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Football Season at the Movies

HorsefeathersPssst—can you keep a secret? I hate football. Always have, always will. I live in a city that’s pretty football-mad (we have an NFL team), and I’ve learned to keep my opinions to myself this time of year. But I just don’t get the appeal. I mean, you can take your family to six or seven movies for what it would cost to take them to one football game—and they let you sit inside, where it’s warm!

That’s not to say that there aren’t movies about football or football players that I’ve enjoyed. I especially like old films in which we can see how football was played decades ago, with leather helmets and minimal padding. The classic Harold Lloyd silent comedy The Freshman (1925) features a football finale so frantic and funny that it was used 20 years later for another Lloyd film, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (aka Mad Wednesday).

For a funny football game, though, you have to see the Marx Brothers attack the sport at the conclusion of the college comedy Horse Feathers (1932). It’s a mad scene that culminates with Groucho (pictured on the field above) scoring the winning goal in a horse-drawn chariot (of a sort).

Almost as anarchic is the football game in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970). What is supposed to be a friendly amateur game (with some sizeable wagers) turns vicious when Hawkeye and the rest of the 4077th discover that their opponents are led by a pair of pro players. Needless to say, they fight back with every underhanded weapon at their disposal. A few years later in 1974’s The Longest Yard, Burt Reynolds led a prison team into what was less a game than a fight for survival whose main goal was to injure as many of the opposing team of prison guards as possible. (Even I know enough about the game to realize that having Adam Sandler as the quarterback in the 2005 remake was lousy casting.)

Reynolds carried the pigskin again in Semi-Tough (1977), which was more a satire of self-improvement philosophies of the “Me” decade than of the pro football. The game itself was satirized in 1979 in North Dallas Forty, starring Nick Nolte as a character based on former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Pete Gent.

There are other memorable football scenes in Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie (1966), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Paper Lion (1968), Coming Home (1978, with its wheelchair match) and Meet the Fockers (2004). Of course you may like your football movies played straight, but there are plenty of those around.

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