Monday, September 15, 2014

Riske Business: Football, The Movies & Me

by Adam Riske
I never enjoyed football before but now I love it. Maybe. What changed?

I don’t know what happened (maybe Draft Day?), but all of a sudden I’ve become a football fan. I’ve always been a huge fan of baseball and especially basketball, but football? No way! I used to go to the movies on Sundays to get away from football (oddly enough, I once saw Two for the Money once on a Sunday), but now I’m all about fantasy football leagues and watching some pigskin with my boys while we eat crabby snacks and homemades. The movies made me appreciate football.

My aversion to football started when I was young. Unlike baseball or basketball, my family never went to football games when I was growing up. My first live pro football game was not until after I graduated from college, so all I remember was that I lost my dad one day a week to the television. It sucked. I like my dad. He would pace around the living room as the Bears or the Colts played and I would pace around the living room wanting it to be Monday. Fuck, there’s a game on Monday!

When I turned 10, I super hated football, but was ok with football in movies. For example, I watched Class Act on HBO incessantly and I always perked up with the scene where Kid tries out for the football team. I also recall going to see Suburban Commando in the theater and leaving in the middle to “go to the bathroom,” which actually meant “peek in other theaters.” One of those movies I would check in on was Freddy’s Dead (because danger). Another was Necessary Roughness. Why Necessary Roughness? Because Kathy Ireland. Surely, the audience for NR was having a better time than the one for SC. Because Shelley Duvall.
Cut to junior high: I still hated football, but I was starting to appreciate football movies – because of the aforementioned danger element. How could football movies be dangerous? Well, I’ll tell you. As many times as Class Act was on HBO, Rudy was on twice that amount. My dad rooted hard against Notre Dame football (I still don’t know why – are they mean to Jewish people or something?), so watching Rudy was equal to an act of rebellion in my mind. And Rudy’s good. He was a little dude, similar to me, and he went for his dream and got it. All good things. The fact that the real Rudy didn’t do a whole lot after football is irrelevant. Rudy, the movie, represented going your own path; at 11 years old, that was a positive message for me to receive. The other danger movie was The Last Boy Scout, which I saw WAY TOO YOUNG but loved. It was so adult. I couldn’t get enough of it. It taught me many things: 1) Friday night IS a great night for football; 2) Jimmy Dix could have had a hell of a career if he didn’t start up with drugs and 3) “Ain’t life a bitch?”
In high school, I still didn’t enjoy football either. I went to a school where they didn’t play under Friday night lights, but rather the Saturday morning sun and most of the players were bastard people so I didn’t care whatsoever. In fact, I used to go to the rival high school’s football games because those were actually on Friday nights (their stadium had lights) and I could hang out with my old friends from junior high who were going to that school. But in terms of football movies, high school was a great time. Two came out during my senior year that changed my life for the better (“I DON’T WANT YOUR LIFE!”): Varsity Blues and Any Given Sunday.

To this day I still love these movies. Willie Beamen is my favorite football player. The Miami Sharks are my favorite football team. These things will never change. I know, I live in Chicago Bears country, but if the Bears and the Sharks ever faced off, you best believe I’m going in fins up. But still, no matter how much I loved football movies, I didn’t give a damn about football the sport.
During college and shortly thereafter, I watched and enjoyed many football related movies: Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights (“Billingsley! Billingsley. Party at Taylor’s house NOW, Billingsley. You better be there! We’re gonna get wasted! Party at Taylor’s house! BILLINGSLEY!!!!!”), The Replacements, etc. but none have made me love football. And then I figured out a possible reason! It’s because all of these movies focus on football players and not people off the field. I had nothing to relate to. I played little league so I could relate to baseball players. I’ve played TONS of basketball so I could relate there. But I hardly ever played football, especially not on a team, so I never gained a love for it.

Lucky for me, three movies have come out in recent years that have made me enjoy football because they focus on a) fans or fanatics or b) people who work in football but don’t actually play football. Those movies are Big Fan, Silver Linings Playbook and “Say it with me, you pancake-eating motherfucker,” Draft Day (which I love a little bit despite knowing it’s not a good movie).

