After taking some light-hearted jabs at my young co-worker, Saralyn Norkus’ Top 10 Sports Movies column 10 days ago, in which she had listed just one film made before she was born in 1988, I published a column last week to help represent those of us with grey, white or no hair.
Because of time (I had an unexpected late-breaking story come up while I was writing the column) and space (I have been know to be a little long-winded), I published just films 6-10 on my list of the best sports movies.
Today we’ll take a look at what I consider to be the best sports movies I’ve seen.
Just a reminder, I had to disqualify from my list those which I have not seen — “Chariots of Fire” “Miracle,” “Moneyball,” “Coach Carter,” “42” and “Chasing 3000” (the Roberto Clemente story).
I also separated my list by fictional movies and those based on real life subjects, some getting closer to reality than others.
I will finish my biographical list in this column and then have my favorite fictional films in another Cannon’s Corner.
Just to review, Saralyn’s list went in this order: “Slap Shot,” “A League of Their Own,” “Remember the Titans,” “Goon,” “The Blind Side,” “Miracle,” “The Mighty Ducks” trilogy, “Cool Runnings,” “The Waterboy” and “Angels in the Outfield” (Disney’s 1992 version, not the 1951 original).
The flixs I ranked Nos. 6-10 were: “Hoosiers,” “Raging Bull,” “The Blind Side,” “A League of Their Own,” and “Rudy.”
As Paul Harvey would says, “Now for the rest of the story.”
No. 5 — “We Are Marshall”
Depicting the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed 37 football players, five coaches, a pair of trainers, the athletic director and 25 boosters of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, the film shows the struggles of rebuilding the program and the healing the community underwent.
In the wake of the tragedy that killed all 75 aboard the flight, university President Donald Dedmon leans towards indefinitely suspending the football program, but he is ultimately persuaded to reconsider by the pleas of the Marshall students and Huntington, W.V., residents, and especially the few football players who didn't make the flight.
Dedmon hires a young new head coach Jack Lengyel, who with the help of Red Dawson (the sole surviving member of the previous coaching staff), manages to rebuild the team in a relatively short time.
While the movie was met with mixed reviews by critics, I think the overwhelming emotion of the subject matter is what has this film so high on my list.
Did you know that at the time of the crash, legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was in his first year as head coach at West Virginia. Bowden asked NCAA permission to wear Marshall jerseys and play Marshall's final game of the 1970 season against Ohio, but was denied.
In memory of the victims of the crash, Mountaineers players put green crosses and the initials "MU" on their helmets. Despite being a rival team, Bowden allowed Lengyel and his assistants access to game film and playbooks to acquaint themselves with the veer offense, a variation of the option offense which aids teams with weak offensive lines. Lengyel credits Bowden with helping the young Thundering Herd recover.
No. 4 — “Glory Road”
Another movie that the critics were split on, “Glory Road” is based on the events surrounding the 1966 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship.
New head coach Don Haskins of Texas Western College (which later became Texas-El Paso) battled racism and discrimination as he intergraded his team. In the end, his squad was comprised of seven black and five white athletes; a balance that raises eyebrows among university personnel.
Despite battling the bigoted feelings that brought threats to his own family, as well as having one of his players beaten, Haskins leads the team to a 23-1 record during the regular season, earning them a No. 3 national ranking.
Advancing in the tournament to face top-ranked Kentucky, coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp, in the championship game, Haskins decides to go with an all-black starting lineup, a first in NCAA history.
In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, including an early game injury their team captain and foul trouble by their starting center, Texas Western manages to upset the Wildcats (as a Vol fan that was just icing on the cake for me).
Again, to me the real life obstacles overcome outweigh any cinematic objections anyone would have.
No. 3 — “Radio”
By now you may be sensing a pattern with my choices.
The most panned movie by critics on my list, the heart-warming story of a South Carolina high school football team overcoming initial teenage stupidity and learning to embrace a mentally-challenged individual into their lives has this old Santa putting them high on his Christmas list.
Inspired by a 1996 Sports Illustrated article, the 2003 film shows how, when we take the time to reach out and get to know someone who may be different from ourselves, we can open up a world of love we never knew existed.
Locally, we had a great example of how enriching this kind of relationship can be with the life and love of Coach Robert Maupin interacting with the teams, students and faculty at Bradley Central and Lee, for more than half a century. We miss you and still “love you buddy.”
No. 2 — “Remember the Titans”
Once again the blending of racial differences is the backdrop for another tremendous true-to-life story.
The movie shows the struggles of desegregation in the early 1970s at a Virginia high school, not only amongst the players, but the coaches and the townspeople as well.
In 1971, at the segregated T. C. Williams High School, a black head coach Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) is hired to lead the school's football team. Boone takes over from the current coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton), who was nominated for the Virginia High School Hall of Fame.
After forceful coaxing and rigorous athletic training by Boone, the team achieves racial harmony and success. Under the threat of Boone getting fired if the team loses a game, the Titans go through the season undefeated while battling racial prejudice, before slowly gaining support from the community.
Just before the state semi-finals, Yoast is told by a member of the school board that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame after the Titans lose one game, implying he wants Boone to be fired over his race. During the game, it becomes apparent that the referees are biased against the Titans. Yoast warns the head official that he will go to the press and expose the scandal unless it is refereed fairly. The Titans win, but Yoast is told that his actions have resulted in his loss of candidacy for HOF induction.
While celebrating the victory, team captain Gerry Bertier is in an automobile accident. Although Bertier could not play due to injury, the team goes on to win the championship.
A great example of how sports reflects life. The people willing to put self aside for the benefit of the team, are the true winners on and off the field.
No. 1 — “Brian’s Song”
My “all-time” favorite sports movie actually came out on TV first when I was 11 years old (1971) and was later shown in theaters.
It was the story of Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan), who despite being in the prime of his NFL career, died of cancer at the age of 26.
The film shows the friendship between Piccolo and backfield competitor and teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), who went onto a Hall of Fame career.
At a time in the late 1960s when players were still segregated by race for hotel-room assignments, Piccolo and Sayers roomed together.
The movie is based on Sayers' account of his friendship with Piccolo and coping with Piccolo's illness in Sayers' autobiography, I Am Third. Nominated for 10 Emmy Awards, Brian’s Song won four. Both Caan and Williams were nominated for the Best Actor award.
The reason this movie tops my list is I can remember watching Sayers and Piccolo play for the Bears when I was a kid. I was 10 when Piccolo died, so when I saw the movie it was very real to me and helped me understand none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
I do have a few honorable mention movies that didn’t make my Top 10, but which I enjoyed very much — “Eight Men Out” (the story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal), “Jim Thorpe — All-American” (1951, starring Burt Lancaster in the title role) and “Knute Rockne, All American (1940, starring Ronald Reagan as “the Gipper”).
Granted none of the movies in my Top 10 were made before I was born, but I date back to the final days of the Eisenhower administration, so that covers a wide span.
For you youngsters, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was our 34th president. Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States. Twelve days after I was born, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president.