Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Week in Review

This past week was one to remember in the world of sports.  Five different TION words stick out to me to describe exactly why it was so memorable.  We had a star quarterback accused of attempted seduction, a pitcher who was near perfection, a prodigal son returning in a mid-season acquisition, The Monsters of the Midway in the midst of self-destruction, and a successful college basketball program admitting corruption.  In my estimation it deserved a week in review, so here it is.    

Attempted SeducTION:

The Recipient of Favre's Advances
Apparently Brett Favre didn’t get the memo delivered by fellow athletes Grady Sizemore and Greg Oden titled, When in Doubt, You’re Better off Keeping Your Privates…..Private.  If he did, he would never have sent pics of his “most important teammate” to former Jets reporter Jenn Sterger because of the inevitability that it would leak out somehow.  Now, Brett faces irreparable damage to both his marriage and his reputation.  My question is, what on earth was he thinking?
At least Oden and Sizemore were partaking in consensual sext with their girlfriends at the time.  Favre on the other hand, although all the details have not surfaced, appears to have engaged in nonconsensual sexting with Ms. Sterger.  Even though she refused all his other advances (creepy myspace messages and voicemails), Favre just couldn’t grasp the concept of no, and tried to pull one last trick out of his pants.  Makes sense right? Athletic prowess…..NO Thanks.  Fame…..NO Thanks.  Money…….NO Thanks.  The only logical next step for Don Favreleone was to make her an offer that she couldn’t refuse.  Unfortunately, Mr. Favre greatly overestimated Lil Bretts appeal and greatly underestimated Jenn Sterger’s sense of dignity.

Weird thing is, even though I’m a Bears fan, I’ve always liked Favre.  There is something about his good ole’ boy mentality and his enthusiasm for the game that draws me in with the rest of America.  My fondness for him even allows me to dismiss the ego-maniac saga that he puts us through every offseason with a “Well, he just loves the game so much and can’t get away from it” defense.  But a married man smut peddling to an unwilling mistress,  THAT I can’t give him a free pass on regardless of how hot the unwilling mistress is.  Sextual harassment is a no-no in my book.

What I don’t get is why Favre seems to be getting a free pass on this.  During Tigergate, the media was relentless and rightfully so.  Brett’s infidelity on the other hand, seems to have JFK-like “let’s turn a blind eye because we like him” coverage.  This is not to say that he is not catching any heat, because he is, but not to the degree that a nude photo to a female team employee should.  Maybe the reason for this is that members of the media are in the midst of researching other stories that have developed as a result of this one.  I’ve got to think that if Farve was capable of something like this, we have not even scratched the surface of his sexual deviancy.  As Tiger knows, when it rains it pours and I’m guessing that it will be pouring bitter female cheeseheads in the upcoming weeks if reporters are willing to dig deep enough.

Close to PerfecTION:

Perfection and No-No in Same Season
Roy Halladay, who is affectionately being dubbed Mr. Doctober, threw his second no-hitter of the 2010 season.  The first, a perfect game, came back in April.  The second, on Wednesday, made Halladay only the second pitcher to have two no-hitters in the same season (the other being Nolan Ryan).  The superlatives do not stop there.  His remarkable performance was the second post-season no-hitter in the history of the game and the first of the completely sober variety.  Halladay also joined an illustrious club with six other pitchers who can boast that they pitched both a no-hitter and a perfect game in their careers.  Unbelievably, Halladay accomplished all this in his first post-season start ever. 

To put his post-season no hitter into perspective, think about all that has occurred since the last time it happened (Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956):

-           Home run records have gone full circle.  Ruth’s records became Maris’ and Aaron’s.  Maris’ and Aaron’s records became McGwire’s and Bonds’.  McGwire’s record became Bonds’ record.  Both of Bonds’ records became Ruth’s and Aaron’s once again (at least in the public's eyes).

-          Actor Ronald Reagan became the president of the free world

-          Michael Jackson went from being adored, to admired, to despised, to tolerated, back to admired again

-          Ray Lewis and OJ were able to beat a murder charge, Kobe and Big Ben escaped rape charges, and Blago was vindicated of political corruption charges. 

-          Newspapers have become extinct, while blogs like The Sox Market have become the wave of the future.

-          The Chicago Cubs were finally able to win the worl……oh wait, that hasn’t happened.   The Boston Red Sox were finally able to win the World Series.

-          The Situation, Snooki, and J-Wow have become wealthy and household names, while once thought to be main stays M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice have lost it all and become blasts from the past.

-          We’ve gone from Rosa Parks trying to sit down on a bus to Barack Obama as our president.

-          Leonardo Dicaprio, who once took a back seat to Kirk Cameroon, is now taking a backseat to no one.

-          Tiger has gone from challenging the record of Nicklaus, to breaking the record of Chamberlain.

With all that taken into consideration, Halladay’s no-no takes on much greater significance.   Who knows what will take place in our world before we see a pitcher do something like that again?   I’m guessing the word associations of Timberlake-Oscar, Miley Cyrus-Celebrity Rehab, Facebook-Pong and Bin Laden-Found will be more apropos than Postseason-No Hitter over the course of the next fifty years.  Take a bow Doc.  I’ll probably be dead or have the ability to time travel before someone accomplishes what you did this past week.

