After about a 200-day drought, football season is finally right around the corner. High school kids are starting the dreaded two-a-days, college football kicks off this Saturday with a Colorado State / Oregon State (go Beavers!) match-up, and the NFL season begins on Thursday, September 7th, when the Kansas City Chiefs head into Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. I love football. Especially Seattle Football — Go Dawgs! Go Hawks! I hated those two-a-day practices when I was a teenager but, I’ve romanticized the glory days enough over time that I somehow manage to look back on them fondly now.
I also love football movies. Always have. And, what better way to get fired up for the new season than to watch some inspiring movies that largely take place on the gridiron? This is in no way an exhaustive list and it only includes narrative films. So, please don’t get mad that it’s missing some of your favorites like “Any Given Sunday,” “Facing The Giants,” “Wildcats,” “The Replacements,” “The Longest Yard,” “The Program,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “Leatherheads,” “Necessary Roughness,” “Everybody’s All-American,” “Johnny Be Good,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “The Waterboy,” “Radio,” “Varsity Blues,” or the documentary “Undefeated.” I didn’t forget, I just had to be choosey.
Different films got left off the list for different reasons. For example, I decided to eliminate films that were mostly behind-the-scenes like “Draft Day” and “Jerry Maquire,” as well as some of the others already listed. It couldn’t be just any movie that had anything at all to do with football. I also decided to hold the list to 11 films because that’s how many players you have on each side of the ball. Clever, right? Okay, not really. But, it’s still as good a reason as any to keep the list from getting out of control. So, this is a list of some of my favorite football movies and they are in no particular order. Also, if you’re not a football fan, these are still great films. After all, the best football movies are about a lot more than just football.
- Rudy (1993 — Rated PG and starring Sean Astin, Ned Beatty, Charles S. Dutton, Lili Taylor, Robert Prosky, Jon Favreau)
Easily one of the best, this is a movie that will make almost any grown man cry. It’s an encouraging true story about hope and perseverance. It makes me want to silence the naysayers, overcome the odds, and cheer for all the underdogs. Rudy wanted to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish his entire life. But, even his own family laughs at his ambitions. He has a lot to overcome, including his own lack of natural football talent but, as the DVD synopsis says, “RUDY” is an unforgettable testament to the power of dreams and the triumph of the common man.”
- We Are Marshall (2006 — Rated PG and starring Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Ian McShane, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, January Jones, Brian Geraghty, David Strathairn)
Another inspiring true story, this one starts with tragedy. On November 14, 1970, one of the worst disasters ever to occur in a U.S. sports program transpired when a chartered plane carrying the Marshall University football team crashed in Huntington, West Virginia. All seventy-five people onboard, including thirty-seven team members, eight coaches, and twenty-five team boosters, were killed in the accident. Jack Lengyel took the job no one else wanted and became the school’s new head football coach. Tasked with fielding a team for the 1971-72 season, Lengyel’s job wasn’t just about winning. It was about helping a school and a town overcome grief to obtain victory in life after catastrophe.
- Brian’s Song (1971 – Rated G and starring James Caan, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Warden, Shelley Fabares, Judy Pace, Bernie Casey, David Huddleston)
Another true story and arguably one of the all-time best made for TV movies. It won five Emmy Awards and for good reason. The film is about the heart-wrenching friendship between NFL Hall of Famer Gayle Sayers and his Chicago Bears teammate Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer at the age of 26. The movie was remade in 2001 but, you can’t beat the original.
- Remember The Titans (2000 – Rated PG and starring Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Donald Faison, Nicole Ari Parker, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Ethan Suplee, Kip Pardue, Hayden Panettiere, Craig Kirkwood, Kate Bosworth, Ryan Gosling)
Yes, this is another uplifting true story. It’s an outstanding film from an entertainment perspective but, it’s also used as a teaching tool in leadership classes. It’s 1971 and beloved coach Bill Yoast has led his team to fifteen winning seasons but is suddenly demoted and replaced by Herman Boone when the local school board is forced to integrate an all-white school with an all-black school. The two men have completely different coaching styles but must overcome their differences and learn to work together to lead a team and the West Virginia town of Alexandria, torn apart by conflict and uncertainty, into victorious harmony.
