of Michael Bay, there’s not many in Hollywood I despise more than Adam Sandler. But I call ’em like I see ’em. “The Waterboy” was and still remains clean goofy fun. Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a 31-year-old socially inept water boy for a fictional college football team in Louisiana. Boucher is constantly ridiculed by the team, his teachers, and even his momma. What I respect about “The Waterboy” is that it captures the proverbial term ‘don’t poke the bear’. Bobby gets real angry and starts blasting players twice his size. When the coach puts him on the team this perceived ‘idiot’ wreaks havoc on opposing teams. QB’s are pissing their pants once Boucher has his sights set on them. “The Waterboy” also includes multiple side jokes that still work, including the bumbling special teams coach that speaks the strangest version of Southern English ever. An excellent slice of goofiness that holds up.
4. “Any Given Sunday” (1999):
Director Oliver Stone is a notoriously crazy filmmaker. Credit it to his experiences in Vietnam and years of cocaine abuse. However, that crazy mind is the perfect artist to encapsulate the insanity of being in the trenches on the field. “Any Given Sunday” is a no-holds-barred look at what professional football is really all about. From total Sodom & Gomorrah style parties to cutthroat ownership to players begging to get an insulin shot because they’re a sack away from a check bonus, “Any Given Sunday” shows the real side of pro sports. Al Pacino as the head coach of a fictional Sharks team goes full Vince Lombardi here, particularly in his final locker room speech. While the ending drive is wayyyyyyyy too drawn out, for the most part Stone cinematically captures what being within an inch of a first down or turnover beautifully.
3. “Remember the Titans” (2000):
A football movie laced with racial themes, “Remember The Titans” is one of those great inspiration pictures. Another true story, “Titans” centers around two schools in Virginia that are forced to integrate their black and white football teams. As we know even today, Virginia has never been racist, wink-wink. When a black coach played by Denzel Washington is inserted the white players have to swallow their pride while playing for and with a group of n-words. Coach is able to bring them together as a team on the field as well as making them a symbol of equality. Color does not matter on the football field. An integrated team can unite a community.
2. “Jerry Maguire” (1996):
This is certainly the best overall movie on this list. Only football movie nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. I can’t go number one on this list because it is very much a romantic comedy just as it is about football. Still, who does not know “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”. The story centers on a former top tier sports agent having a nervous breakdown played by Tom Cruise and humanizes a figure that works in an industry full of snakes. Jerry finds genuine love with a secretary while also being shown what true loyalty is in his one crazy client that decided to stick with him. Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Oscar as the wide receiver with kindness yet a total nut job. The climactic scene on the field when he catches a T.D. and celebrates after being straight knocked out is the stuff of legends.
1. “Rudy” (1993):
What else was it going to be? The true story of Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger is the stuff you make films about, and on the big screen “Rudy” embodies the man in the perfect romantic sports movie way. Growing up in a small steel mill town, Rudy always loved and dreamed of playing Notre Dame football. Unfortunately the driven kid, played here by Sean Astin, is poor and looking at an elitist school. Also, realistically, he’s too small to play for a big time school. But he fights every day to get into Notre Dame and even gets a spot on the teams’ practice squad. Then the kid becomes a punching bag for the bigger starting unit. But he always gets up after every trouncing. His fighting spirit gains the respect of the entire team to the point where every player sacrifices his spot on the roster to let Rudy get on the field. And when he finally does, albeit in a blowout, Rudy ends the game by maneuvering his way through giant linemen and sacks the opposing quarterback. As the little guy with a heart of gold is hoisted up with the fans chanting his name, we are all reminded how sports can bring out the best of anyone.