The AcquisiTION

In one respect, Christmas has come early for Brett Favre as the Vikings acquired the best wide receiver in the history of the game early last week, proving to children everywhere that Santa really doesn’t care how you behave.  In the case of #4, Claus may have been making a list and checking it twice, but he doesn’t really care if Brett was naughty or nice, because Randy Moss is commmmmming to tooooownnnnnnn.
Moss has been #1 on Favre’s wish list for many years, dating back to his days with the Packers.  Well let me amend that statement, the aforementioned Ms. Sterger probably occupied the top spot in 2008, but other than that, Moss has been Favre’s most desired toy.  Now, he finally will have him at his disposal and it could not have come at a better time.  In the midst of a terrible start to the 2010 season and in the week in which his personal life took a gigantic hit, Moss could be just the remedy Favre needs to improve his numbers on the field and distract him from what is going on off the field.  Let’s face it, if Farve is able to return to 2009 form over the course of the next four to five weeks, everyone will forget about his marital woes.  Hell, Kobe is a hero again and Bill Clinton is remembered as a great president.  While the pictures will never go away, with better performance on the field, the story will.
Brett's New Toy
Here is what I predict.  Moss and Favre pull a 2008 Celtics and revive their careers once again.  By week 8, the Vikings are on top of the NFC Central.  By week 10, stories come out that Brett and Deanna Favre have an Andre Kirilenko and Masha Lapatova like agreement.  By week 14, the Vikings have locked up a playoff birth.  By week 16, Sterger comes out of hiding and says that while Favre creepily pursued her, the pictures are not of him.  Ines Sainz confirms this, stating that she recognizes the man in the picture from her time working in the Jet’s locker room, but that it is not Favre.  Favre holds a press conference and gives an “aw shucks I told you it wasn’t me, I just want to play football” speech.  The Vikings go on to win the Super bowl, Favre and Sterger present an award at the ESPY’s together, Farve finally decides to retire, and then he ultimately unretires again after training camp ends.  Thirty years down the road, ESPN does a 60 for 60 film in which Favre credits “The Acquisition” (That’s the Title) of Randy Moss for rebuilding his reputation, salvaging the 2010 season, saving his marriage, and finally setting him up with Sterger by acting as his wingman at TO’s Hall of Fame induction after party.  Couldn’t you picture all of that happening?  I could and I do.


As a Bears fan, the Sunday Night Football Game last week between the Giants and the Bears was the worst game I have ever seen bar none.  Never before had I feared for the life of a player like I did of Jay Cutler.   Every time he dropped back to pass it felt like a game of Russian roulette.  Death was possible, injury highly probable, and failure inevitable.  Luckily for Jay, only two out of three of those turned out to be true.   The concussion that he suffered at the end of the first half was a blessing in disguise and allowed him to play and live another day.

I have never seen an offensive line be completely manhandled like that in all my years of watching football.  At first I thought it might be some grand offensive strategy by Mike Martz to lull the Giants into a false sense of security, but after sack number seven, I realized that was just wishful thinking on my part.  Fact is, the Bears had no answer for the Giants pass rush and I have no more words to expound on the subject.  Actually I do.   How about bringing in Sandra Bullock to give each guy on the O-Line a pep talk like she did with Michael Oher in the Blindside?  “This team is your family Roberto (Garza), when you look at Jay, you think of me, how you have my back.  Are you gonna protect the family Roberto?”  I mean did you see how much those words changed Michael’s demeanor in the movie?  Considering how that must have really happened since the movie was based on a true story, I’d have to think Bullock (or the real woman) could be equally effective with the Bear’s O-Line.  Couldn’t hurt right?


"What I do?"
My buddy Mix is a diehard UCONN Huskie basketball fan.  During our time in college, UCONN and the Mix were at the height of their basketball glory.   In fact, in 2004 when they won the National Championship, I had never seen a happier human being in my life.  The Mix had a permanent smile on his face and he partied accordingly.  He was so confident in his Huskies that he used to bet me twenty dollars at the beginning of every year that UCONN would win the national championship. I got every other division 1 basketball team.  When I lost twenty bucks in 2004, I told the Mix that even though he won, it was still a stupid bet on his part based on the odds.  He disagreed, claiming that since he won, it was an incredibly smart bet and then made some reference alluding to how UCONN was a sure thing.  It was at that time, I decided that I was going to vehemently root against UCONN, not only because of his complete obsession with the team, but also because I thought they were running a dirty program.

Although I had no proof, I’d believed with all my heart that UCONN was cheating.  Mix wasn’t buying.  Not only did he think that Jim Calhoun was the greatest coach of all time, he also thought he was the model of integrity.  This led to numerous arguments where I would explain the logic behind why I thought he cheated, but Mix always held the ultimate trump card in each of these arguments.  Not once had their ever been any evidence of any wrongdoing by Calhoun or anyone associated with UCONN basketball.  That was until this past Friday.

The University of Connecticut has issued a 2-year self-imposed probation that includes a loss of one scholarship for illegal phone calls and text messages, as well as improper use of game tickets for high school players and their coaches.  While they disagreed with NCAA allegations against Calhoun that he failed to provide an atmosphere of compliance, they did concur that their men’s basketball program committed major violations.  Finally………….vindication.

When I broached the subject to the Mix, all he could say was “We’re talking about telephone calls.”  This indicated to me that he was still in denial.  It kind of reminds of a mother whose son was just convicted of double murder.  Even with DNA evidence, four eye witnesses, and a signed confession, the mother can’t and will never believe that their son is guilty.  If they did believe that, what does that say about them as a mother?  Similarly, the Mix will never admit that Calhoun and the Huskies are dirty.  If he did, what does that say about his team and all the joy that they have given him over the years?

The Mix, being in his final year of law school with a bright future as a DUI defense attorney, should know better than anyone that when there is smoke, there is usually fire.  If a person is convicted of stealing a car, what is the likelihood that they have stolen other cars or committed other criminal acts prior to when they got caught?  I’m going to guess the odds are very high that they have.  It just so happened that they were caught this time.  Similarly, does anyone really think that phone calls and game tickets are the only violations that Calhoun has committed?  The odds are heavily against it.  Once a cheater, always a cheater.  Mix knows this.  He just can’t bring himself to admit it.  He’s just hoping that other, more serious violations, never see the light of day.  As his friend, I hope so too, as long as he knows deep down that the Huskie Dawgs were a fraud. That’s good enough for me.  Oh yeah, I want my twenty dollars back too.     



