MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It’s Super Bowl week in case you hadn’t noticed, and through each week leading up to our most obscene unofficial national holiday (more like the fall of the Roman Empire), the media is always scrambling to come up with something that has a new angle or twist of its own since there are approximately 4 scrillion credentialed media members there to ask their own stupid questions.

Take Super Bowl Media Day, for instance, which I believe was on Monday. Media Day has given launch to so many ridiculous questions of the players and coaches through the years, with the all-time great stupid question being asked in 1987 to Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, who is Black, “How long have you been a Black quarterback?”

On Monday, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni was asked, “Is Sunday’s game a must-win game?”

To which Sirianni deadpanned, “Yeah.”

He was then asked, “Which player on the Eagles wouldn’t you let your daughter date?”

Sirianni: “My daughter is five years old.”

So there’s that. But speaking of stupid, as part of its Super Bowl week coverage, I see USA Today put out a list of the 25 all-time great football movies. Now I say stupid, not because of the USA Today list, but because most football movies are stupid, because football, like baseball, is not easy to replicate on the large or small screen for a number of reasons.

Most of the good sports movies have a main storyline about something other than the sport in the movie. The sport itself is merely an important subplot – it’s what brings everybody to the point of the storyline – which is what makes a good sports movie a good movie period.

Of the 25 football movies selected by USA Today, the ones I have not seen or have no desire to see are as follows:

  1. Leatherheads (2008).
  2. The Waterboy (1998) – If I want to see Adam Sandler, and I don’t, I’ll look for San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is much funnier.
  3. Varsity Blues (1999).
  4. Friday Night Lights (2004) – I have never seen the television series either, but I read the book and it is outstanding.
  5. The Express (2008) – The inspirational yet highly fictionalized biopic about the late, great Ernie Davis, the first Black Heisman Trophy winner. I have no interest in seeing this because the part about the West Virginia players and fans treating Davis so badly in Morgantown never happened. Syracuse did not play at West Virginia in the year the incident is depicted to have occurred in the movie, so they lost me there.
  6. The Game Plan (2007).
  7. The Last Boy Scout (1991).
  8. Horse Feathers (1932) – I should see it because I love the Marx Brothers.
  9. Necessary Roughness (1991) – The title alone sounds like a sophomoric dirty joke. No, thanks.
  10. Any Given Sunday (1999) – Oliver Stone? If I want conspiracies, I’ll watch the real #NFLTheTVShow on any given Sunday (see what I did there?). Al Pacino a football coach? No.
  11. The Freshman (1925).

— So, the movies on the list I have seen and have enjoyed for one reason or another?

  1. Paper Lion (1968) – Based on the book of the same name by the legendary participatory journalist George Plimpton, Alan Alda, pre-Hawkeye Pierce, plays Plimpton as he goes out for the Detroit Lions football team.

Based on a true happening, the actual Detroit Lions, including Alex Karras, pre-Mongo, play themselves in this movie, as does then Green Bay Packers general manager Vince Lombardi.

Good stuff.

  1. Invincible (2006) – Mark Wahlberg plays a Philadelphia bartender in the 1970s who goes out and makes the Philadelphia Eagles of head coach Dick Vermeil. This really happened, and it’s a helluva movie.
  2. All the Right Moves (1983) – Filmed in Johnstown, Pa., a young Tom Cruise is a tough little Western Pa. defensive back for Ampipe High, who gets kicked off the team because his coach, played by Craig T. Nelson but who reminds me of Glenn Cross, thinks he helped to deface his house and property after a tough loss.

Still, Cruise gets the girl and the scholarship, given to him by none other than the head coach that kicked him off the team – the scholarship, that is.

  1. The Replacements (2000) – Not a great movie, but an entertaining one. Filmed in Baltimore and parts of Washington, Keanu Reeves plays Shane Falco, who quarterbacks the Washington Sentinels replacement team during an NFL strike.

Gene Hackman plays the head coach of the Sentinels in not one of his better roles – the Tom Landry fedora just doesn’t work on Hackman’s head.

