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|Panthers fullback Richie Brockel scored a TD last Sunday on a play inspired by the move, 'Little Giants.'|
The annexation of Puerto Rico. Google it, and instead of a history of the Treaty of Paris (1898), your first seven matches all have to do with the movie "Little Giants". The Carolina Panthers used the play made famous by the 1994 film to score the back-breaking touchdown against the Houston Texans on Sunday. It's nice that an offensive coordinator isn't too proud to say, "You know what? If it's good enough for Rick Moranis, it's good enough for me."
This got me thinking about my favorite movie football scenes of all-time. Some are actual plays, some don't have any action other than clapping and exactly none are from "Varsity Blues." Let's get to it:
(SPOILER ALERT: I will be talking about the end of these movies. But they've all been around long enough for you to have seen them if you really want to. So no fair tweeting me something like, "Thanks for ruining the end of Jerry Maguire!")
Simply the best slow clap of all-time. After being stepped on the entire movie, Lucas opens his locker and gets the high school varsity jacket as a gift that the team had made for him. Some great acting by Corey Haim, as he makes the act of putting on a jacket mesmerizing. He alternately raises his hands up as the slow clap by the students grows louder and louder. He's finally been accepted. It's not hokey, or at least it wasn't to me, because a) I was about as tall as he was in high school and b) I remember how it felt to get my varsity football jacket. I still recall the first time I wore it to school -- walking into Mr. Meringolo's math class, late on purpose, so everyone in my "smart kids" class could see I was on the football team. It didn't really help me with girls though, because even the smart girls wanted the other, bigger, star football players, and not one who was in class with them and who was only 5-foot-4 and only got into the game on special teams and at the end of blowouts. But every time I see that scene, I'm 14 again, and it's great.
And I mean that literally. The film opens in a professional football game where star Billy Cole (a young Billy Blanks, before finding his niche in Tae Bo), who was on the hook for fixing games, succumbs to the pressure of performing and in the middle of breaking off a big play to start the second half, pulls out a gun from his pants and shoots a couple of defenders on his way to the end zone before shooting himself. There's so many ways to go with this. First of all, that a guy could run for that much yardage not only with a gun in his waistband, but he could pull it out, smoothly, mid-run, and use it without getting tackled in the process. Plaxico Burress couldn't make it up a flight of steps at a club. And also, how did announcers Verne Lundquist and Dick Butkus not see that before?
LUNDQUIST: Billy Cole is a killer.
BUTKUS: You're right, he's getting through the hole.
LUNDQUIST: No, I mean really, a killer. He's got a gun in his pants.
BUTKUS: Well, that should draw a flag. I think this play's coming back.
LUNDQUIST: Didn't see that when he checked into the game.
But here's my thing. I know the game was played in a driving rainstorm (which helped obscure the gun) and apparently with no lights available in the stadium. However, before he whips out the gun, he breaks three tackles and is running free. You don't need to use the gun at this point. You're at the very least getting into the red zone and a touchdown is likely forthcoming. It's early in the third quarter. Plenty of game left. Save the gun for fourth-and-3 with two minutes left.
A full five years after Joe Pisarcik and Larry Csonka turned Herm Edwards into a cult hero, Tom Cruise's high school football team Ampipe appears to have won a big game against arch-rival Walnut Heights. But in the closing seconds, instead of kneeling on the football for one last play, head coach Craig T. Nelson calls a handoff, it gets botched, and Walnut Heights recovers in the end zone for the game-winning TD -- again in the rain and mud. (What was it with rain and mud? "Well there has to be sloppy play and a turnover, so let's make sure it's raining so the audience will think it's believable.") Seriously, the Eagles-Giants play was pretty famous and begat the era of the kneel-down. As a football play, it wasn't a likely scenario, but as a plot device, it was incredible. The majority of the movie takes place after this game, and what the loss does to the small Pennsylvania town as a result. The movie takes some turns that you don't expect, and it clouds you in bleakness for the rest of the film. You get a real understanding of what life is like for a football hero who's worshipped as a god in a small town until his senior season, after which he may have no future. It was "Friday Night Lights" before its time. It also did two things for Nelson. The role gave him credibility which I'm sure helped him to his run on "Coach" for most of the 1990s, and it provided him with the best line of his career: "You ride back with the cheerleaders."
Taft versus Bakersfield. In my house, there was no more bitter a rivalry in 1986. Robin Williams plays a man who dropped a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play against his team's arch-rivals as a senior in high school. It was the closest small-town Taft had ever come to beating Bakersfield, and the game ended in a 0-0 tie. He's haunted by the play, so he gets the idea, a decade later, to try to replay the game. Bakersfield wants to play it to try to erase the tie from their record books. They're the big bad guys from the metropolis even though the population of Bakersfield is something like 350,000. Of course the game comes down to the last play. (In rain and mud again!) You know Williams is going to catch the football, but he does such a great job of bobbling it, for seemingly 10 seconds, that you really think he might drop it. At one point, in trying to tuck it away it almost slips out between his hand and his jersey and I remember gasping when I saw it for the first time. Heck, I still gasp now, because this was just my kind of movie. An underdog story that was in turns, funny, endearing and sappy, which built toward a big climax sprinkled with a touch of otherworldly karma at the end. Gets me every time. "Mr. Destiny" was like that too. Ah, but why did I call it "The Double Touchdown?" Watch the last play again. The referee in the background signals touchdown when Williams catches the pass, but he still has to run past a couple more defenders before getting in the end zone where the official again puts his arms up for the score. You get to celebrate it twice. But speaking of movies that are funny, sappy and built towards a huge climax ...
Los Angeles Rams (this was 1978) backup quarterback Joe Pendleton -- played by Warren Beatty -- is killed in a car accident after learning he'll become the starting quarterback for the team. But Heaven realizes he was "taken too soon" so he's allowed to return to Earth, but not as himself. He has to have a new identity. So he chooses one as a wealthy businessman. Beatty still harbors dreams of becoming the starting quarterback for the Rams. So he buys the team and announces he's going to try out to be the starter. (Boy, the league could push through a new owner really fast back then.) I'm also glad this movie came out before Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys, because you know it would have happened there. Of course, the Rams players aren't happy about this, and during his 'tryout', the offensive line allows the defense to crush Beatty on every play. ("Move to the left a little bit. Thanks.") And after every play, Deacon Jones helps Beatty up and apologizes for hitting him so hard. I still get tears in my eyes from laughter even though I've seen it a hundred times. I'm real sorry about that, Mr. Farnsworth.
You thought I was going to go with Al Pacino's 'Peace With Inches' speech, didn't you? It's a toss-up between that and Kurt Russell's monologue before the game against the Russians in "Miracle" for greatest sports speech ever. But I've seen plenty of great speeches. But what always amazes me about this movie is how Oliver Stone shot the debut of Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) after the Sharks' first two QBs get hurt. It's brilliant. The camera looks at the game from Beamen's perspective, and it's jerky and jittery as we see what Beamen sees when he surveys the defense. You have trash-talking linebackers showing blitz, uncertainty and confustion enveloping every frame. Beamen throws an interception to a player he didn't see stepping in a lane, and we didn't see as viewers. I walked out of the movie thinking to myself, "Man, it's hard to play quarterback, even in a movie."
See Jason Smith on "NFL Fantasy Live," airing Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on the NFL RedZone channel, and Tuesday-Friday on NFL Network at 2 p.m. ET and 12 a.m. ET/9 p.m. PT. He writes Fantasy and other NFL pith on NFL.com daily. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.