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Greatest Sports Movies in the History of the World (Part 2)

Need I Say More?

Sly Stallone batted an extremely impressive .666 (Same as Puzo with Godfathers and Kardashian with daughters) during the thirty year run of the Rocky saga from 1976 to 2006.  The first four movies were great, but the last two (V and Balboa) kind of reminded me of an over the hill and out of shape Michael Jordan lumbering up and down the court for the Wizards in the early 2000s.  Just like Jordan should have ended his career on his game winner to beat the Jazz in ’98, the character of Rocky should have ridden off into the sunset after IV, never to be seen or heard from again.  Similar to Jordan, who would never be able to eclipse what would have been the perfect ending to his career, Rocky would never be able to surpass what he accomplished in IV.  Think about it.  He was able to avenge a friend’s death, he proved that pre-historic training methods could trump high-tech and highly juiced regimens, and he was able to effectively end the Cold War with one of the greatest punch-drunk peace offerings of all-time.  How on earth did Stallone think he could top that?

What made IV so great was the antagonist Ivan Drago played by Dolph Lundgren.  Not only does he kill Rocky’s buddy Apollo during an exhibition match on American soil, but he has the audacity to coldly say “If he dies, he dies” as medics are trying to revive him.  His robotic lack of remorse, combined with his commie affiliation and questionable training tactics are just the push Rocky needs to get back into the ring and seek revenge.  For me, as a Patriot and Apollo Creed lover, I want Rocky to get his revenge, but at the same time, there is something about the big Russian that I find appealing, making me think to myself "I wouldn’t be THAT disappointed if he sent Rocky to see his maker as well."  I know that sounds awful but I’d equate it to what goes on in the head of a second-string high school quarterback.  Obviously, as a team player they want to win, but there is a tiny part of them who wants the guy playing ahead of them to throw 3 picks in the big game, come down with a bad case of mono mid-season, or get caught with a couple bags of weed on him at school.  All this ill will so that the coach will give them an opportunity.  It is only our competitive nature as humans to think this way.  Of course, this thought process goes away if the team is playing for something bigger than the individual; say a rivalry game or a state championship.  In these instances, the second-string guy is usually rooting whole-heartedly for the starter.  Similarly, while at first, part of me was rooting for Drago, when I realized in the last scene that Rocky could singled-handedly bring about the collapse of The Berlin Wall and the abolishment of the Iron Curtain with a knockout, I put all my chips in his corner.  Some things are just bigger than the game.

Fall from Grace:  Bridgette Nielson, who played Drago’s wife, was a hot young actress with a ton of potential.  She was married to Stalone, who was one of the biggest movie stars at the time, and had all the fame and money a six foot (By the way, that is the best part of IMDB, looking up the heights of actors and actresses and seeing how disappointed or surprised you are.  In the case of Nielson, I was extremely disappointed because I thought she was at least 6’4”) Dane woman could ask for.  Fifteen years later, she was a star on the Surreal Life and had traded in Sly for Flavor Flav.  While I’m sure Flav made her extremely happy, I have to think that if she could be granted a mulligan for the past 15 years, she’d take it.

I have so much to say about this movie that throwing a couple hundred words down seems like it would be an insult to William and Arthur.  Plus, saving what I have to say gives me something to write about in the future when I develop a bad case of inevitable writer’s block.  I will say this though; a screenwriter could not have written a better plot for how things happened in this documentary, which just goes to show that real life is the best human drama.  Man I’m deep.

4b. White Men Can’t Jump

When I was eight, I came down with a case of the Chicken Pox.  While the itchiness and red marks were certainly awful, one good thing came out of it; my mom felt really, really, bad for me, so much so that she allowed me to watch any R-rated movie that I wanted, one of which happened to be White Men Can’t Jump.  (Side Note:  I know what you are thinking, with that kind of parenting, I was probably dropping M-Fers by nine, doing tequila shots by 10, and fathering illegitimate children by 12.  Quite the contrary, I didn’t swear until I was a senior in high school and didn’t take my first sip of alcohol until my first year of college, proving that a.) I was a complete loser and b.) my mom knew what she was doing.)  Even at that age, I appreciated WMCJ (Don’t want to spell it out every time) as a great sports comedy which helped to improve my trash-talking and “yo mama” joke acumen tenfold.  The exchanges between Harrelson and Snipes, as well as the rest of the cast had me dreaming of being the Billy Hoyle of the Western Suburbs who would make weekend trips down to the West and South side to hustle my way to a fortune.  Although I never actually acted on this fantasy, just thinking about it, gave me motivation to become a better ball player.  Screw college hoops or an NBA career, this movie had me wanting to parlay my basketball talent into a professional sandbagging street baller like Billy Ho.

I really liked the quality of the basketball scenes in this movie as well.  While Harrelson’s game left a little to be desired, Snipes looked like he might have been able to play a little JUCO ball, and Flight and Willie from the Brotherhood tournament played at UCLA and New York University respectively.  Crazy Raymond, who tried to stick up a convenience store to play Sidney and Billy, and who after losing decided that he was going to get his gun to try to kill everyone, is none other than former UCLA star Marques Johnson.  Johnson, who is also known for his color commentary for FSN west coast college basketball games, played one of the best characters in the movie and had me convinced that he was a normal actor, and not simply the basketball player turned actor that he really was.  If only he could have taught Ray Allen a thing or two, the fortunes of He Got Game could have been dramatically different and had more people re-watching it for more than just the recruiting visit.