- Woodlawn (2015 – Rated PG and starring Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, Caleb Castille, Sherri Shepherd, Jon Voight, C. Thomas Howell, Lance Nichols, DeVon Franklin, Brett Rice)
Yet another true story that inspires and uplifts. See a pattern developing? As violence and rage explode in Birmingham, Alabama following government mandated desegregation, football star Tony Nathan and fellow African-American students enter Woodlawn High School. The school’s coach is losing control of his team. At his wit’s end, he allows an outsider to speak to his players. His message of hope and love leads to a spiritual awakening that inspires nearly every member of the team to overcome the hate that surrounds them and, soon, it spreads into the community at large.
- The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008 – Rated PG and starring Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller, Clancy Brown, Charles S. Dutton, Aunjanue Ellis, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Nicole Beharie, Nelsan Ellis, Chelcie Ross, Saul Rubinek, Geoff Stults, Evan Jones, Chadwick Boseman, Stephen Louis Grush)
You can probably tell from the title that we’re now six for six on true stories. Ernie Davis overcame nearly impossible odds as a star football player at Syracuse University and became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Sadly, in 1963, he died of leukemia at the age of only 23. This film, however, primarily focuses on the relationship he had with his coach Ben Schwartzwalder. Both are portrayed realistically, which means both carry flaws like any human being does. However, Davis refuses to let racism and discrimination dominate his life and Schwartzwalder, ultimately, doesn’t care what color his players are if they share the common goal of winning. It’s a powerful story and an example of how to succeed both on and off the field.
- Invincible (2006 – Rated PG and starring Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rispoli, Steve Staiger, Fred Strother, Kevin Conway, Kirk Acevedo, Michael Kelly, Randy Couture)
Make that seven for seven on the true story count. Vince Papale is a 30-year-old bartender who never played college football. When the Philadelphia Eagles’ new coach, Dick Vermeil, calls an unprecedented open try-out, Papale takes the opportunity to live every fan’s dream. Staying true to the setting of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it’s an underdog story of “Rocky” proportions.
- When The Game Stands Tall (2014 – Rated PG and starring Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, Clancy Brown, Laura Dern, Joe Massingill, Stephan James)
Don’t pretend you’re surprised – we’re now eight for eight on true stories. Think we can go the distance? Stay tuned…Legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur took the De La Salle High School Spartans from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that destroyed the record for any American sport. But, this film tells the story of the season that changed everything. It’s easy to tell your team that “winning isn’t everything” when you keep on winning. But, when the streak ends, how do you pick up the pieces? That’s when true character is put on full display.
- Friday Night Lights (2004 – Rated PG-13 and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Lee Jackson, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Tim McGraw, Lee Thompson Young, Connie Britton, Amber Heard, Christian Kane)
Based on the 1990 book “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream” by H. G. Bissinger, which chronicled the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team in Odessa, Texas, this story was also spun off into a well-received TV show, two years later, that ran for two seasons on NBC and then three more on DirecTV. Unlike “When The Game Stands Tall,” you could say that a theme in this movie is that sometimes winning is everything. However negative that may sound, this is an exciting movie that will have you cheering the Panthers on as they set their sights on a state championship.
- School Ties (1992 – Rated PG-13 and starring Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Randall Batinkoff, Andrew Lowery, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck, Anthony Rapp, Amy Locane, Peter Donat, Zeljko Ivanek, Kevin Tighe)
We did it! We squeezed one onto the list that is not a true story. Dick Wolf, the creator of the “Law & Order” television franchise made this one up. But, it still feels like it could have been true. It’s set in the 1950’s and tells the story of a talented quarterback from a working-class background in Pennsylvania, whose gift provides him the opportunity to attend an elite preparatory school. But, because of the prejudices of the time, he tries to hide the fact that he’s Jewish. It’s a movie about honesty, honor and, of course, football.
- The Blind Side (2009 – Rated PG-13 and staring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Kathy Bates, Jae Head, Lily Collins, Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, Adriane Lenox, Catherine Dyer, Andy Stahl, Tom Nowicki)
Most people are familiar with Michael Oher’s amazing story but, it’s worth repeating. He was one of twelve children born to his alcohol and crack-addicted mother who paid him very little attention. He attended eleven schools in his first nine years as a student and had to repeat both first and second grades. He was in and out of foster homes and survived stints of homelessness. Then he was taken in by Briarcrest Christian School – not that all the faculty acted the way Christians should. But, it was there that he met Leigh Anne Tuohy who made him a part of her family – acting the way that Christians should. He went on to the University of Mississippi and was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens. If this movie doesn’t warm your heart, bring tears to your eyes and make you want to watch football, you might want to see a doctor. Medical and/or psychological.