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Skinning The Pig: Six Football Movies To Prep You For The Super Bowl

Last_Boy_ScoutFebruary 7th is going to be a national holiday here in the United States of Armafuckinggeddon. Why? Because this year, it's the day on which we'll celebrate the biggest goddamn football game of the goddamn year. It's a low-key little event we like to call the Super Bowl, and even if you find yourself with no emotional investment in either the Indianapolis Colts or New Orleans Saints, chances are that the vast majority of everyone you know is going to be sitting in front of a large TV, watching the broadcast, debating the relative merits of the commercials, and dissecting the nuances of the game itself. To enter such an arena unprepared is to risk public humiliation — which is why the kind and gentle folk of MamaPop have committed themselves to preparing you for the big event with the following primer on the finest in pigskin cinema.

1. The Last Boy Scout
"Ain't life a bitch?" Billy Blanks wouldn't lie to you. That's right: Billy Blanks. Gymkata Tae Bo dude extraordinaire. Didja know he's also a thespian? True story. And not only that, but a thespian who experienced the cinematic high point of his life playing a running back who - in the midst of a sprint downfield - pulls out a gun, shoots some poor linebacker, then makes it in to the end zone... whereupon he removes his helmet, murmurs that timeless line of dialogue, and then pulls the triger. In front of 80,000 stunned teammates and fans, plus millions watching at home.

And with that, we're launched into the sordid world of The Last Boy Scout — a wondrously entertaining mix of Shane Black dialogue, Bruce Willis burned out/existentially adrift heroism, Damon Wayans' first brush with stardom, a nearly-naked Halle Berry, plus more football, gambling and random/funny violence than you can shake a stick at. By and large, football is treated as a plot device here (it's really little more than the vehicle that allows Black to riff fantastic on anything and everything that strikes his fancy, in the process subverting the standards of hard-boiled noir, intimately connecting football and gambling on a fundamental level, and exploring the killing potential of stuffed animals), but that shouldn't stop you from embracing all that it has to offer.

2. Friday Night Lights
Before there was the critically acclaimed series of the same name, Friday Night Lights was an astonishing, impressionistic film in which Peter Berg adapted H.G. Bissinger's amazing bestseller about high school football in West Texas. Leveraging a hypnotic score by Explosions in the Sky and a score of extraordinary actors (both known and unknown, ranging from Billy Bob Thornton as the surprisingly thoughtful and kind football coach, in violation of all clichés, and Tim McGraw's revelatory performance as the jock parent from hell to Derek Long as the charismatic and ultimately heartbreaking young star Boobie Miles), Berg not only creates an intimate look at the intricacies of class and culture within the microcosm of Odessa, Texas but - in the process - creates a context in which the competition and camaraderie and fleeting glories of those moments on the football field, illuminated and vigorously alive beneath unforgiving electric glow and the unshifting gaze of an entire community, achieves a very real kind of rough beauty.

3. Heaven Can WaitHeaven_Can_Wait
Like The Last Boy Scout, Heaven Can Wait isn't necessarily about football... but it's a core part of the story, and an integral part of the framework that the film is built on. The movie itself is a remake of the 1940s classic Here Comes Mr. Jordan, but rebuilt to fit into a 1970s Southern California context -- wheren Warren Beatty is a backup quarterback for the LA Rams (remember them? me neither) who's just about to get his big break as a starter when... well, he dies. If the photo of Beatty with wings to the right wasn't enough of a spoiler, let me make entirely sure it's spoiled good & rotten: HE DIES. Of course, that's only the start, because it turns out he wasn't supposed to, and so a helpful angel type tries to get him fixed up with a new body, and... well, okay: I'm not going to give the whole thing away, but it ultimately circles back around to football, albeit with plenty of stops along the way for a believable, engaging romance, fun bad guys (ah, Grodin. What a treasure you can be.) and truly awful musicianship. It's entirely charming, and the fact that you don't have to completely suspend your disbelief at the idea of Beatty as an NFL QB only helps to make it that much easier to get swept up and away with the film.