Big Fan is a movie I can relate to because it shows the dark side of being a die-hard fan of anything. In the movie it’s football, but I once saw an opening night screening of Big Fan at the Music Box and the director Robert Siegel was there. He said the story was arbitrarily about football because you can’t do a dramatic arc about something like baseball fandom with its 162 game season. Football is 16 compact games, which makes it easier cinematically, but honestly Big Fan could be about a movie fan just as much as a football fan so I can relate better to it. In Silver Linings Playbook (my favorite movie), it’s the community of football that I love. Everyone getting together, getting into each other’s business and ribbing one another communally. I eat that shit up in movies and in life. I love it. It makes me want to believe in the Philadelphia Eagles juju while noshing on the aforementioned crabby snacks and homemades. And when it comes to Draft Day, it’s simple – I love business. I am fascinated by the business of movies and the business of sports equally, so it makes me a captive audience. I would be lying if I didn’t pretend I was Kevin Costner in Draft Day during my fantasy football draft this year. #PeytonManningNoMatterWhat
So is my newfound love of football built to last? Probably not. I’m typing the end of this column during Week Two of the NFL season after falling asleep during most of the Week One games, but I will always love football movies. There’s something about them that's mythic and macho. They're like action movies, and that makes them irresistible.

P.S. No, I am not going to watch When the Game Stands Tall. Because never Jim Caviezel. He’s in it for himself.

31 comments:

  1. You might also like Invincible (2006). It has a good story and some memorable in-game visuals, but I don't remember how well it works as a movie.

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    1. I've seen it. I am not a fan unfortunately.

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  2. I've never seen Big Fan, but that movie sounds pretty interesting. I'll have to check it out sometime. Great column, Adam, and I'm glad you came around to the greatest sport America has to offer, even if only briefly. At least you'll always have football movies.

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    1. It's a touch watch. It's really good, but man is it well-made darkness.

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  3. Great article Adam - funnily enough I've been a fan of both watching and playing football, I have not seen a lot of these football movies (not even Rudy!) - thanks for some guidance as to the ones I should check out.

    John - I can tell you the first half hour of Big Fan is great - one of those movies I fell asleep during just because I was really tired and never made it back to, but I'm glad for the reminder.

    I think being an Eagles fan made me love Silver Linings Playbook even more - it's not an easy team to love (we almost always have a lot of potential but blow it somehow which I think is worse than loving a team that just generally sucks). They play tonight so think of me while it's on. Seriously, Adam, THINK OF ME or THEY WILL LOSE!

    P.S. Did the Bears' exciting comeback last night help fuel your like of the game?

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    1. I can't root for the Eagles tonight because of fantasy football related reasons. If Nick Foles does kinda bad, then I win my week. I fell asleep during the Bears game last night.

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    2. I hope Nick Foles sucks this week, too. That will make me feel better about not starting him this week, which I probably should have done. It's been a bad week, Fantasy-wise.

      Also, I look forward to seeing at least a great first 30 minutes in Big Fan!

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    3. Big Fan is great the entire way through in my humble opinion. I really like that movie. Let me know what you think after you see it John.

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    4. Oh hey, that's cool, no problem, man, I just hate your guts and we're not friends anymore. I run a pick against the spread pool at work but I've never had the patience for Fantasy Football - I guess I can see how it might be more important than a cross-border internet friendship though. :P

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    5. I started my reply before I saw John's comment so I was remiss in not telling him to go F himself. Ah, football, really brings out the best in me!

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    6. This is why we should all be Miami Sharks fans

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    7. Doesn't it, though? I'm never more grumpy than I end up being during football season, and yet, I still love it.

      I'll rent Big Fan on iTunes in a few days and watch it on my flight to New York (I'm stopping by for a pleasure trip). Seems fitting.

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    8. Hey, whoa, stop trying to jinx Foles. He's my last hope to actually win a league this week (guess who rolled the dice and didn't start Brandon Marshall last night?)

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    9. You're my boy, J-Finn! It was a squeaker but I'll take it!

      Adam and John, tsk tsk. TSK TSK.

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    10. Foles wouldn't have helped me much anyway, so it's fine. Go Eagles?

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    11. If this bromance is going to work I'm going to need to see a little more enthusiasm with your "Go Eagles", John.

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    12. Sorry Sol, let me try that one again.

      Ehem...

      GO EAGLES!!!!!!????

      But hey, they're better than we've got going on around these parts. GO JAGUARS!...Er, maybe not. Good job getting sacked ten times in one game, Henne.

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    13. Much better John - the next time you're in Halifax the first round is on me (the next 5 are on you)!

      Sorry about your Jags - not looking good this year.