G-L-O-R-I-A:  I could have done without Rosie Perez’s character Gloria.  Her voice and overall demeanor are hard to stomach and let’s be honest; a stud like Billy should have been able to do much better.  Even Perez’s willingness to do a couple nude scenes could not overcome her annoyingness.  Now that is saying something.  Get rid of Perez and throw in someone like Marissa Tomei, who has proven to be far less annoying and equally pro-nudity, and WMCJ jumps into the top 3.

I have seen plenty of movies that would fall under the thriller or horror genre; however I have never jumped out of my seat or been more afraid than when Roy Hobbs was shot by Barbara Hershey’s character in The Natural.  As a kid, I used to have nightmares about that scene thinking that something like that could happen to one of my own sports heroes like Frank Thomas, Michael Jordan, or Walter Payton.  I couldn’t even imagine how devastated I would be if I was never able to see them play because they were gunned down right on the verges of superstardom like Hobbs.  Luckily, Hobbs was able to salvage his career as a hitter 15 years later, but I often wonder how nasty he might have been on the fictional mound if he was never fictionally shot.  I ‘d have to think, as a lefty, he’d have Glavine-like control, Koufax-like velocity, Randy Johnson-like mound presence, and a Buehrle-like glove.  Unfortunately, we were never able to see the pitching version of Hobbs in his prime, but did see a pretty good hitter with a penchant for late-game heroics.  With the pennant on the line and his self-made bat “Wonderboy “ shattered in half, Hobbs uses the bat boy’s “Savoy Special” to hit a towering home run which both breaks the right field lights and gives the New York Knights the pennant.  This culminating scene is outstanding, not only for what happened, but for the musical score that goes along with it.  Go to 3:40 in this clip if you are in the mood to get goose bumps.  Now, go back and watch it again, but this time do it on mute.  Still cool, but the music is what makes the scene and the movie.

Different Ending?:  The movie is actually based on a book by Bernard Malamud.  In that version, Hobbs strikes out instead of hitting the pennant winning home run that he does in the movie.  In my opinion, Hollywood should have stuck with that original story, because it is more true to real life.  Sure, everyone loves hearing about a good comeback now and again, and some guys even have some initial success, but usually old guys giving it one final go, ends in disaster.  Think Magic Johnson post-HIV, Brando in Don Juan De Marco, or anything that Eddie Murphy has done after 1996 for examples.  When you are past your prime, you’re past your prime.  Then again, without that final scene, the chance of goose bumps is significantly lower.  Goose bumps, Realistic, Goose bumps , Realistic, Goose bumps, Realistic….. damn it, I guess I got to go with goose bumps.  Score one for tinsel town.

The funniest movie on this list is naturally the most quotable.  I can count on one hand, how many times I have watched a baseball game or other sporting event where I have not quoted this movie in some way, shape, or form (either in my head or out loud).  Most notable examples from the recent past:

-          “Vick, a juvenile delinquent in the off-season”

-       Ball Four, Ball Eight, Ball 12, and Ankiel has walked the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches.   How  can guys lay off pitches that close?”

-          “Nice Catch Rickey, Don’t ever %#%#ing do it again”

-          “Giambi leads the league in all offensive categories, including nose hairs”

-          “Yo Bartender, Griese needs a refill”

-          Anytime a third-stringer makes a bad play in a Bear’s preseason game “Shit, I’ve been cut  already?”

This movie is filled with fairly big name actors including Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen, Rene Russo, and Tom Berringer, but it is Bob Uecker who steals the show.  Uecker, the Milwaukee Brewers actual radio play-by-play man, plays Indians play-by-play man Harry Doyle.  Doyle drinks on the job, swears on the air, and acts like the ultimate homer, making the likes of Hawk Harrelson and Tom Heinsohn seem neutral.  He’s kind of like the lime in a Corona.  Without it, the Corona will still taste good and you’ll still achieve your desired effects from drinking it, but with it, you go from being at the table with Bud Light to partying it up with Guiness.  Similarly, without Uecker, Major League is still very good, but with him, the movie becomes great.

The main reason I rank Major League so high is because it is the only movie where I can recite every word from beginning to end.  In fact, as a kid, I could say the entire movie without it actually being on, starting with “Good Morning Gentlemen, welcome to another season of Indian’s baseball” and ending with “The Indians win it, The Indians win.  Oh my god, the Indians win it.”  Do you know how hard that is to do?  That is like being able to sing the entire “Thriller” album without the music or being able to recite verbatim the “Gettysburg Address”, Wilson’s “14 Points”, and throwing in MLK’s “I Had A Dream” for good measure.  I really do not know how I did it, but I do know that if the movie was not highly entertaining, extremely re-watchable, and about sports, it would have been impossible.  You know how people who used to be fluent in a language, kick themselves for letting it slip away?  One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I let my ability to recite Major League (without the movie being on, thought I needed to repeat that part of it) go by the wayside.  Just think of how useful that would have been at college parties and with the emergence of Youtube and America’s Got Talent, I could have been a star.  Instead, I write this now, and you read it now, extremely skeptical that I used to be able to do it.

2b.  Field of Dreams

I accidentally left this movie off the list when I first posted, but long-time blog reader, first-time blog commenter Charlie from Buffalo quickly pointed out the mistake.  All I can say is that I must have had a temporary brain cramp, especially since FOD is tied with Major League as my second favorite sports movie of all time.  It's inexcusable that I did not put it on the original list.  I'll blame it on the records that I was trying to set this past Saturday night for both speed and reps.