4. The Replacements
God help me... I love The Replacements. And while Keanu Reeves is, shall we say, considerably less convincing as a (kind of) NFL-quality QB... that doesn't detract from the fact that this movie - which has rightfully been called a compendium of virtually every sports movie cliche - is also very funny and totally entertaining. It's not art by any stretch of the imagination, but it gives you a great and memorable motley crew (including Gene Hackman as the coach getting his last chance at the big time, the skeezy Welsh roommate from Notting Hill as the skeezy Welsh kicker, and pre-"I directed Iron Man" Jon Favreau as an entirely improbable white dude linebacker from hell), a matching team of strippers-turned-cheerleaders, Jack Warden bookending his work on Heaven Can Wait as another football guy, and Keanu - ah, Keanu - as relaxed and natural as we've ever seen him on-screen. I make no claims that this is a great movie... but is it worth 2 hours of your life? Hells yeah.

5. The Waterboy
This one goes out as a special dedication to the New Orleans Saints, insofar as that everything we need to know about Louisiana, football, and football and Louisiana is contained within the wisdom of this film. Or not. I don't know, but despite the fact that even I will admit that it's insultingly stupid, or the fact that Adam Sandler is about as believable as a devastatingly vicious linebacker as he would be as William Shakespeare, or the fact that I really didn't want to see Henry Winkler's ass, or the fact that (when I stop to think about it) I get deeply uncomfortable with the idea of this quasi-Forrest Gump being portrayed as a figure worthy of mockery... I also have to admit that I cackle like a bastard whenever I see it. Can't help myself. It's a slapstick thing. You know what? I'm embarrassed to have even brought this up. Let's move on.

6. North Dallas Forty
There were a lot of different ways we could've gone with this final entry, from the classic, original The Longest Yard (which Bill Simmons has already beaten to death) to the new, soulless and crappy Adam Sandler version of The Longest Yard, to Groucho playing QB in Horse Feathers or Cuba Gooding, Jr. air-drying in Jerry Maguire or (most tempting of all) Oliver Stone and Al Pacino chewing some heavy-duty scenery in Any Given Sunday... but ultimately, there's no greater testimony to the grit and sacrifice that defines the men who play the game than North Dallas Forty. Why? Because it shows us the game from their perspective -- not just the glories of the Sunday game, but the countless hours and weeks and months of work that make that game possible... and the physical and mental toll that grind takes on the men who make their living between the end zones. Basically, it shows us football as a job. And as a result, it humanizes the men who play it in a way that few other sports films achieve or make feel truly real. All of which - combined with a great story by former Dallas Cowboy Peter Gent and a tremendous lead performance by pre-drunken mess Nick Nolte - make North Dallas Forty not just a great football movie... but a great film.

. . . . .
TwoBusy has got all kinds of time.

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Fawn Amber

I LOVE The Replacements. That is one of those movies I quote all of the time, which no one ever gets because no one has ever seen it. Sigh.

Remember the Titans is by far my favorite football movie, though. Love.

GO COLTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah

I like "The Replacements" too in spite of Keanu Reeves.


Friday Night Lights was amazing.


I am a sucker for Invincible. Stoopid movie suckers me in every time. That one, and Rudy.


"The Program" is my favorite football movie of all times. Geez - I haven't seen it in years - will have to watch it soon.


Coach Kilmer in Friday Night Lights wasn't Billy Bob. It was Jon Voight.
The fact that I know that? Twisted.


Nope, sorry...thinking Varsity Blues. Confused about High School Football Movies.

Mrs Chaos

I have to say that (after just seeing it finally) The Blind Side is a feel-good and touching addition to the list. Again, football is just a part of the movie, but still. Good stuff.

(Black & Gold, Baby...Black & Gold...)


LOVE Heaven Can Wait and North Dallas Forty.

And, I'm from Baltimore originally- I can still remember those moving trucks leaving in the middle of the night- so GO SAINTS!!

Washington "Throw It To ME!"  Cube

I always liked this 1977 football movie called "Semi-Tough" with Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburg and others. It's tongue and cheek and "clever."

To cheat and cross the pond, there is a rugby film by Lindsay Anderson from the early 1960's called "This Sporting Life." Can we say "grim?" Richard Harris stars. Black and white. Difficult to watch at times, but an excellent film.


Ummm, hello??? Remember the Titans...greatest football movie ever. And it has (hot) Denzel in it. And Hayden Panitierre when she was just a wee one. Totally awesome movie; might have to watch it on Sunday.

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