I settled in to watch as much Premier League as I could this weekend and I’ve got to say, I enjoyed the heck out of it. Three straight days of live sports and the (artificial) hum of a stadium filled with people. It was almost like things were back to normal. However, I want to give myself at least another week before I really plunge head-first into a soccer column, which means we’ve got to talk about something this week and I think I have a solid idea. In those weeks before the Premier League rescued me from my sports desert, I was spending most weekend afternoons watching sports movies. Thus, I had planned on giving you a list of my favorite sports-related movies, so I figure I might as well do that now. I cannot say these will completely satisfy your cravings for sports, but they are certainly better than nothing.
First things first, I think if you want something baseball-related, then you have to go with Ken Burns’ Baseball. However, as it is a documentary, I am leaving it off my list. Don’t take its exclusion to mean I don’t love it though. In fact, it was what I watched during most of April as my longing for baseball reached its zenith. With that business done, let’s jump feet first into this thing. Here are my top eight sports movies, which should carry you through all the weekends from now up until baseball’s supposed return on July 23.
8. Slap Shot. Paul Newman and the Hanson Brothers as minor league hockey players, trying to save their failing franchise. Wait, Paul Newman is playing hockey? That alone makes this a must watch, but the hockey action is top notch too, as is much of the comedy.
7. Pride of the Yankees. This was always one of my favorites when I was a kid. Gary Cooper takes a turn as Lou Gehrig, which sort of makes me forget what Lou Gehrig actually looked like and when he gives Gehrig’s famous speech, saying “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this Earth” well, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. Unless you’re my teenage daughter, because she just doesn’t understand!
6. Happy Gilmore. I usually find the silliness that is an Adam Sandler movie enjoyable and I think Happy Gilmore is Sandler at the height of his powers. Of course, no one could ever hit a golf ball the way Happy hits it, but that’s what makes it so funny. Also, I love his hockey stick putter. If you know where I can get one, please do let me know!
5. The Natural. I can get pretty picky about the way actors look on screen playing athletes. For instance, I can’t enjoy Bull Durham as much as the next guy because of the way Tim Robbins tries to pitch. (Seriously y’all, no one with that delivery could ever get anywhere near a professional baseball team.) So, I appreciate that Robert Redford looks fairly convincing as Roy Hobbs. Also, the exploding light-stand after his final home run is a sports movie moment for the ages.
4. Major League. Charlie Sheen coming into the game with the crowd singing “Wild Thing” is absolute perfection. Also, Wesley Snipes is perfect as Willie Mays Hays. The Tom Berenger-Rene Russo romance storyline could have dragged this movie down. Thankfully, there’s plenty of baseball hilarity to keep it afloat.
3. Rudy. I hate the Notre Dame football team, always have, always will. But I love this movie. No other film does as good a job of capturing the spirit of the game as this tale of the fighting Irish folk hero. The practice scenes in particular make me think of my own time playing football … and getting beaten up by my much larger teammates … and for some reason this delights me. Every time.
2. Hoosiers. Growing up the son of a high school basketball coach, I watched a lot of games in a lot of gyms that reminded me of those gyms Gene Hackman’s team plays in on their road to the Indiana state championship. This is a wonderful film with a fantastic finish and when Hackman tells his team he loves them, you better believe a tear comes to this old sportswriter’s eye.
1. Rocky. It just doesn’t get any better than this, even the Academy in 1976 agrees. I think enough has been written about Rocky that I don’t have to add much more to it. The story though, of a common man who never got a break, finally getting that break and then making the most of it, is as timeless as it could be and thus everything sports, and movies about sports, should be.