Football in film: 'Horse Feathers' to 'Manning' 

click to enlarge Burt Reynolds and Burt Reynolds's chest hair in 'The Longest Yard.'
  • Burt Reynolds and Burt Reynolds's chest hair in 'The Longest Yard.'

I didn't care much about football until the Peyton Manning era began. My son became a Colts fan due to Mr. Manning and I started paying attention so I could talk about the games with Donald. Currently I know about as much about game strategy as your average seven-year-old fan. The allure of football for me is the spirit, teamwork, drama and personality. Movies reinforce those ideas, while often focusing on the uglier aspects of the game as well. What follows is a look at a few football-related movies I found memorable.

Semi-Tough
The 1977 film adaptation of Dan Jenkins novel about the friendship/love triangle between two pro football players and the team owner's daughter (Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson and Jill Clayburgh) was criticized by some for putting the football elements of the book on the shelf in order to devote significant time to an newly-written send-up of trendy new age self-help movements. I didn't care — the film is funny and Reynolds, Kristofferson and Clayburgh are terrific.
SEE ALSO: Horse Feathers, the Marx Brothers 1932 college football related comedy. The jokes outweigh the football, but hey, it's the Marx Brothers. And don't forget Heaven Can Wait, the 1978 remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, with Warren Beatty as a lovable pro footballer star who doesn't let his death get in the way of the big game. Far less about football than personalities, it's charming and very funny.

Rudy
Hoosiers go bat-shit over director David Anspaugh's 1993 loosely-inspired-by-fact tale (written by Angelo Pizzo) of not-very-large Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who longed to play football at Notre Dame and drove everybody crazy until he got his way. The film features a crowd-pleasing performance by Sean Astin in the title role. It also introduced Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, who went on to make Swingers.
SEE ALSO: Lucas (1986) starring Corey Haim as a small 14-year-old who tries out for the football team to try and win a girl.

North Dallas Forty
Nick Nolte and Mac Davis are excellent in this 1979 drama celebrated for its insights and sense of authenticity. The story about the friendship between Nolte and Davis' characters makes you feel every hit during the games, along with the aching afterwards. Wild parties, corruption and bold gestures are prominent.

The Longest Yard
Killer 1974 mix of comedy and drama as a prison football team ends up taking on the guards in a high profile game. Burt Reynolds, in fine form, stars as a former pro football quarterback whose antics land him in the slammer. Eddie Albert, Oliver Douglas from Green Acres, is hissably good as the son-of-a-bitch warden. The funny, painful movie inspired the 2001 British film Mean Machine, starring Vinnie Jones, and a 2005 American remake starring Adam Sandler.

Friday Night Lights
2004 drama about the dominance of high school football in small Texas towns, adapted from H.G. Bissinger's non-fiction book following a real Texas high school team. The politics and pressures of the game are engrossing, along with the verisimilitude of the production. As the put-upon coach, Billy Bob Thornton ably leads a strong cast which includes singer Tim McGraw, memorable as the abusive father of one of the players. Connie Britton plays the coach's wife; she went on to reprise her role in the outstanding TV series spin-off. Britton and her TV husband Kyle Chandler presented the best portrait of a successfully married couple I've ever seen on the tube.

Remember the Titans
Denzel Washington plays the black coach who replaces the white coach in this 2000 inspirational film that tackles racial tensions.
SEE ALSO: 1940's inspirational Knute Rockne, All American, starring Pat O'Brien with Ronald Reagan as George “The Gipper” Gipp; 1951's inspirational Jim Thorpe — All American, starring Burt Lancaster in the title role of a Native American athlete who became a football legend; 2003's inspirational Radio, where a coach (Ed Harris) takes a mentally-challenged young man (Cuba Gooding Jr..) under his wing and 2006's inspirational Invincible, where an average Joe, played by Mark Wahlberg, tries out for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Peyton Manning Story
This yet-to-be-made epic follows the professional life of one of the best quarterbacks — and role models — of all time. It should conclude with Manning coming back from neck problems and proudly leading the Indianapolis Colt to victory again. Let's hope we get to witness triumphs over current medical and financial challenges, because for this story to end any other way would be a crying shame.

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