It's football season, and while you gnaw your fingernails to the quick and learn to hate the name "Schaub," let's pause for a moment to remember all those great football-movie clichés. You know the biggest one: the desperate 4th-down play with three seconds left on the clock, unfurling in slow-motion, almost always a frantic Hail Mary pass that results in a score for the usually fictitious team. For example...
5. The Replacements (2000)
This movie -- not at all meant to represent the NFL strike in any way, no sir -- has it all: the slo-mo, the 50-yard TD from Shane Falco (a beefy Keanu Reeves) to Murphy (David Denman) to win the game, the shitty cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" (second only to AC/DC's Thunderstruck" as cliched football-movie soundtrack material). Best of all, this clip is in German, a language that manages to make the Gollum-esque Rhys Ifans even creepier.
4. The Best of Times (1986)
I imagine most of you graduated high school. If you're lucky, you also managed to escape without An Incident. You know what I mean...a fuck-up of such monumental proportions they've haunted you into your dotage (I personally still refuse to speak of the 1985 Bacardi Hot Tub episode). Jack Dundee (Robin Williams) wasn't so lucky, for he dropped a gimme TD pass in the big game and has never lived it down. Rather than simply move away, he decided the only way to exorcise his demons if by replaying the game with his fellow now-30somethings. The Best of Times isn't necessarily bad, just depressingly predictable, right down to the climactic scene. Siskel and Ebert blamed Williams, and you can hear them do so here (around the 5 minute mark):
3. Varsity Blues (1999)
This is a guilty pleasure, mostly for the character of the youngest Moxon brother (what the hell kind of name is "Moxon"?) and the fact that Varsity Blues starts off as a mildly tongue-in-cheek look at Texas high school football, then veers sharply into WTF territory. This isn't the final touchdown, which subtly blends classic cliché elements with Billy Bob's bullshit hidden ball play, but it's a nice blend of not only the ubiquitous slo-mo featured in these movies, but of the aforementioned "Thunderstruck."
2. Any Given Sunday (1999)
No one ever accused Oliver Stone of being understated, and Any Given Sunday may be second only to Natural Born Killers in the sheer quantity of visual non sequiturs (lightning!) and ham-fisted symbolism (in case you didn't get that pro football is the modern-day equivalent of gladiator contests after the first scene with Spartacus playing in the background, Stone makes the connection a half dozen more times). Here, Miami Sharks coach Tony D'Amato (the perma-tanned Al Pacino) growls something about the space-time continuum while QB Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) miraculously scores the winning TD despite apparent PCP-induced hallucinations.
1. The Longest Yard (1974)
As the movie that established many of the cliches we're here to make fun of, The Longest Yard nonetheless earns no ridicule from me. Even Adam Sandler's appalling 2005 remake can't sully the memories of "I think I broke his fuckin' neck!" or QB Paul Crewe's (Burt Reynolds) deterrent for an up-the-middle blitz, or the game itself, which takes up 47 minutes of the film's running time. A telling and wholly unromantic look at what has become American's #1 sport. The final scene established the slow-motion construct, then went the extra mile by giving us a handful of freeze-frame shots as Crewe punched it in. One of -- if not the -- greatest football movies of all time.
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(Yes Rich, I'm aware of the existence of Rudy.)
(To which Notre Dame fan Rich replies: Obviously, you're not.)
-- Pete Vonder Haar