This was Costner and James Earl Jones's best movie and it was Liotta's second best movie (behind Goodfellas).  You know what that tells me considering that those three actors have upper-echelon A-list resumes?  It tells me that Field of Dreams must have been real, real, good and that it had a much larger appeal than just simply to sports-minded people.  You have your "early nineties sexiest man alive" audience, your "hey where do I know the voice of Simba's father from?" crowd, and your "Wow, Goodfellas was so awesome that I'm going to watch every movie that Ray Liotta was ever in" followers.  For that matter Field of Dreams gets the "wasn't Timothy Busfield somewhat relevant once" viewers as well.  Clearly, it has more global appeal than any other movie on this list and should be recognized for that.

"If you build it, he will come" is probably the most recognizable line in the history of sports movies.  It's one of my all time favorites and foreshadows a scene that I know in the future, after my father has passed, will make me cry like a baby.  We find out in the last scene, that Shoeless Joe was not the person that "the voice" was referring to, but it was actually about Ray's father.  The last scene gives Ray a chance to play catch with his deceased father again, something that he once refused to do as a kid.  The scene is great, except for one thing.  Instead of asking his dad if he wants to "play catch", he asks if he wants to "have a catch"?  I know, I know, Ray and his father are supposed to be from New York and that's what New Yorkers say, but that doesn't mean it's right.  These are the same people who say they "waited online at Six Flags for over an hour,"  confusing anyone else who is listening to them who is not from New York.  And besides, shouldn't Costner have followed the old "When in Rome" theory, because when in Iowa, you ask your father to play catch, not have a catch.  Minor detail, but those are the types of things that can keep you out of the top spot on the list.  Jimmy Chitwood would never tell Norman Dale that he had been practicing his "killer crossover and has been breaking a lot of ankles lately".  Like the Costner line, that just wouldn't feel right.                     

No question, without a doubt, the greatest sports movie of all-time.  Three words, uttered by Jimmy Chitwood, “I’ll make it”, define this movie and put it a couple notches above The Natural on the goose bump scale.  Based on true events, this is the ultimate underdog story which gives hope to all small schools at both the high school and collegiate level.  So much so that I’m going to make a bold statement that, while completely improvable, speaks to the inspirational power that Hoosiers provides.  Without this movie being made in 1986, the 2010 Butler Bulldogs never play for a national championship.   Here’s why:

1.)  I guarantee that Butler coach Brad Stevens used Hoosiers as a selling point to all his homegrown Indiana boys as a way to recruit them to Butler in the first place

2.)  I guarantee that playing in Hinkle field house, where the final scene from Hoosiers was filmed and where they used to play the state high school basketball championship was one of the reasons why each player decided on Butler.

3.)  I guarantee that every player on Butler has watched Hoosiers at least 5 times, some who have eclipsed over 50 viewings

4.)  I guarantee that they watched the movie together as a team before at least 3 of their tournament games.

5.)  I will 100% guarantee that Brad Stevens quoted the movie during his pre-game talks before both their elite 8 game and the national semifinal game.

All of this combined, as corny as it sounds, gave them the talent first (from the recruiting) and then the confidence later to believe that they could win it all.  Without Hoosiers, you’re watching Michigan State vs. Duke in the national championship.  Nothing in the world could convince me otherwise.

Getting back to the movie itself, Gene Hackman did an unbelievable job with his character of Norman Dale.  Hackman, who played small town high school basketball in Illinois, was completely believable in his role.  Just think of all the people who have played coaches who you thought as you were watching them act “This guy doesn’t know the first thing about sports.”  I’m guessing you could come up with a lot of examples.  While watching Norman Dale, I never once thought that.  In fact, I’m guessing if Hackman got a couple of instructional DVDs and reacquainted himself with the modern game that he could do just fine coaching at the high school level.  After all, a lot of coaching and teaching requires being a good actor.  I’m pretty sure he could manage that.

Unlike some movies on the list, this one will stand the test of time.  Twenty years from now, when my son or daughter has a huge game looming, you can be sure that the final scene from Hoosiers will be watched on their virtual reality sunglasses as their automated car drives them to school.  I know this because there will never be another movie like it and even if there is, they will already be so brainwashed by me that they won’t care to watch anything else. 

Added Bonus:  When my dad retired and decided to go back to school to become a teacher and coach, he started out as an assistant varsity coach.  This led to numerous jokes by members of my family where we referred to him as Shooter.  Even though it made no sense because one, my dad isn’t a booze bag, and two, he doesn’t embarrass me at all; it was still funny to refer to him as that and I think he secretly kind of liked it due to his affinity for the movie.

Well that’s it.  After almost 5,500 words, we finally have an accurate list of the greatest sports movies of all time.   That wasn’t so hard, I’m just glad I was able to set the record straight once and for all.  If you disagree, don’t be afraid to write it in the comment section, just know upfront that you’re wrong.         


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Greatest Sports Movies in the History of the World (Part 1)

When I think of sports movies, I often times think of the absolutely atrocious ones first.  Any Given Sunday, The Replacements, and Balboa are a few stink bombs that I can think of off the top of my head.  I know if I spent a little more time on it however, the list would be far greater.  The reason for this is that Hollywood is not composed of sports minded people.  Think about it, how many athletes at your old high school were also the leads in the school play?  How many of the movie industry’s leading men top 5’7 or weigh in over a buck seventy-five?  How many of the best directors watch Pardon the Interruption on a daily basis?  How many starlets could tell you the difference between a wide receiver and a tight end without thinking about what goes down in San Fernando Valley?  I’m going to guess the answer to all those questions is somewhere between zero and very few.  As a result, we have to suffer through movies like The Scout and Sunset Park in hopes that we find that rare needle in a haystack like Hoosiers.
All hope is not lost though.  On rare occasions, someone strikes gold and restores our faith in the sports genre.  In these instances, I am like a kid in a candy store because two of my favorite hobbies, sports and movies have perfectly combined into one.  What follows is my take on the greatest sports movies of all time.  It is supported by personal opinion, childish ramblings, and gratuitous use of not so good analogies.  Box office numbers, script analysis, awards, film critic reviews, and other facts were not taken into account for fear of sounding biased.  You’re Welcome.     

