March Madness: Rah Rah Sports Movies Rah

Every Thursday, our staff of pop culture addicts tackles a topic or question about movies, music, comics, video games, or whatever else is itching at our brains.

March Madness is upon us! Yes, ’tis the season when all crime is legal, and people all across America flock to the streets to vent their aggression and raid the local Best Bu- What? It’s about basketball? I don’t know from basketball.

We’re not all sports fans here at Deadshirt, but we do love the shit out of movies, including the massive genre that is Sports Film. How is it that stories about people basically playing a game can be just as enthralling as those about war or romance? Our team took a look at some of their favorite movies about those games you can play outside without a controller or internet connection.


Caddyshack (1980)

‘Round these parts, it’s probably blasphemy at best to say that Ghostbusters isn’t your favorite Harold Ramis film, but if I’m being honest, I would be terribly hard-pressed to point to a movie that was a more formative influence on my sense of humor than Caddyshack. Ramis’ screwball comedy about a bunch of misfits and losers trying to fit in at an overly posh country club was a revelation to teenage Sam, dooming him to a lifetime of quoting the damn thing much too often. Caddyshack quips are common parlance among my family; my dad and I are known to stick out our bottom lips and mutter “so I got that goin’ for me, which is nice,” and hell, my mom regularly asks “how ‘bout a Fresca?” when I visit the house.

Caddyshack is a “sports movie” the way 21 Jump Street is a “cop movie”—the sport and location take a backseat to the comedy. Sure, Ramis and cowriter Brian Doyle Murray slip some really great golf-related gags into the screenplay, but the real attraction is watching some of the finest comedic actors of all time bounce off each other with some truly fantastic performances. Bill Murray’s turn as burnout groundskeeper Carl Spackler is probably the man’s funniest improvised performance to date; it’s so good, in fact, that the screenwriters kept expanding his part during production. Same for Chevy Chase’s Ty Webb, a handsome Lothario who couldn’t be farther from the usual bumbling chumps he played so often back then. Rodney Dangerfield turns in a great performance too, as nouveau riche boor Al Czervik, but the cake goes to Ted Knight (of The Mary Tyler Moore Show fame), whose Judge Smails oscillates wildly from sinisterly coiled snake to unhinged madman over the course of the film. Also of note is the fact that Caddyshack contains the only scene in film history between Chase and Murray, who had a professional grudge stemming from their days at Saturday Night Live—that tension carries over into their extended scene together, which was largely improvised.

The thing I love most about Caddyshack is that it strikes a near-perfect balance between being a really dumb, crude comedy and being a really smart one. This is a film in which an entire golf course is blown up just to kill one gopher (who inexplicably survives) and then a character runs up and yells, “Hey, everybody! We’re all gonna get laid!” right at the camera. This is also a film, however, where a young man with few options and no money ultimately decides that it’s better to be true to himself than spend his life sucking up to a miserably snotty old man just for a chance at a college scholarship. Like pretty much all of Ramis’ oeuvre, there’s a little kernel of heart buried underneath all the zaniness, and it struck a lot of chords with me when I was a young man.

– Sam Paxton


A League of Their Own (1992)

I’ve never been on a sports team in my entire life, unless you count my fourth grade “Trotters” basketball league (and you shouldn’t) where I scored two whole points in an entire season and also tripped and fell onto my face in the middle of the court as I dawdled behind my teammates. Despite my lack of prowess for team athletics, I’m a college football fan (Go Gators) and I adore sports movies, especially those that were released in the ’90s. Nearly all of my favorites came from this time, but the most notable has got to be A League of Their Own. Based on real events, the film recalls the World War II era when our young men, baseball players included, were shipping off to fight across the world, putting a heck of a damper on America’s favorite pastime. Not wanting to lose the industry altogether, a team owner decides to form a women’s league to keep fans interested and scouts ladies across the country to join. Of course, if men are going to come and watch some broads play ball, they’ve got to have more than just talent and ability, so all of the players are dolled up and made to wear tiny skirts as uniforms (because who cares about the comfort of athletes sliding home across dry clay as long as you can see those gams).

Nearly every good sports movie has the one, that player with the potential for true greatness who may or may not obtain it. In The Sandlot it was Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, in Cool Runnings it was Derice Bannock, and in ALoTO it’s Dottie Hinson, played by ’80s goddess Geena Davis. Dottie’s talent for baseball is matched only by her little sister’s passion for it, and it is for the sake of her sister, Kit, that she joins the league. Dottie’s foil is their washed up alcoholic coach, Jimmy Dugan (played by America’s sweetheart, Tom Hanks), who gets to deliver the most hilarious and memorable lines in the movie. It’s Dottie and Jimmy’s banter and begrudging respect for each other that forms the heart of the movie, but the soul is the outstanding cast of female characters.