Still, a fun watch as it is kind of the football version of “Major League”.

  1. North Dallas Forty (1979) – Based on the book by former Dallas Cowboys receiver Peter Gent, Nick Nolte and Mac Davis star in this raunchy Seventies film, as the NFL of the ‘70s was quite raunchy itself.

It’s a good movie, though it is not very flattering to the North Dallas Bulls (the Cowboys) or their head coach (Tom Landry).

  1. Remember the Titans (2000) – Very surprised this came in as low as 11. I would have had it in my top five, easy.

Based on real life, Denzel Washington plays Coach Herman Boone, who has to get white and Black kids all on the same page when he takes over the team at desegregated T.C. Williams High.

Great movie.

  1. The Longest Yard (1974) – The original version, not the fake one that I refuse to watch with Kyle Shanahan in the starring role. Burt Reynolds stars in this one and he is just great as Paul Crewe, an ex-pro player convict who leads his fellow prisoners against a team of very nasty guards, led by the even nastier warden played by Eddie Albert.

Helluva movie.

  1. Heaven Can Wait (1979) – Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Jack Warden, Dyan Cannon and Charles Grodin are all fantastic in this fantasy remake about the quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams who dies, but who wasn’t supposed to die and is given another chance by the angels in heaven in an older man’s body.

Love this movie.

  1. Jerry Maguire (1996) – I never really thought of this as being a football movie, but okay. Tom Cruise as sports agent Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding Jr. as the football player and Renée Zellweger as the accountant who leaves the corporate agency with Maguire to start their own agency.

An engaging romance that is one of those movies you watch all the way through when you see it on Saturday or Sunday afternoon reruns.

  1. The Blind Side (2009) – Based on the book of the same name, which is about the true-life experience of enormous offensive tackle Michael Oher, later of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, who is adopted by Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw and their family while he is in high school.

It’s well worth the watch, although a lot of people, including Oher, had a lot of issues with the authenticity of the story telling.

  1. We Are Marshall (2006) – Matthew McConaughey, who is tough to take, but a very good actor, plays Jack Lengyel, who takes over as the head coach at Marshall University in the wake of the 1970 plane crash that killed most of the football team.

This is one of the most inspirational films you are likely to see and is sure to bring a tear to your eye. It does to mine every time I watch it.

  1. Draft Day (2014) – I cannot believe this is as high as No. 3. It had to be on the list, because there aren’t that many good football movies.

I have devoted full columns to “Draft Day” and Kevin Costner’s performance as Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. This movie is so stupid, so dumb, so cliché and so bad that it’s good. In fact, I watch it every time it’s on, so in the end, that’s entertainment!

That said, a young Chadwick Boseman is very good in this.

  1. Knute Rockne, All-American (1940) – Pat O’Brien as Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach, who tragically dies in a plane crash, and Ronald Reagan as his star player, George Gipp, who tragically dies of pneumonia long before he tragically taxes Social Security.

It’s the “Pride of the Yankees” of football movies, so while it had to be on the list, I wouldn’t go so far as No. 2.

But, for its time, maybe.

  1. Rudy (1993) – More Notre Dame football propaganda, but a very exciting and inspirational production (and the Notre Dame campus is gorgeous) as Sean Astin plays a kid who was really too small to play for his high school, but walks on to the Notre Dame team and makes it.

It’s a great movie that’s based on the true story, although such Fighting Irish players who were there at the time, including Bob Golic and Joe Montana said they laughed out loud when the entire team turned in their jerseys in support of the lovable little walk-on.

Sure, that would happen. Give up a full ride to play football at Notre Dame because little Rudy was being treated unfairly by the coach? Uhhm, no.

This movie did not treat then-Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine very kindly at all.

— While I enjoyed this list, and while I question some of the rankings (it’s all subjective, so no big deal), I have one complaint: Where in the hell was “Semi-Tough” with Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson and Jill Clayburgh? That’s a top-10 football movie in any generation. It’s just a helluva good movie.

Somewhere, the great Dan Jenkins is spinning in his grave. And, frankly, I don’t blame him.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT