Super Bowl LII is right around the corner, so we’ve assembled the team here in the name of all that is football to bring you the Voice’s favorite football films.
Brian’s Song (1971)
Call it overplayed, but if you are trying to make a football enthusiast cry, go no further than Brian’s Song. Originally released for television via ABC, the story of the true and unlikely friendship between Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) as teammates on Chicago Bears during the civil rights era is both heartwarming and powerful beyond its time. The film rips heartstrings apart as Piccolo receives an young cancer diagnosis, ultimately succumbing to the illness. This film is memorable, showing determination in the face of adversity in plethora of ways, both on the field and within the characters’ personal lives. The fact that this is all based upon the lives of real people makes the tragedy all the more difficult to come to terms with. This may not be the pre-Super Bowl pump up that fans need, but certainly a must see for all those who love the game.
– Mike Bergin
The culmination of this film, when Rudy Ruettiger finally fulfills his dream of dressing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, a dream he worked so hard for, and when he finally gets to step on the field, because his teammates respected the commitment he had shown for them, and he gets to make a big play in front of his parents and gets carried off on his teammates shoulders is a scene that consistently brings me to tears. Rudy shows us the part of sports we rarely see. The hard work, dedication, and pain that Rudy endures along his journey is what football is about. It takes a whole lot more than a star quarterback and diva wide receiver to win games. It takes the no-name players on the offensive line, the second string tight end who really only sees the field on punt protections, and the guys on the practice squad getting the stars ready to shine. Rudy shows us that hard work, and it pays off for Rudy in ways that it rarely does for players on the practice squad, a chance to finally step on the field and do what all that hard work has prepared them for.
– Noah Telerski
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Whenever there’s a major movie or show about football, the creators and fans insist it isn’t really about football; it’s about community, leadership, America, or some other big theme that might convince people who hate sports to watch. Oliver Stone’s 1999 drama Any Given Sunday, though, is about football, and don’t think otherwise. In spite of every American flag Stone shows flapping in the wind, every Native American chant he puts on the soundtrack, every clip from an old gladiator movie he sticks into the back of a shot, Any Given Sunday is very much a snapshot of the culture of the NFL at the end of the 20th century. The performance-enhancing drugs, the smug cable sports personalities, the domestic violence, the raging egos—it’s all there in Any Given Sunday. At his hammiest, loudest, and most over-the-top, Al Pacino plays the frustrated, burned-out coach trying to bring his broken team back from the dead (cue: sports drama cliche) and somehow tame his arrogant, narcissistic and mercurial young quarterback (Jamie Foxx), whose reckless, ill-prepared approach to the game unexpectedly turns the team’s fortunes around, but also exposes the philosophical differences between the team’s old guard and the brash younger generation. Pacino’s delivery of the coach’s big, inspiring locker-room speech is worthy of all the years of replays it’s gotten from real-world coaches. And Stone does some of his most inventive work as a visual stylist in Any Given Sunday, using superimpositions and lightweight cameras to capture the frenzy of football, where players have split-seconds to make crucial decisions. His kaleidoscopic style is as fun as it is mesmerizing, and his blend of mayhem and sensuality is a refreshing alternative to the solemnity of most sports dramas. A rambunctious, hyperkinetic, testosterone-and-adrenaline-drenched look at American’s obsession with professional football, Any Given Sunday connects for long yardage as smart popular entertainment. Deftly combining brain and brawn in its use of the modern gladiatorial arena as a staging area for various bigger dynamics operating in contemporary society and business life, Oliver Stone mixes right-minded takes on innumerable issues with his helter-skelter style in his most accessible and purely enjoyable film, perhaps the last great big-budget sport movie.
– Eman Rahman