The film focuses on a team of about a dozen women, all of whom are unique and brought to life by the boundless personalities of actresses such as Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna. They’re mothers, friends, and athletes, and some of them play the game without knowing when or if they will see their husbands return home from the war. They travel around the country sneaking cigarettes, dancing with strange men at bars, drinking, teaching each other to read, and inspiring a generation of sports fans, not with the message that women can do anything men can do, but that women can do anything. It’s a movie I’ve seen a hundred times that still manages to crack me up and give me a good cry, as all great underdog sports stories should. Go sports!

– Sarah Register


Remember the Titans (2000)

I’m a fella with a pretty consistent #brand, to the extent that my friends and colleagues can usually predict my response to things, so I love the double-takes I get whenever I start talking intelligently about football. Yes, baby Dylan was an enormous pigskin fan, the kind that knew the meaning of all those wacky hand signals the referees use, and could say the words “Tight End” without giggling. But even though my interest in sports has almost totally waned, I still love sports movies, because instead of having to cheer for a bunch of strangers who whine about how many dump trucks full of money they earn, you get compelling characters you can really root for, and sometimes the stakes are greater than just winning or losing a game.

Like a lot of great sports movies, Remember The Titans isn’t really about the game; the game is a setting around which a grander story is told. It’s (pretty loosely) based on the true story of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, during the 1971 football season, its first as a racially integrated school with a racially integrated football team. The community is staunchly, violently divided along race lines, but under the strict, sometimes insane leadership of Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), the players learn to love each other, and their teamwork-driven winning streak inspires the town to join together as one community.

While Remember The Titans presents a reductive, Disney-fied take on racism, the script and performances are incredibly genuine, and the film’s sense of humor goes a long way to make you forgive the more cartoonish moments. It’s an incredibly quotable movie, and some of Boone’s coachly catchphrases taught me essential lessons about leadership. RTT features stellar early performances by Donald Faison (Scrubs), Wood Harris (The Wire), and a ten-year-old Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), and a killer soundtrack featuring soul and classic rock. Is Remember The Titans emotionally manipulative? Hell yes. But it’s a great, family-friendly sports flick that teaches about tolerance, and that makes it Hall of Fame in my book.

– Dylan Roth


Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed or has spent a decent amount of time around me knows I’m a big hockey fan, so there’s probably a degree of surprise in the fact that I’m not talking about The Mighty Ducks or Miracle. My answer to both comes in three parts: 1) The Flying V would get called offsides every time, 2) Herb Brooks was WAY more obscene than portrayed in the film, and 3) Dodgeball is my favorite sports movie. In fact, Rip Torn in Dodgeball is a closer approximation of Herb Brooks than Kurt Russell was in Miracle.

It’s a classic case of Shawshank Syndrome—I don’t care how many times I’ve seen it, the second Dodgeball shows up on cable, I set aside time to watch it. Does it follow a familiar story? Yes. Does it feature Ben Stiller basically playing one of the two specific yet polar opposite characters (timid screw up or arrogant weird-voiced dude) he’s known for? Yes. Does it also feature Vince Vaughn playing pretty much the only character he ever plays? Yes. Is it largely slapstick humor?  Are most of the jokes cheap laughs? Yes. You know what else it features? Rip Torn in a wheelchair throwing wrenches at people, Wash from Firefly as a pirate, Jason Bateman and Gary Cole as announcers, brilliantly placed cameos, and Chuck Norris before we all got sick of those jokes. It’s endlessly quotable (“if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”) and is way wittier than it has any right to be. Also, that Lance Armstrong cameo is still hilarious, though it seems a little off knowing what we know now.

As I mentioned earlier, the story follows a familiar formula: a Small Time Gym (Average Joe’s) full of misfits defaults on its mortgage and needs to raise $50k in 30 days or else the Big Conglomerate Gym (Globo-Gym) across the street will demolish it and put up a parking lot in its place. Average Joe’s enters a dodgeball tournament to get the money, and they’re patently terrible until legendary dodgeball coach Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn in the role he was born to play) steps in and gives them the extra push. Globo-Gym enters the dodgeball tournament to one-up Average Joe’s and then… everything happens. Every possible thing happens, even a surprisingly tense climax, and it’s glorious. If you’re going to follow a formula, follow it like Dodgeball.

FUN FACT: the voice of the video store clerk at the beginning of the film? Patton Oswalt.

– David Lebovitz

Do you have a favorite sports movie you’d like to share some thoughts about? Drop a comment below, or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter.

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