EDITORIAL: My top 10 football movies and their lessons

I don't know about you, but it was so nice to see football season return this past weekend after an off-season of labor strife and doubt.  For as much as America loves their football, they also love their football movies.  In honor of the return of high school, college, and professional football, it seems fitting to churn out a new Top 10 list from "Every Movie Has a Lesson."  Richard Roeper has his Top 5 list.  I'll double that list, plus two.  Once again, like my previous Top 10 lists, they are just one man's opinion and discussion is welcome.  In my opinion, there are far more than ten great football movies.  These are just my favorite 10 that I find to be the best (sorry front-runners, you won't find The Blindside).  Also, to fit the hook and theme of my reviews, each movie on the list will be coupled with the top life lesson one can extrapolate from some good movie hard knocks.  Enjoy!


1.  Rudy-- It simply doesn't get any better than this.  You can call me out for growing up as an midwestern Irish Catholic all you want.  I'll fight you on anything but this one as the best and most inspiring football movie, even if it has become overplayed.  Sidenote: one of the best movie scores of all time from Jerry Goldsmith that spans from the reflective to the rousing.  (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON: A MAN'S HEART CAN BE BIGGER THAN HIS ABILITY-- If you've seen the movie just as I have, you know this all to well.  Rudy Ruettiger may not be the biggest, fastest, strongest, or most talented football player, but theere is no denying or defeating his heart.

2.  Brian's Song-- Much like my #1 choice, go ahead and call me on my Saint Joseph's College roots (where the training scenes of this TV movie classic were filmed), but this movie made the "guy cry" list for good reason and resonates as the best true story of football teammates ever.  (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON: FRIENDSHIP IS COLORBLIND-- The film's well-known premise is the true story of the first black and white roommates of the NFL, former Chicago Bear running backs Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo during the turbulent 1960s.  The movie does an amazing job showing how two unlikely friends form an unbreakable caring bond regardless of race.

3.  Remember the Titans-- I cannot name a better coach in all of sports movies, regardless of sport, than Denzel Washington's Herman Boone.  Not only is he amazing (Denzel seems to make every editorial Top 10 list I write), but the rest of the movie is pretty darn good too.  Go ahead and stand up and cheer!  (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON: FOOTBALL CAN BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER-- The lesson from Brian's Song could fit her too, but the bigger deal going in in Remember the Titans is how the multiracial teammates healed a town and school's racial relations as well as their own.  Those boys made friends for live and changed a community's lifestyle.

4.  Friday Night Lights-- While Remember the Titans has the Disney machine behind it (to great success), Peter Berg's Friday Night Lights is the best high school football movie ever made, hands down.  The dark realism and poignant teen lives of Texas football spawned an even better TV show.  You'll also never look at Tim McGraw or Billy Bob Thornton the same way again.  (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON: YOU CAN'T PLAY FOOTBALL FOREVER-- Several characters in the film come to the realization that the fame and recognition of being a star athlete doesn't last forever.  For many, high school is the only time they'll ever play the game and that one needs to determine where life leads after the game has passed them by.

5. We Are Marshall-- I don't care if this movie got a paltry 43% from the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes.  It's tragic true story of a college rebuilding their program after a plane crash claims nearly the entire team and staff hit me like a ton of bricks.  I hope it hits you like it did me.  Wonderful tribute to a great story.  Points to Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, and Ian McShane.  (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON:  FOOTBALL BONDS AN ENTIRE COMMUNITY-- Kind of like other movies on this list that share themes, this lesson could have gone to Friday Night Lights and Remember the Titans too, but fits here just as well.  When tragedy strikes the small tight-knit college community, it's the courage to continue the football program, despite being outmatched by their superior opponents, that best honors those that were lost.