10.  Rudy

Good Despite Notre Dame Factor
I can’t believe that I am putting this in my top ten due to my proclivity for hating everything about the Notre Dame mystique and for how much most Domers annoy me.  Yet the story of Rudy, if you take the University of Notre Dame out of it and sub in say…………any other school, is a good one.  An undersized, un-athletic, and unintelligent kid beats all odds to play (well, mostly run scout team) for one of the most storied college football programs of the 20th century.  He does this through sheer guts, determination, and his magic hobbit powers (Wait no, that’s a different Sean Astin flick).  In doing so, Rudy is able to inspire all white, 5’8, hundred and nothing linebackers, that their dreams of playing D1 college football could in fact be a reality for a solid thirty seconds, if they are able to get enough people to feel sorry for them and if they are willing to let their brains get beat in on a daily basis.
The Hollywood FactorFrom what I heard, Dan Ruettiger was a typical, annoying, overbearing walk-on, who everyone on the team actually despised.  Even Joe Montana (a key member of the team that Rudy played on), claimed that Rudy was considered a joke, as opposed to the inspirational figure that the movie makes him out to be.  Hollywood decided to portray “Rudy” in a different light, but we all know what the real Rudiger must have been like.  He is the guy who probably went one hundred and ten percent during half-speed walk-throughs to make the starters look bad.  He is the type of guy who would dive after a ball that he had absolutely zero chance of getting (mainly because he is a half step too slow) in hopes of having some praise dropped on him from a coach or two.  And he is most definitely the guy who wore Notre Dame Football gear EVERYWHERE he went both during his college years and forty years after so that everyone would know that he played for the Irish.

The Vaughn and Favreau angleWithout this movie, John Favreau and Vince Vaughn (who had a small role) may have never met and we would not have the privilege to see one the greatest comedies of all time, Swingers.  We also may be without one of the most underrated comedies of all time, The Break-Up.  Who knows, maybe without this chance meeting on set and without the success of Swingers, the career of Vaughn takes a completely different path, leaving him as a slightly coked up extra in LA as opposed to an extremely coked up leading man who gave us Old School and Wedding Crashers.  Both the movie and narcotic industry just wouldn’t be the same without Rudy, and thus why it was able to sneak into the top ten.

If you like football, improved race relations, and thirty-year old actors playing high school kids, than this is the movie for you.  Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Herman Boone is one of the greatest fake coaching performances in the history of the Cinema, just behind Gene Hackman in Hoosiers and the late James Gammon in Major League.  Avon Barksdale (better known as Wood Harris), ranks right up there with Charlie Sheen for his performance as Julius on the “Wow, I bet that guy could actually play in real life” list for actors.   An added plus to this movie is that I think most men who watched it at the time struggled mightily with their desire to be a prophetic versus their aversion to not wanting to sound like total creeps.  Let me put that another way.  I guarantee that if you watched this movie with a group of guys in 2001, the following conversation took place at least once. 

Creep or Prophet #1:  “I know this is going to sound weird, but in about ten years, Coach Yost’s daughter is going to be sooooooooooo hot.”

Creep or Prophet #2:  “Dude, I was thinking the exact same thing, but thought you guys might think I was a pedophile if I said it out loud.”

Creep or Prophet #3:  “Well, we still do think that, but the thought definitely crossed my mind as a well.”   

As it turns out, the transformation of Hayden Panettiere from child star to Hollywood’s latest “it” girl in a matter of seven years, made all of you look like modern day Nostradamus’s.  But that doesn’t take away from the fact that you still look like poor mans’ Roman Polanskis as well.
Struck by Lightning Twice?:  The thing that always bothered me about Remember the Titans was the fate of star linebacker Gerry Bertier.  Towards the end of the movie, Bertier gets hit by a car and is paralyzed from the waist down.  You end up feeling absolutely sick to your stomach, even as his team rallies around him to win a state championship.  Then, a bombshell is dropped on you in the “Where are they now?” portion of the credits.  Not only was he paralyzed in high school from a car accident, but ten years later he was in another car accident and was killed by a drunk driver.  Talk about a guy who couldn’t catch a break.  That’s kind of like getting the chicken Pox twice or following up kidney disease with a dose of Pancreatic Cancer.  Pretty sure he would have traded in that Virginia state football championship for a chance to walk again and surely for a chance to live again.

This is the ultimate guy cry movie.  If you can honestly say that you did not shed a tear during this movie, then I can honestly say that you have no soul.  Brian’s Song is the story of the relationship between the late Brian Piccolo and legendary Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers.  This movie does not get a whole lot of fanfare, but it definitely belongs in the Top Ten.  If you have not seen it, I suggest you do so immediately.  If there is one thing I know, it’s that I love Brian Piccolo, and after watching this movie, I’d like to think that all of you would love him too

Am I HomerI used to think that my affinity for Brian’s Song was due to my love for the Chicago Bears.  That statement is partially true, because in all reality, they could have made a movie about the life of Bears punter Brad Maynard, staring Corey Feldman, and I probably would have thought it had Oscar potential (both for best picture and a best actor nod for Feldman).   After I forced my college buddies who had never even heard of the movie to watch it though, I realized that my biases did not get in the way of my judgment.  Their laughter, tears, and praise indicated to me that it was truly an upper echelon sports movie.

