While watching the AFC Divisional round with my family, the conversation somehow turned to football movies. We all had a different favorite, and it turned out my young nephew (a sports fanatic) hadn’t seen a lot of them. The little guy started making a list of football movies he wants to watch before the Super Bowl, so of course, for the sake of #content, I decided to take his list and rank them from best to worst. But don’t worry, his parents aren’t actually going to let him watch Any Given Sunday…yet.
15. The Waterboy (1998)
Every single other movie on this list has heart. And most people would say that this ridiculous Adam Sandler entry doesn’t, but I would say they were wrong. Sure, it’s an absolutely absurd movie, but if you don’t get a little choked up when the Mud Dogs win the Bourbon Bowl by a score of 30-27, giving both Coach Klein and Bobby Boucher redemption, then you have no feelings.
14. Radio (2003)
A lot of the movies on this list are true stories, and the first one up is the story of James Robert “Radio” Kennedy, a mentally challenged young man in South Carolina who develops a father/son relationship with the local football coach, Harold Jones. It’s a sappy, sentimental story with football in a secondary role, but it’s an all-around feel-good tearjerker.
13. Draft Day (2014)
Fun fact about me: I interned at the NFL Draft when I was in college. So I can say with some semi-authority that this is absolutely not how an actual Draft Day goes down. But that being said, this is still a pretty decent movie, with a fictional plot that revolves around how the manager of the Cleveland Browns handles having the number one pick in the draft. Interestingly, the same year the movie was released, the real Browns also made some moves in the draft, trading up to get the 22nd pick, which they used to pick…Johnny Manziel.
12. The Longest Yard (2005)
There’s a 1974 version of this movie, but using that one would have meant I wouldn’t have two Adam Sandler entries on this list, and what kind of a list would that be? Plus, Nelly was in this version of the film, which has the same plotline as the original: a disgraced professional quarterback who forms a team of prisoners to play against prison guards. But honestly, who cares what the storyline is? NELLY IS IN IT, PEOPLE.
11. The Replacements (2000)
Fun fact: they like to play this movie on cruise ships on the movie channel you get in your cabin. Which is literally the only reason I’ve ever seen this Keanu Reeves-led film about a washed up QB who comes back into the game after a players’ strike forces the season to be finished with replacements. But while Reeves is technically the star of the movie, Jon Favreau as linebacker/Gulf War veteran, Danny Bateman, totally steals the show, as Favreau does in most things he shows up in.
10. Little Giants (1994)
Ed O’Neill has had my love since the days of Al Bundy, and even though he plays an ass in this movie, I still love me some Jay Pritchett. O’Neill plays the cocky half of the O’Shea brothers, who both coach pee-wee football in a small Ohio town. Predictably, good (the team coached by the other brother, played by Rick Moranis) takes on evil (O’Neill’s team) and good triumphs, with some help from John Madden, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith, Tim Brown, and Steve Emtman, who randomly show up for some reason.
9. Varsity Blues (1999)
You know that move with the whipped cream Corrine pulled during week 3 of The Bachelor? Well, here is where it all started. Your typical, stupid high-school romance/football movie, it was the kiss of death, both literally (RIP Paul Walker and the guy that played Billy Bob) and career-wise (what are you up to, Ali Larter and Amy Smart?), for everyone in it, except James Van Der Beek and Scott Caan. But it did have one of the best soundtracks ever.
8. We Are Marshall (2006)
There’s a lot of “true stories” on this list, but none of them are as gut-wrenching as We Are Marshall. If you don’t know the story, on November 14, 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed into a hill just short of the Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 people on board, including 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, 9 members of the coaching staff, 25 boosters, and 4 flight crew members. The movie depicts the efforts of new coach Jack Lengye and assistant coach William “Red” Dawson (who was supposed to be on the plane, but changed plans the night before) to rebuild the team, while dealing with the tragedy and survivors. Is it hokey? 100%. But it’s also a beautiful tribute to how football can heal as much as it hurts.
7. Friday Night Lights (2004)
I’m going to go into dangerous territory here: I didn’t much care for this movie, or its namesake television series. In terms of the movie, my lack of like for Billy Bob Thornton, who makes me want to shove forks in my eyeballs, probably is at the root of my meh feelings on this one. But given that lots of people have a fervent love for both the movie and the series, I put it on the list so I didn’t get hate mail.
6. Remember The Titans (2000)
Another true story, this one about the attempts of coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) integrate the football team at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971. There is a quality motivational speech, the defeat of racism, and Ryan Gosling as a linebacker (though he’s a still basically a baby). What else do you need?
5. Concussion (2015)
Sure, there wasn’t a lot of football played in this one, but if I’m honest, it’s probably the most important movie about football made in the last twenty years. If you’re a fan of the sport and you haven’t seen it, and/or read the article it is based on, you need to. You won’t like it, but it’s important to see the price that players pay for using their bodies as weapons.
4. Any Given Sunday (1999)
Al Pacino. Dennis Quaid. Jamie Foxx. LL Cool JJ. Cameron Diaz (even though she annoys me). This movie boosts a tremendous cast that also includes football legends Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown. Directed by the renowned Oliver Stone, the plot is, like most of these movies, pretty predictable, but based on the novel of the same name by NFL defensive end Pat Toomay (which I liked better than the film), it’s a pretty decent movie…particularly if you are a big fan of naked dudes in a locker room. Which I am.
3. The Blind Side (2009)
Another book that I liked better than the film, but Sandra Bullock was really nice to me when I met her once in an elevator and she won an Oscar for this, so obviously it’s a good movie, right? As a die-hard Patriots fan, I found it really hard to root for anyone that eventually wound up on the Ravens, but the story of Michael Oher, and the notion that you protect your family (either the one you have by birth or the one you find along the way) the same way you protect the quarterback, are really a powerful ones.
2. Jerry Maguire (1996)
You probably think I put this one at #2 because of the romance storyline, but frankly, I put it here in spite of that. Personally, that entire Jerry/Dorothy relationship annoyed the shit out of me. The reason this movie ranks so high for me can be summed up in two words: Rod Tidwell. We all know how football works for the superstars, but what about the guy who doesn’t have the big contract or the name recognition? Of course, Rod gets both in the end, but how he got there is the story that really is the “kwan” of the movie.
1. Rudy (1993)
This was a hard call. There are people that will claim that, in the movie, Rudy was offsides when he got the sack in the last few seconds of the 1975 Notre Dame-Georgia Tech football game, and I can’t necessarily say that I disagree. There is also speculation (fueled by 49ers’ legend Joe Montana, who was a freshman quarterback at Notre Dame at the time) that the above infamous shirt scene, when the players handed in their jerseys to the coach when Rudy wasn’t on the dress list, was totally fake. And of course, the real Rudy was tarnished in 2011 when he was charged with securities fraud by the SEC. But you know what? NONE OF THAT MATTERS. Because if the words from the wise Fortune don’t make you get a little bit teary, you’re dead inside..