6.  North Dallas Forty-- A classic deserves to be thrown on this list.  While The Longest Yard, Semi-Tough, and Paper Lion have their acclaim and quality, the best of the old stuff is North Dallas Forty with an always-blustery Nick Nolte.  Loosely based on the 1970s Dallas Cowboys and cut off from NFL cooperation, it exposes the behind-the-scenes grind of a pro athelete's life, from the winning, losing, practices, rehab, and not-so-decadent lifestyle.  It's the movie Any Given Sunday was supposed to be better than.  Nice try, though Pacino gives a hell of a speech.  (sample clip)

ITS BEST LESSON: FOOTBALL PLAYERS DIDN'T USE TO BE PRIMADONNA MILLIONAIRES-- As I mentioned above, North Dallas Forty shows the not-so-decadent side of pro players, especially with how Nolte's character is clinging to stay on the team.  Back in the day, NFL player weren't all millionaires and not all of them were set for life.  Some had to put their bodies and themselves through hell to make ends meet, only to be treated like disposable parts by their coaches and teams.

7. The Replacements-- Go ahead and roll your eyes, but this movie is hilarious.  It makes the list for the pure cartoonish entertainment that it delivers.  Attempting to modernize the story of the 1987 NFL strike where teams fielded replacement players, Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, and a perfect cast of ragtags play (and dance) for the fictional Washington Sentinels.  It's still better than Any Given Sunday.   (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON: FOOTBALL IS A SPORT THAT LOVES SECOND CHANCES-- Whether you reference replacement players or modern day resurrections or comebacks, like that of Michael Vick going on right now, football and the glory of winning can redeem men who were once down and give them a new lease of life and success.

8. (TIE)  The Program and Necessary Roughness--The early 1990s just loved to pick on the corruption of college football. Funny how 20 years later, the corruption has only gotten worse, making these movies like prophets. This tie is not only an excuse to squeeze an extra movie on the list, but because I can't decide what's better, The Program's over-the-topness (Lattimer!) or Necessary Roughness's great humor (I love the referee scene). (trailer and trailer)

THEIR BEST LESSON: COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS AS CROOKED AS A BUCKET OF SNAKES-- Sorry to be a downer to those of you who love college football, but the recent scandals at USC, The Ohio State University, and the U. of Miami only scratch the surface of what really goes on. Sex, drugs, steroids, payoffs, etc. It's all true to some extent. The other schools just haven't been caught yet.

9. Invincible-- Call this the Rudy of the NFL. Disney got their hands on the story of Philadelphia Eagle walk-on Vince Papale and glossed it up with Mark Wahlberg and Greg Kinnear.  The result is Rocky if he played football instead of boxing, appropriate to its Philly setting.  (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON: DON'T KNOCK IT UNTIL YOU TRY IT-- Plenty of us guys are "arm chair quarterbacks" that think we know all of the right plays, calls, and answers from the comfort of our living room.  Plenty more get delusions of grandeur and think they're better, stronger, and faster than the guys on the TV.  They think the pros are wimps and primadonnas.  Well, don't knock it until you try it.  They are pros for a reason and they play with the big boys.  It's harder than it looks and it takes special talent to make it at that level.

10.  Varsity Blues-- I apologize immediately for James Van Der Beek's acting (and Jon Voight's too), but, as a college junior when this movie came out in 1999, this was the coolest movie in the world, no matter how preposterous it is.  I'm sure it's dated by now and has been trounced for Texas realism by Friday Night Lights, but, come on.  Who doesn't love Billy Bob and Tweeder?!  (trailer)

ITS BEST LESSON: IGNORE ALL OF THE RULES-- If you're a coach, abuse your players.  If you're the players, go ahead and take over the team.  Call your own plays.  If you're a parent, ridicule whenever possible and hold your child back a year in junior high to make them bigger for high school tryouts.  If you're an educator, go ahead and find that second job that makes your happy.  Kids, cut class and attend the "dollar ballet," screw cheerleaders, consume alcohol before the age of 21, wear food products as clothing, puke in clothes washers, steal cop cars, and name your sexual organs.  You know... normal Texas stuff... 


The Waterboy-- Those of you SJC Pumas and Peotone Blue Devils out there know my roots.  As an "H2O Distribution Engineer" and "Cord Monkey" for eight years, this dumb movie has a special place in my heart and is 15% autobiographical to the life of "Bubbles" and "Donnie Brasco."  No list is complete without it.  I cry watching this movie.  LOL!  (trailer)

Sorry Any Given Sunday, Jerry Maguire, All the Right Movies, Everybody's All-American, Heaven Can Wait, The Express, The Blindside, Wildcats, Semi Tough, and both versions of The Longest Yard, but you don't make the cut.  Better luck next time.