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    14. So I finally got to see Big Fan and it was, indeed, great. Interestingly enough, I'm not typically a particularly big fan of Patton Oswalt, but I thought he was really good in this movie. The movie is also well made and the story intriguing as well. I really liked it! Thanks for the recommendation, Adam and Sol!

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    15. P.S. Chicago is on my short list of places to go next year. I have very fond memories of the one time that I've been there. The food experiences I had there are some of the best I've ever come across, and while it's still like the third most populous city in the country, I'd look forward to going somewhere that is significantly smaller in population but larger in land mass and less dirty than New York. Oh, and I want to see it in a month that isn't January.

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  4. Nice to hear The Last Boyscout get a mention. I really like that movie

    Im no Soccer fan neither. Its massive over here in England. I don't dislike it. I just don't find it entertaining. Im not sure about your football players but our soccer players are seen by many as over paid and over privileged. Its fair to say they are not well liked by all. As for the sport I just find it uninteresting. Gimme a movie to watch instead..

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    1. We all watched it during the 2nd(I think?) F This Movie Fest - twas a blast! Hope you make it to the next one!

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    2. Yeah that sounds like great fun.
      Scary movie month first. Cant wait

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  5. I wasn't a fan of football on either real life (grew up in a country where soccer is king) or the movies (did enjoy "Any Given Sunday" though, that movie's 20 different kinds of awesome for reasons related to and completely unrelated to football) until I moved to NYC after college in 1996. The NY Jets has a 1-15 season that year under the Rich Kotite regime, and I would tune every week just to laugh at the team and enjoy watching them being so shitty. It's not like I had a choice, since blackout rules prevented the local NY market from having any other team whenever the Jets or Giants played that week. That season I learned to love football and became a fan of the sport ever since, but football movies (not movies with football in the background, like the rocking "Last Boy Scout") still leave me cold. Ironically, to this date, I can't watch the Super Bowl. To me the Eastern and Western conference playoff games are the Super Bowl because they're all about football and the game; then the Super Bowl comes around and it's all about hype, the TV commercials, TV ratings, stars, halftime concert, etc. and the game of football becomes the fifth or sixth most relevant thing about it. I just can't take it, same with the Pro Bowl and pre-season exhibition games in August. Seriously, who gives a fuck? I also don't like college football (or basketball or baseball) but that's another subject/column entirely.

    I'll tell you what movie changed my life enough to make me appreciate a sport I didn't like before: Ron Shelton's "Tin Cup." I went to see it in theaters, enjoyed it but didn't really get the minutiae of what they were talking/doing on the courses, or why it meant so much for Roy McAvoy to get that ball over the water hazard on the 18th hole of the US Open. So I grabbed a book from the NYC library, watched a couple of games on TV and went to see "Tin Cup" again. OMG, the movie became alive and I really got what is it that drove Roy, Romeo and the gang to try and get into the US Open. I've been an avid professional golf viewer ever since and even tried playing a couple of times (I was so bad I gave it up pretty quick). I owe my being in front of the tube yesterday watching Bill Horschel seal his improbable come-from-nowhere victory and win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup to a 1996 golf movie that isn't really about golf, but it actually is. Go figure. :-)

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  6. Three words, Adam: North Dallas Forty

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    1. That's a hole in my sports movie watching. I'll check it out soon.

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  7. I am a die hard fan... Chicago bears season ticket holder. My boy's name is Halas. I suck! :)

    Never heard of Big Fan, but gonna check it out!

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  8. Am I the only one that always roots against that pipsqueak Rudy? He had no right to be on that team! No right I tell you.

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  9. Not to spoil anything, Big Fan is definitely worth seeing, but I feel it blew a great build-up with a weak cop-out ending.

    Adam if you started covering football on this site regularly I would have no need to visit any other website. #GoBengals

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  10. Okay, okay, I KNOW it's not a "real" movie... but Adam, have you ever seen Brian's Song? I was eight years old when I saw it and I Loved. That. Movie. I'm pretty sure I thought those were the real Chicago Bears. I was too young to know the difference between "based on a true story" and "documentary" and "reality TV" (which had not even been invented when I was 8, but that's basically what I thought Brian's Song was.) I have waited my whole life for the opportunity to put mashed potatoes on someone's chair, or at least be best friends with Gale Sayers.

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    1. I saw Brian's Song once about 10 years ago. I remember liking it but WANTING to cry more. I felt like a jerk for not becoming a wreck over that movie.

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