DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

” Movies About The Sanctity of Football”

As Thanksgiving draws closer here in the U.S., I realize there’s one tradition that has been overlooked by my food-centric approach to holidays. While I prefer either passing out or deciding which Fallout 4 side quest to work on after a huge holiday meal, a large portion of the population enjoys a different seasonal treat: football. Whether it be pickup games with friends or putting your entire existence into the attempt to go pro, football is a sport that a lot of people take super serious. Going to games, watching games, even paying enormous amounts of money to get cable packages just to watch all the games all the time…the pigskin is king in many households. This is why there are so many movies that hold football in such high regards. Sure you have fun football movies, or character study movies that feature football. What I’m focusing on today are the films that put football on a pedestal, shining a spotlight on aspects of what makes it great. Here are five options to stream while you slip in and out of your inevitable turkey-coma:

1. Remember the Titans
The aspect of football that gets put in display in this film is the notion that anyone can play football, but only great people can play great football. Starring Denzel “Chris Pranger would sleep with him” Washington as a football coach brought in to a desegregated (yet still strongly racist) high school. Between the clashing of the black and white players and the clash between the community and Denzel, you’d think he’d play it cool. HE TOTES DOESN’T! He pushes the players physically harder than they’ve ever been pushed, and forces them to excel academically as well, something that often gets ignored by teachers who want to stack the deck towards that sweet sweet football money.

What makes the film touch guys is the idealistic approach that Denzel holds his players to. The speeches, the way he acts, all come together to make us feel that football is a true metaphor for life. But then life has to get all sucky, and the team captain is paralyzed in a car crash. We learn he lived 10 more years, won a gold medal in the Paralympics, got in ANOTHER car crash and died. Life sucks, let’s stick with football.[1]

[1] Editor’s Note: It should be noted, here, that this is also the movie that introduced the millennial generation to the glories of Motown.

2. Varsity Blues
The title referring to the depression in the face of life changing events that many high school seniors face, this film approaches the aspect of football regarding winning at all costs, and what those costs can actually be. While it’s just fun to say his name out loud, James Van Der Beek is one of those unique individuals who is amazing at football yet not all that interested in actually playing football. Sure he’s been trained, as many of his team mates had, to follow the coach and their family and all the people in their lives that say they should play football just because they’re good at it. The film shows that these outside influences may not have the player’s best interest at heart. From the father who wants to relive his glory days through his son, to the coach who’s perfectly willing to sacrifice the permanent health of his players for one more win, to the girl who will tart herself up just to marry a football player and leave their small town. The Beek learns you have to be true to yourself, even if that means choosing which outside voices to silence.

Anyone can find a connection to the themes of this movie, specifically how hard it is to pursue your dream. Not knowing what to do with your life is hard, but knowing what you want to do and being told by people you trust that your goals are stupid is even worse. For teens just learning what it means to be an adult, one of those hard lessons is knowing which other adults to shut up.

3. The Blindside
Football is a magic game, with many positive aspects. This film focuses on the aspect that an organized sport of any kind can allow people who society otherwise has turned it’s back on to thrive. Quinton Aaron stars as a homeless boy who due to his upbringings and lack of social advantages was destined to be either a druggie or dead by the hands of one. But Sandra Bullock had a spare minute or two between exploding space stations, and decided to take him in and give him a secure home base to which he could go to school and avoid being a statistic. He was behind his peers in class and lacks social skills to explain his thoughts, and many of the teachers didn’t have time or patience to deal with yet another problem student. But once Michael started football, with it’s focus on teamwork, following a coach, planning, strategy, physical and mental training…he was not only discovered as a diamond in the rough but no longer preemptively dismissed by society. Now that he had a venue to which he could apply his natural talents, everyone worked with him to hone the talents that society requires (book learning, etiquette, etc.).

The ending of the film shows us that a friend of Quinton’s that had a very similar start in life was shot in a drug deal, reminding us that for every positive story of someone escaping the ghetto, there are hundreds of others that end up on the obituaries. A somber note on an otherwise very happy ending for sure.

4. The Replacements
Sometimes you just need a good football comedy to cleanse the palette, without being so goofy that it’s no longer about football. This film is that film, and focuses on the importance of playing the game because you love it, not because you want a second beach house. When the over-paid, pompous, prima donna players go on strike because they don’t think their multi-million dollar salaries are high enough, Gene “Luthor” Hackman collects a team of replacement players including Keanu “Neo” Reeves. The players enact the trope of winning not because they are bigger or have more endorsement deals, but because they have more heart. Ultimately that’s the romanticized image we all want to believe our sports heroes have, that they play for the game and not the riches. A fun movie and a good football game to boot.

Of course you’d want Keanu to fly off and fight robots, or at least get an endorsement deal at the end. Instead he goes back to cleaning boats, but with the satisfaction of being a sports hero one more time. That sounds very noble, but the average mashed potato-covered movie viewer is left wanting a somewhat sweeter ending for dessert.

5. Little Giants

Something funny and sweet to end the gluttony of food and football, Little Giants is one of the rare-yet-perfect films with Rick Moranis. A classic Hollywood sports movie trope is to have a team made up of misfits and rejects congealed into a winning combination, and this is my pick for the best representation of that for football. Elevating the notion that it truly does matter who wants the win more, Rick “Keymaster” Moranis and his rag tag group of kids face off against the better funded, more publicized team run by his older more successful brother Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill. With everyone constantly underestimating the underdogs, Rick uses that to his advantage and wins the day. It’s just the best.

What makes you sad in this film is the romantic B-plot. Rick Moranis has a tomboy daughter who develops a crush with one of the male players. It’s revealed that the mother of that player is Rick’s childhood sweetheart. Unless his daughter wants to date her step-brother, at some point they are going to have a difficult discussion on whose relationship needs to end so the other can succeed. That’s just a bad time for everyone.

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.

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