As you no doubt know, this is Super Bowl Weekend, better known as our annual excuse to bond together as a nation to root against the Patriots. Football is America’s most popular game, and not surprisingly, there have been a ton of gridiron movies over the years. Weirdly, though, one of my favorites isn’t so much about the game. It’s about the business behind the game.
When people remember Jerry Maguire, they probably think of “Show me the money!” or “You complete me” or one of the other quotable lines from writer-director Cameron Crowe’s screenplay. But this Oscar-winning film — which is part romantic-comedy, part character study, part sports movie — is also a study in ethics. In that regard, this 23-year-old film is actually more relevant now than when it came out.
Tom Cruise plays Jerry, a hotshot agent who is overcome by guilt, convinced that guys like him should do more to think about the long-term health of their clients, rather than just chasing dollar signs. One impassioned night, he writes a manifesto that gets circulated around his management company — and which quickly gets him fired for sounding like a crazy person. Losing almost all his clients, he manages to hold onto a wide receiver, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), as well as one of the firm’s assistants, Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger), who decides to work with Jerry.
Jerry Maguire cemented Cruise’s skill as a dramatic actor and romantic lead — two roles he hasn’t pursued much in recent years. But watch the film now, and what’s remarkable is how it preaches the importance of player safety, long before CTE was widely discussed. Jerry Maguire acknowledges that football is a really dangerous sport, and that athletes take the field every Sunday having no idea what’s going to happen to them. Jerry learns from Rod that life isn’t just about monetary success — it’s about family and things that really matter. It may be the one football movie that really, really discourages people from playing football. (And it’s better than Concussion.)
As modern-day NFL players think more and more about what their future will look like once they walk away from the game, Jerry Maguire lets fans and athletes alike know that, ultimately, football is just a game. It’s a good thing for all of us to keep in mind.
Below, other members of the MEL team offer their picks for the best football movies. Enjoy the Super Bowl, folks. Let’s go Rams.
Judge me if you will, but I probably saw The Waterboy at least four times in theaters. Which is likely less than the number of times I saw Happy Gilmore among a crowd of strangers, but more than I took in Billy Madison at local multiplexes. It represents peak dumb-ass Adam Sandler. If Billy Madison established the floor of this dumb-assness and Happy Gilmore evolved it into something that could kinda, sorta stand the test of time, The Waterboy legitimately proved out its artistry. It also seemingly made such stupidity meta — like Sandler understood that his films’ moronic quality was part of the joke. (It’s now pretty fair to say that’s not the case and that Sandler’s post-Waterboy, non-Serious Actor oeuvre proves that I spent my teen years and most of my 20s completely overestimating his intellect, work ethic and creative savvy.)
Still, tell me this isn’t the best (or better put, tell the 20-year-old me that this isn’t the best — BECAUSE HE WILL NEVER BELIEVE OTHERWISE):
Plus, it really is the football movie that football movies deserve. That is, football movies are far from baseball movies — in that they mostly suck. There isn’t a Bull Durham, Field of Dreams or Pride of the Yankees among the bunch (not to spoil the rest of the list). There’s only Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider affixing a bad Cajun accent to the one-dimensional characters they’d already created for Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live. Lazy? Sure. A sign of what was to come? Absolutely. Still better than pretty much every other football movie? No question. — Josh Schollmeyer, Founder / Editor in Chief
Imagine my shock and dismay when I found that Rotten Tomatoes descended from its ivory tower to bestow a measly 36 percent unto Little Giants, the greatest football movie of all time. If you aren’t familiar, Little Giants takes place in Urbania, Ohio, where Danny O’Shea (Rick Moranis) lives in the shadow of his wealthy, car dealership-owning, former-football star brother, Kevin (Ed O’Neill). Kevin also coaches the Cowboys, the town’s pride-and-joy youth football team. So when Danny’s daughter, Becky (aka “Icebox”), gets cut from the team for being a girl (despite being the best player on the team), she convinces her dad to start a new team.
Ignoring the “one town, one team” rule, Danny, Becky and her ragtag group of talentless nerd friends form the Giants. And folks, this sets up all sorts of conflicts: Rich v. Poor, Girls v. Boys, Jocks v. Nerds, Abusive Parents v. Children. Really, what more could you ask for?
After the Giants lose out on recruiting Spike — a new-in-town talent who refuses to play with a girl — they’re about to give up hope…
…but then, for some reason, John Madden’s bus, which is full of NFL players, rolls through town and stops by a Giants’ practice to teach them a lesson I still practice to this day: You can get through anything in life by putting on a brave face and lying to yourself about what a talentless heap of trash you truly are. It’s called… intimidation.
The film culminates in a face-off between the two teams to decide which will represent Urbania, where in the final seconds of the game, the Giants call up “The Annexation of Puerto Rico,” and win on a 99-yard fumblerooski — a play that the 2011 Carolina Panthers actually used in real life:
Despite declaring victory in the face of his capitalist, patriarchal overlords, Danny ultimately decides to make nice with his brother and merge the two teams, because he is a spineless worm. Still, it remains a hearty dose of 1990s feel-good nostalgia that only Rick Moranis can deliver. — Quinn Myers, Staff Writer
Any Given Sunday
As a former bench warmer on my high school football team, I once took the sport of football very seriously. I watched every game on Sunday, and the late-night games on Saturday. And so, in my expert opinion, Any Given Sunday is the most realistic look at professional football ever made. Gone is the glitz and glamour that the NFL sells every weekend. I mean, way before CTE was a buzzword, Any Given Sunday had a storyline where a player kept getting multiple concussions. Along those lines, the sleazy trainer played by the equally sleazy James Woods would give players any drug he could to get them back on the field as quickly as possible.
It also address the deep racism the league had for black quarterbacks. Up until this point, such racist attitudes were an open secret among football fans, but the movie blatantly said black quarterbacks weren’t wanted in the NFL.
Style wise this film is shapappin’, or the sound that’s made when ya dick hits someone on the forehead. In fact, to me, it’s Oliver Stone’s most culturally relevant film, prolly because it’s the only film of his with such a large number of brothers in it. Overall, the cast was vast and legit. You got old Pacino at his best; LL Cool J as a running back; Bill Bellamy as a cocky wide receiver; Cameron Diaz as a female exec; Dennis Quaid as the veteran QB; Jamie Foxx as the actor he would later become; and Lawrence Taylor as an overzealous linebacker, because why not? — Tarik Jackson, Story Producer
I was grounded for a month when I was 10-years-old after calling my brother a “dumb dildo.” I’d heard the brilliant alliterative gibe in Wildcats, the 1986 fish-out-of-water football comedy starring Goldie Hawn, which was a mainstay on HBO when I was growing up. Hawn plays Molly McGrath, a girls’ track coach at a cushy suburban high school who loves football more than anything else because her beloved late father was a coach, too. Instead of giving Molly the the JV coaching position as she requested, though, the dickish principal tries to teach the uppity women’s-libber a lesson by sending her to coach varsity at Central High, a rundown, inner-city school with what look to be 30-year-old men on the team (including Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, both of whom make their film debut a full six years before co-starring in White Men Can’t Jump, as well as a young LL Cool J).
To 10-year-old me, the film was a masterpiece. Directed by Michael Ritchie (Fletch, Bad News Bears, etc.), there’s a requisite 1980s comedy boob shot; a stereotypical cheerleading squad chanting “U-G-L-Y, and you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly! What, what? You ugly!” And Nipsey Russell as the peanut-brittle-hawking principal of a school so rough they let guard dogs roam the halls. All the while, culture and gender clashes abound as Hawn endures perpetual misogyny while attempting — and eventually, succeeding — to win over the gang of smart-ass youths by convincing them to practice hard, study hard, and damnit, be good men.
Astonishingly, not much has changed for women in the football world. While females account for nearly half of the NFL’s fan base, they make up just a third of league employees. Four lady coaches, however, are blitzing the gridiron’s glass ceiling, borrowing a battle cry from Wildcats: “You think a woman can’t be tough enough? Watch me.” — C. Brian Smith, Staff Writer