Do you hear that, guys? That faint familiar sound echoing out there somewhere in the distance? It’s a smell as much as a sound – ribs and hot dogs cooking at a tailgate barbeque. It’s a feeling too, the feeling of heat and humidity so strong you’re almost breathing water. The sound is whistles; it’s grunts, and shoulder pads cracking on an Astroturf field. It’s the sound of Thunderstruck being played over the PA system. It’s the sound of football, and it’s almost back.
I know, technically football is here. You can watch preseason NFL football or something like that– but if we’re being honest with ourselves, no one really cares about preseason football. It won’t really be football season until you can watch a different level of competition every day for an entire weekend. High school on Friday, college on Saturday, the pros on Sunday. That’s when football is really here.
This intense love, this passion for a silly little game I had to quit playing years ago, can sometimes drive me nuts. I play fantasy football, I buy the new Madden, I even volunteer to help coach a middle school team. Who does that?
That’s why this time of the year can be especially tough on those of us who hold a passion for the game. It’s close, sooooo close to being that time! To ease my suffering, I’ve compiled the perfect list of movies to watch to get you ready for the season. Let me reiterate– this is a list of movies to watch to get ready for the season– not the five best football movies ever. People will argue about that until the end of time. Instead, I’ve curated the movies we, as a society, can all watch together to prepare ourselves for the season to come. I’ve also categorized each of my choices to show what Iget out of them. You might take something else away. That’s part of the glory of sports.
Let me be clear about something, I love football. Like, I really love it – as far as I’m concerned it’s the perfect game. It’s like chess played by gladiators.
There is so much thought, so much variance, that goes into every single snap of every single game. A team of eleven individuals, all with wildly different jobs, working together to achieve one goal. Every team presents interesting match ups. Will they spread the field or run out of the I formation? Do they want to throw the ball deep or are they setting up a screen? Is this their power back, or is he all about the lateral quickness? Every game is unique and every play has the potential to be that one moment that changes everything.
#1. Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights. Loss.
It is time to let last season die. Eagles fans have had half a year to revel in their victory (I guess Bama fans have too, but I am not delusional enough to think they will ever stop talking), but that time is gone. Still, the 2017 season was good to us and it deserves a proper funeral. For that we will watch Friday Night Lights and be reminded that nothing lasts forever.
This movie tells the story of the Permian High Panthers and the outrageous scale on which high school football is played in Texas. Odessa is a town that has seen better days, jobs are gone, hope is gone, and all people have left is the hometown team (sound familiar).
The people here need something, and they (unfairly) place all their hope and hatred squarely on the shoulders of their 17-year-old heroes. It stars Billy Bob Thornton as embattled head coach Gary Gaines who is struggling to balance family life with the Herculean pressure placed on his shoulders, Lucas Black as Mike Winchell a senior desperate to both escape the dead end he sees Odessa as and help his ailing mother, and Derek Luke as Boobie Miles — the All-American running back destined for NFL glory who sees everything he’s ever known stripped from him.
Oh, and did I mention Tim McGraw? I know that Taylor Swift wants me to think of her favorite song when I think about Tim McGraw, but honestly Taylor, all I can think when it comes to Tim McGraw is Don Billingsley’s crazy father duct taping a ball to his hands and being an all-around villain in this movie. The film touches on many of the darker things that surround the sport: hero worship, vanity, desperation; but most importantly it touches on loss. The loss of the world we know, the loss of the things we love, the loss of all our best-laid plans. Go watch the movie and try not to cry with Boobie when he finally breaks down in his uncle’s car. Rest easy 2017, you were a fun one, but it’s time to celebrate 2018.
#2. The Waterboy
The Waterboy. Celebration.
Well, now that we’re all sad, let’s do the biggest 180 you can do when it comes to watching movies. Let’s go with something dumb and funny. I present to you: The Waterboy. Here’s something you should know before watching this movie– before Judd Apatow took over the scene, comedies played out more like YouTube Vine compilations; just a series of jokes held together by the loosest of plots. No one cared or got too critical because it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.
Sadly, I fear those days are gone forever, but we still have prime examples of late 1990’s/early 2000’s goofball nonsense to look back on. Oh, and did I mention that this is perhaps the most quotable Adam Sandler movie after Billy Madison? Don’t like something? Scowl and call it “the devil”– problem solved. About to go in 100% on anything? Whisper to yourself “Last game of the year Brent, can’t hold anything back now.” Seriously, to this day, any time I beat my cousins at anything, I will still say “compliments of Captain Insano.”
” I admit parts of this movie haven’t aged well, but other parts will still make you belly laugh. Whether it’s Academy Award winning actress Kathy Bates explaining how to best eat grilled snake, a surly football coach morphing into a cooing toddler, or the simple pleasure of a Colonel Sanders look alike being thrown through a window. The Waterboy (Lord forgive me for the pun I am about to commit) still holds its water years later.
Disclaimer: Now, before you start complaining, I know somebody is going to jump into the comments and write a paragraph about how the best Adam Sandler football movie is clearly The Longest Yard. To which I would be forced to reply A) reread foreword, these movies are designed to work together we’re not judging them against anything other than our own need for football. B) The Adam Sandler version of The Longest Yard isn’t even the best movie titled The Longest Yard so your argument is invalid.
