The Ottumwa Courier


March 27, 2013

GROB: Sports and the silver screen

OTTUMWA — If there’s one thing sports journalists know a lot about, it’s movies.

That’s a fact, in my experience.

Almost every sports writer, sports editor or sports broadcaster I’ve ever gotten to know has a passion for the “silver screen.” While a sports scribe’s first passion is, of course, sports — his or her second obsession nearly always seems to be the movies.

So what happens in the newsroom when there’s an unexplained technical failure and all the computer servers go down for two solid hours and a staff of frustrated and disgruntled sports journalists has nothing to do but sit there, wait for tech help, and talk?

Well, they talk about movies.

In the case of Courier sports guys Scott Jackson, Andy Heintz and myself; we talked about sports movies.

The subject came up due to an advertisement we saw for the new movie about Jackie Robinson. The film is called “42” and it is due for release on April 12.

The film tells the life story of Jackie Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and — under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first African-American player to break the baseball color line.

It’s the second full-length feature film about the great Jackie Robinson — one of the finest athletes and finest Americans in history. The first one — “The Jackie Robinson Story” — featured Robinson himself acting in the title role.

Jackie Robinson’s life has always piqued my interest, so I am certain “42” is going to a movie worth watching.

But I cannot say the same for most sports movies. As a general rule, sports movies don’t offer the entertainment value of the real sports they are attempting to portray.

My co-workers agreed with that. But then we started talking about all the exceptions, and started listing which sports movies we personally happen to like. We went sport by sport.

Baseball seems to be a sport that Hollywood has figured out how to get right. Maybe it’s the natural poetry and timelessness of the game, maybe it’s just because as Americans, we’ve claimed both baseball and movies as our national pastimes. Whatever it is, we all thought of several baseball movies we liked — from “A League Of Their Own” to “The Bad News Bears”; from “Eight Men Out” to “Pride of the Yankees,” we all listed several we loved to watch.

Scott, a lifetime Iowan, chose the sweet, surreal and sentimentally Iowan “Field Of Dreams” as his favorite. Andy picked Robert Redford’s vehicle “The Natural,” with an honorable mention nod to “The Sandlot.” My choice has always been “Bull Durham.” We all agreed that “Major League” could very well be rated as one of the most hilarious movies we’d ever seen, thank you very much Bob Uecker and Jobu.

It’s not as easy to find a good football movie — the sport doesn’t play as well in Hollywood, I guess. Movies like “Friday Night Lights,” “The Program,” “Any Given Sunday,” and “Remember the Titans” are all enjoyable but predictable, and in the end, forgettable. Scott went with the classic “North Dallas Forty” as his favorite — a cynical look into the troubled world of the National Football League starring Nick Nolte and Mac Davis. Andy went with the sentimental and uplifting “Rudy.” My personal favorite is a little movie from the 1980s called “The Best Of Times,” which stars Robin Williams and Kurt Russell and tells the bittersweet tale of a dying community living in the past, and a pair of former high school football players who can’t grow up and get past the chances they missed when they played high school ball.

Honorable mention has got to go to “Brian’s Song,” which is so good, so sad, and so true that it could make a coffee machine cry.

Basketball movies? Well there’s “Hoosiers.” We all picked that as our favorite, a must-see movie for any basketball fan. Beyond that? We all agreed that almost every other basketball movie sucks, with the possible exception of “Teen Wolf,” but we only like that one because we’d never realized how turning into a werewolf also turns you into an unstoppable hoops player.

Auto Racing? Well, we all gave a nod to the animated “Cars” movies, although none of us picked it as our favorite. Scott liked “Days of Thunder.” Andy liked “Talladegga Nights.” I didn’t care for either of those, but am partial to any of the “Herbie The Love Bug” movies.

Andy couldn’t think of a wrestling movie. Scott picked “Win, Win” as his fave. I don’t think there’s anything better than Matthew Modine in “Vision Quest,” a story of a high school wrestler trying to cut weight in order to take on the most dominating wrestler in the state.

Track and field? Andy liked “Running Brave.” Scott liked “Without Limits.” I liked “Chariots of Fire.” All are good movies.

None of us could think of a good tennis movie. We’ve all heard of “Wimbledon,” but none of us have seen it.

Golf? Andy somehow chose “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” Scott and I agreed that there will never be a golf movie made that’s better than “Caddyshack.” We all three agreed that there will never be a worse golf movie made than “Caddyshack II.”

There are some good hockey movies out there. Scott chose “Mystery, Alaska.” Andy went with “Miracle.” My fave is “Slap Shot.”

There are some great boxing movies out there — critically acclaimed shows like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Raging Bull” have to be considered. Scott and I both picked “Rocky,” though, while Andy went with “Cinderella Man.”

For horse racing, we went with “Seabiscuit,” but only because it’s the only horse racing movie any of us have ever seen. Same for the following: Bobsledding — “Cool Runnings.” Cycling — “Breaking Away.” Figure skating — “The Cutting Edge.” Rugby — “Invictus.” None of us could think of a movie about swimming.

For bowling, we all liked “The Big Lebowski,” but only because it is a great movie that has some bowling in it, and the only other bowling movie we know of — “Kingpin,” might be one of the worst movies ever made.

For fishing, we all wanted to talk about “A River Runs Through It,” but the only one we want to watch again is “Jaws.” Best fishing movie ever.

And then, of course, there’s soccer. None of us have seen “Bend it Like Beckham.” So Scott went with “Victory,” I went with “Kicking and Screaming,” and Andy went with the late, great Rodney Dangerfield in “Ladybugs.”

Fortunately, at that point, the computers started working again. The conversation ended, and we got back to our jobs.

But we were all thinking about a trip to our local video store.


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