This movie taught us two things.  One, we learned to love the phrases “Show me the money”, “You’re my ambassador of Kwan”, and “You had me at hello.”  Two, we realized that Tom Cruise was not a complete wack job yet (yet being the operative word) and that he had at least another four years before completely falling off the deep end and earning that title.  While technically, this movie doesn’t  belong under the category of sports movie because let’s face it, it’s more of a love story with some sports mixed in. It is included on the list because of the true to life character that is Rod Tidwell.  Cuba Gooding clearly did his research before filming, probably spending quality time with the likes of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, or whoever their mid-nineties prima donna wide receiver equivalents were.  Like Ocho Cinco of today’s real NFL, Tidwell was able to straddle the line of being hated and being adored better than anyone the real or pretend sports world has ever seen.  While audiences hated everything that Rod stood for, they couldn’t help but pull for him and in the end, he finally gets rewarded and shown the money, leaving moviegoers walking away happy.

Who was the Casting DirectorKi-Jana Carter made the most famous “we thought this guy was going to end up being a whole lot better than he really was” cameos in the history of sports movies.  While I understand that he was a big name at the time, the Matt Millen like foresight looks pretty funny watching the movie fourteen years later.  It would be like seeing a guest appearance of twenty year old Tiger Woods on an re-run of 7th Heaven with Revrend Cambden trying to teach his kids the importance of family values or it could maybe reach the ironic status of your son or daughter watching a sixteen year old Brittney Spears speak about the importance of saying no to drugs in an outdated video that they saw in health class.  Each of these, in hindsight, would pale in comparison to Ki-Jana being the poster boy for “star in the making” that he is made out to be in Jerry Maguire. 

Tom Hanks may have won back to back Oscars for his roles in Forrest Gump and Philadelphia, but it was his character of Jimmy Dugan that earned him the most respect from me.  Surprisingly, the baseball scenes of this movie were really well done and the whole concept of women’s baseball intrigued me throughout.  The national pastime paired with attractive women in short skirts had me wishing I was a draft dodging beer vendor or club footed Rockford Peach scoreboard attendant during the war.  Even man hating Rosie O’Donnell played a solid third base and was a perfect complement to Madonna’s less than ladylike approach to the game and the nightlife.
I pretty much enjoyed everything about this movie and thought it was both highly entertaining and educational.  It falls under the My Cousin Vinny and Shawshank Redemption category of movies I can’t turn off if I see them on TV.  Considering the fact that I think My Cousin Vinny is in the top five comedies of all time and Shawshank is a top five overall movie of all time, only ranking this movie number six on my list may seem a little low.  However, my argument would be that movies 6 through 3 are somewhat interchangeable.  Having to put them in order would be like Snoop trying to rank his favorite Hos or Drew Peterson trying to assign a grade to his best premeditated murder.  It’s impossible.  Therefore, League of Their Own comes in at number six for no other reason than it provided a perfect and unforced segue to a much needed and long overdue Drew Peterson joke.
IMDB flipped my world upside downFrom 1992 until about 2006, I thought both Dotties (old and young) and both Kits (ditto) were played by Geena Davis and Lori Petty.  I figured that they just had really good make up on to make them look old, because if you looked closely, they looked identical to the younger versions of themselves.  When I discovered IMDB (International Movie Database), I was absolutely shocked to find out that older Dottie was played by actress Lynn Cartwright and older Kit was played by actress Kathleen Butler.  Never before, during any other movie was there a similar situation in which I got duped in such a way.  While earlier, I took a shot at the casting director for Jerry Maguire for their Ki-Jana Carter gaffe, the casting director of A League of Their Own should be rewarded and recognized for finding such great matches for Davis and Petty.  What better way to do that, then give her (ELLEN LEWIS) a shout out on a world-renowned, globally read, and award winning blog like THE SOX MARKET.  Congratulations Ellen, and thanks to IMDB for providing me with this little nugget of information and also for helping me find Ellen Lewis’s name.

Stay tuned for movies 5 through 1 next week and don’t be afraid to vote on your favorite sports movie in the poll to the right.  If you are smart, you might be able figure out what will be in the top five.  If you aren’t smart, I hope you continue to eagerly wait in anticipation.

Friday, September 24, 2010

College Football Blows

Most sports fanatics are in heaven every Saturday during the months of September to early January.  Starting with an 11:00 am SEC clash pitting Arkansas vs. Georgia and ending with a late-night Stanford-Wake Forest west coast shootout, college football took over the lives of millions of Americans last weekend, as it does on most weekends during the intercollegiate season.  Whether it be because of alma mater pride, an unresolved gambling addiction, the party atmosphere, or simply the love for the game, stadiums were sold out, bars were packed, and couches were occupied all across the country to watch a bunch of “college” kids battle it out on the gridiron.  I on the other hand, chose to pass, like I do on most weekends, because quite frankly, college football simply doesn’t do it for me. 

Don't get the Angelina Craze
Does that make me less of a sports fan?  Maybe, but I’d argue that it speaks more to my selectivity and picky nature than my reputation as a sports enthusiast.   While most full-blooded American straight males between the ages of 0 and 100 are highly attracted to someone like Angelina Jolie, I can’t get over her awful tattoos, mediocre face, and her overall creepiness.  Even her phenomenal body can’t overcome her imperfections that permeate my thoughts every time I see her on the cover of US weekly with Shiloh, Maddox, Pax and the rest of her crew (By the way, I think we can all agree that her choice of names does little to help her on the creepiness front).  Similarly, while there are definitely some attributes of college football that I find appealing, I simply can’t bring myself to watch it because of all the inherent flaws that ruin it for me.  Just like your Billy-Bobs and Brads of the world have been blinded by Jolie’s assets, college football fans are lost in their own sport’s paradise.  Luckily, I’m here to help them learn the error in their ways and get them to realize that they could be doing much more productive things with their Saturdays.