I’ve done no scientific research to back up this claim, but I would be willing to bet if you asked a random person on the street what the greatest football movie ever made was, 9 out of 10 would say Rudy. And honestly, I’m not ready to argue with them. This movie has it all: Loss, love, growth, redemption, a Vince Vaughn cameo. What more can you ask for? The story is so damn inspiring it should be mandatory viewing for all American children.
Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is a working class kid from Joliet, Illinois, whose future seems laid out in front of him: trade the bright uniforms of high school football for the bleak gray uniforms of a cave-like steel mill. Everyone in his life discourages him from following his one, fleeting, insane dream of playing college football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
When tragedy strikes, he decides to forgo the doubts of those around him and pursue his unlikely goal. He then works every day, as a janitor, student, and football player all while his chances of glory get further and further away. I know in today’s spoiler phobic society I’ve already said too much, but really, I think everyone should know what happens by now. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy, RUDY.
Also, I want to take this opportunity to ask when will we start giving Sean Astin the respect he deserves? He’s starred in arguably the greatest sports movie ever made, the greatest children’s movie ever made, the greatest fantasy movie ever made, and Netflix’s best show. You heard it here first #GetSeanAnOscar
#4. Remember The Titans
Remember the Titans. Togetherness.
Remember the Titans is the first movie to make me cry. I said it, It’s there in print. Set in a 1960’s era Virginia school district that is dealing with the fallout of desegregation; the T.C. Williams Titans find themselves as the focal point of the local civil rights movement. The tension is amplified by the fact that the school’s African American head football coach, Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington), is given the most unfair ultimatum in sports: lose one game and you’re fired. In other words, be perfect or have everything you’ve worked for taken from you.
Through the course of the movie, the players, coaches, and fans (and audience members) are forced to take a hard look at their lives and interactions and reevaluate what it means to be a team and a community. Hard choices are made by everyone, friendships are made and lost, but through adversity, empathy, and loss the Titans find greatness.
I don’t care who you are, if you’re a person with a heart, something in this movie will move you. When I first watched this movie as a nine year old, the world it showed seemed so alien. As a child, I couldn’t understand how something as trivial as skin color could create as much animosity and evil as was shown on screen. In my mind, I could sleep easy at night knowing that years before I was born, everyone had put down hatred and learned to live together. The Titans, and others like them, solved all the problems of my grandparents generation and I could move forward in a better brighter world.
This, of course, was not the case. As a society, we’ve obviously made strides, but wickedness is still out there and it is trying to divide us — to make us feel that we’re more different than alike. I know two things though: 1) The world right now is teetering dangerously close to being as fractured as it once was, that there are wicked men both at home and abroad who want to see a broken America. 2) That good people from every background are ready to work for what’s right. I’m certain that at some point everyone reading this, on any side of the spectrum, will be faced with the choice between lazy hatred and working towards compassion and understanding. At this point, I hope we remember the closing lines of this film “before we reach for hate, always–always we remember the Titans.” Cheesy, I know, but come on guys– Disney made it.
#5. We Are Marshall
We Are Marshall. Redemption and Rebirth.
Could this list end any other way? Considering where this movie is set, what story it tells, and statistically who is most likely to be reading this article (this site is about Huntington, West Virginia, after all), we couldn’t have done this any other way.
This movie means a lot more to us than to any other community in America. My grandmother lived five minutes away from Spring Hill Cemetery in 1970. My dad was six at the time and still talks about seeing the funeral processions. This is a personal movie for everyone here and I’m certain most of us watch it annually no matter what list it makes.
That being said, please let me explain why it caps our little collection perfectly. This is the story of the Young Thundering Herd and the community that put all their faith, grief, hope, and love behind them. When a tragic plane crash takes the lives of the entire 1970 Marshall University football team, the coaching staff, and many prominent community members, those left behind have to face the unthinkable choice of whether or not to carry on with football (and in some cases life in general). The road ahead isn’t easy, it isn’t pretty, it’s full of missteps and heartaches– but it shows a community coming together around a school and team that represents them in the best possible way.
We Are Marshall is helmed by a star-studded cast including future Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, future Emmy winner David Strathairn, future Avenger Anthony Mackie, the incomparable Ian McShane, the incredibly talented Kate Mara, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Matthew Fox, and a slew of Huntington locals in cameo roles. Is it a perfect movie? No. But is it perfectly suited to get you ready for football season? Absolutely. Loss, heartbreak, triumph, victory, and even a little humor — all the emotions an amazing season of football inspires packed into 131 minutes.
So what have we learned?
Well, what have we learned from all this? Football movies are heavy (thank God for Adam Sandler right?). We’ve seen child abuse, racism, and out and out death. But I honestly can’t say I’m surprised. Football is the purest kind of drama. A clear set of heroes and a clear set of villains, both competing for a common goal in their own ways. But within that, there is so much room for movement — any kind of story can be told. One just hopes it’s a story where the guys on your team score a little more than the guys on the other team.