Don’t get me wrong, I love pro football.  Each Sunday, I am glued to the TV set to watch my beloved Bears and coach up my fantasy roster to the best of my ability.  It’s probably my third favorite sport to watch, just behind pro baseball and college basketball (In case you were interested, here is my list: MLB, college basketball, NFL, NBA, NHL, ATP, PGA, college baseball, FIFA Worldcup, PBA, Gymnastics, college football).  So for those of you who thought my beef with college football was based on a lack of interest in the sport itself, you just got got to the degree of Wallace in Season 1 of The Wire (By the way, if you have not already done so, you should watch every episode of The Wire.  If you are disappointed, contact me, and I will write you a 3-page personal letter of apology).

The Gator Mugshot
One of the biggest reasons that I hate college football is because of the lack of name to face recognition of the players.  Of course most of the Heisman candidates are recognizable by casual fans, but for the most part, an overwhelming majority of the other guys couldn’t be picked out of a police line-up.  Unless, you are a Florida Gator, in which case, you’ve proven yourself to be easily identifiable in a police line-up.  For all the other non-delinquent “student-athletes” however, you’re hidden by the tool that is meant to protect you the most, but serves more to shield you from society; your helmet.  While college basketball fans could identify the location of Kyle Singler’s latest pimple or which team leads the nation in total squiggly lines in their hair, the only way you’re going to be able to differentiate between a linebacker from Tennessee and a tight end from Nebraska is by their name and stat line.  It’d be like if Hollywood was strictly in the business of producing animated features.  What would separate Halle Berry, Scarlett Johansson, and Penelope Cruz from the likes of say…………Kathy Bates or Queen Latifah?  Nothing would, besides skill, talent, and the quality of their voices.  What fun is that?  I want recognizable faces in my actresses, just like my athletes.  College football doesn’t give me that.

Another thing that I find less than appealing about college football is the playoff system.  While millions of other people complain about the BCS, they still continue to watch.  I, on the other hand, have chosen to boycott it all together in hopes that I can have a Rosa Parks-like ripple effect on the BCS.  Problem is, people cared about the Civil Rights movement and what her decision stood for.  My plea will fall on deaf ears, as the NCAA will be unable to hear my voice due to it being drowned out by the CUH-CHING of their cash registers.  Nonetheless, their system still sucks and I will continue to write about it and hope that the millions and millions of followers that THE SOX MARKET has accumulated by the year 2020 will march on NCAA headquarters and demand a playoff system.

Pop Quiz time.  What do figure skating, gymnastics, diving, and college football have in common?  They let judges and voters decide which athletes or teams are crowned champion of their respective sports.  This is fine for figure skating, gymnastics, and diving because the nature of the sport does not allow you to compete head to head, so a judge is the only way to determine winners and losers.  In college football however, the opportunity to compete head to head is available, therefore using voters to decide your national championship game is luda (short for Ludacris for those not up on hip-hop culture).  Instead of taking the logical step to do what is right, smart, and fair, the NCAA would rather take the money and run.  When you think about it that is kind of like when a young, good looking, and talented model marries an old, ugly, wife-beating billionaire.  Sure, the money and fame must certainly be appealing for the woman, but the bruises, black eyes, and general contempt that she must have for both his looks and personality should be enough to sway her towards divorce.  Yet for some reason, even though everyone in her life is telling her otherwise, she stays with the guy.  Just like the NCAA sticking with the current system, she sticks with guy because the cash flow is too appealing.  I mean, the guy is bound to die sometime right?  If only the BCS was like the gift of life, which ultimately results in death, then I might be more willing to watch things play out.  But college football seems more Hindu-istic (not a word, but you get the meaning) in its approach.  When one bad idea dies, it reincarnates into something worse.    By the year 2046, the powers that be, may go with an American Idol audience voting system to decide who will face a 52-year-old Justin Bieber (Pop Singer turned football coach)-led Crimson Tide team in the Twitter/Facebook/Google/Apple Orange Bowl National Championship Game.

Finally, the third thing that  I don’t like about college football is the fa├žade given off that the guys playing on Saturday are student-athletes representing their schools.  Come on.  Even the guys who go to school with the intent of getting a quality education quickly learn from their coaches and time-consuming practice schedules that they are there to do one thing and one thing only, play football.  Instead of all the shadiness by coaches, street agents, and boosters paying guys under the table, why don’t we just call it what it is, minor league football, and start treating the guys like professionals?  Hell, I wouldn’t even mind if you gave guys diplomas, in the major of their choice, for their services on the field (We all know that in today’s economy, a college degree is equivalent to a high school degree ten years ago, so what harm could be done?)  Please though, don’t insult my intelligence by displaying the words student-athlete in the college football handbook.  In college football, those words go together about as well as Tom Cruise-heterosexual.  If you had anything in there though, I’d prefer it to say ATHLETE-student.  That would give anyone who read it a more realistic view of who they are watching every weekend.
What about college basketball you may ask?  Wouldn’t this argument make me not like that as well?  No, because the awesomeness of filling out a bracket each year and watching the greatest sporting event on earth for three weeks in March causes me to overlook this minor setback.  Similarly, if college football got rid of the BCS and created a playoff system that Brent Musburger dubbed December Delirium, I’d be like a jury member at the OJ trial who would easily overlook the student-athlete argument due to a well played tournament-card by the defense. 

Until then, college football will have no appeal to me and I will continually find negatives to keep me away.  While it is a simple solution, I don’t see college football going to a tournament format anytime soon.  Year after year, there will be undefeated teams who never get a chance to say their number one.  The best team in January may be playing in the Outback bowl, while another team who peaked mid-season walks away with all the hardware.  And I’ll be there to witness none of it, because I refuse to watch sports that let judges and voters decide who get to call themselves the best.  If I wanted to see something like that, I’d rather watch Dancing with Stars.  At least  I could live with Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, and America deciding the champion of that, but I can’t live with the BCS screwing up year after year.  If I want to watch football, I'll do it on Sundays.