' ' Cinema Romantico: My Ultimate Sports Movie What-If?

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

My Ultimate Sports Movie What-If?

Because sports are so precarious, often balanced on the precipice of injury, the arbitrariness of rules or judging decisions, never mind the whims of the sports gods, and because sports fans tend toward an obsession with history and a thirst for debate, the sporting arena easily lends itself to What-Ifs? These What-Ifs can be straight-forward, like what if Usain Bolt ran through the finish line in Beijing? How fast would he have gone? These What-Ifs can be fraught with context beyond the sports realm, like what if Muhammad Ali had not met Malcolm X? These What-Ifs can be broad, encompassing many sub-questions within the main question, like what if the 1994 Major League Baseball strike did not happen? It’s only natural, then, that Sports What-Ifs might trickle down to Sports Movies, like they did when Jemele Hill posed the question on Twitter a few days before Cinema Romantico closed down for vacation a couple weeks ago. And so even if in Internet Time working through her query now is roughly the equivalent of rehashing the 1988 Sugar Bowl, well, my God, the 1988 Sugar Bowl was great! (What if Auburn had foregone the field goal and thrown a do-or-die pass into the end zone?)

Hill’s own What-If? was stellar. What if Apollo Creed had lived, she asked, opening the entire post-“Rocky IV” part of the “Rocky” series to all manner of theorizing, the kind that energizes fanboys everywhere. The most interesting sub-What-If? stemming from Hill’s initial What-If, at least to Cinema Romantico’s mind, is wondering what if Carl Weathers had consequently received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for “Creed” instead of Sylvester Stallone?

Carl Weathers, hypothetical Best Supporting Actor nominee.
If Hill naturally received innumerable What-If replies, too many of these What-Ifs, frankly, centered around Gordon Bombay, disgraced coach of “The Mighty Ducks”, a movie I hadn’t thought about since 2 seconds after it ended in 1992 and won’t think about now.

A great many What-If replies tied into Jimmy Chitwood, the jump-shooting savant most responsible for leading the underdog Hickory Huskers to the 1952 Indiana State High School Basketball Championship over mighty South Bend Central in “Hoosiers” (1986). What if Jimmy Chitwood hadn’t stood up for Coach Norman Dale? What if the three-point line had been around in 1952? Decent What-Ifs, surely, but what if the coach of mighty South Bend Central had actually called timeout during Hickory’s improbable comeback and calmly, patiently instructed his team how the heck to break a full-court press and half-court trap? Does mighty South Bend Central’s Boyle ice the game at the free throw line and his school hoist the championship banner?

One What-If speculated about Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) not losing that Sugar Bowl in “The Replacements” (2000). Interesting, though not as interesting, I don’t think, as asking what if Johnny Utah (also Reeves), of “Point Break” (1991), hadn’t blown out his knee in that Rose Bowl? Did Bodhi keep robbing banks? Did he get shot and killed during a different robbery attempt? Did he never make it to Bells Beach? Did Johnny Utah get drafted by the Detroit Lions and lead them to an improbable upset of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game? Did Jerry Jones get run out of town? Are the Rams still in St. Louis? And, more importantly, did Johnny Utah win the Rose Bowl and get to come back a decade or two later as Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade?

No actor had a better fake college football career than Keanu Reeves.
What if He Built It, asked one person regarding the baseball field Ray Kinsella built in his backyard in “Field of Dreams” (1989) to summon Shoeless Joe Jackson, but no one came? Perhaps Ray and Annie pack up for Berkeley and become professors? And anyway, the real What-If is what if Ray Kinsella figured out his daughter was choking on a hot dog and didn’t need “Moonlight” Graham to revert to his doctor self? Does “Moonlight” Graham stay in the game and finally get a hit?

What, someone else wondered, if Lance Armstrong doesn’t convince Peter LaFleur to rejoin his “Dodgeball” (2004) team? Easy, man. The geeky Average Joe’s guy still shows back up just before the final match, convinces his cheerleader prospective new girlfriend to join the team too, Chuck Norris still gives the go-ahead, and Kate Veatch single-handedly leads them to victory.

A What-If query about Boobie Miles not shredding his knee in “Friday Night Lights” (2004) made no sense to me cuz, like, that’s no sports movie, dude; that happened in real life. If we can rewrite real history in sports movies then what if in “Without Limits” (1998) Steve Prefontaine passed Lasse Viren with 200 meters to go in Munich? Oh, heaven help me, what if? {Sobs.}

One intrepid Twitterer wondered what if Ricky Bobby never got in that accident in “Talladega Nights” (2006)? Then Jean Girard has won the last 13 Daytona 500s, my man, NASCAR country slowly assimilates French Philosophy, and America might not be where it is in the grand scheme of things.

Another intrepid Twitterer asked what if Jackie Moon had not traded the ABA’s Flint Tropics’ team washing machine for Ed Monix in “Semi-Pro” (2008)? Then the Tropics don’t make the NBA merger, the team dissolves, and Jackie Moon is forced to ply his one-hit wonder “Love Me Sexy” on the State Fair circuit, where I probably saw him in the summer of 1990.

One What-If asking what if Jesus Shuttlesworth went to Tech U instead of Big State in “He Got Game” (1998) occurred to me too. Because then Tech U beats that great 1999 Duke team in the Final 4 before they get upset by UConn in the final and then Tech U beats UConn for the title meaning that we get the meta satisfaction of Jesus Shuttlesworth submarining Ray Allen’s alma mater.

Conjectural national champion
No one asked what if Jimmy Carter didn’t boycott the 1980 Olympics would Chris Cahill (Mariel Hemingway) in “Personal Best” (1982) have gone to Moscow and laid down the Pentathlon smack to the Soviets but, ugh, God, that boycott…..don’t get me started.

My man Charlie Pierce wondered what if the stolen car had been Rick Vaughn’s third strike in “Major League” (1989), meaning he never got out of the California Penal League, never made it to the Cleveland Indians, and Lou Brown was forced to leave the exhausted Eddie Harris in at the end to face Clu Haywood. (Alternate What-If: what if Lou Brown decided to stick around at Tire World?)

Someone couldn’t help but notice the uber-leftist Pierce had managed to not stick to sports, which makes me think about “Knute Rockne, All American” (1940), which sports historian Murray Sperber has argued did as much heavy lifting as anyone and anything for both the myth of the student athlete and dear old Notre Dame itself. So, what if “Knute Rockne, All American” forewent the sentimental bupkus for the truth? Are certain Division I athletes now paid? Does know no one remember George Gipp? Does that little snot Rudy walk on at Alabama instead of Notre Dame and get ground to two-a-day dust by Bear Bryant? Did West Virginia win the National Championship in 1988? Did Michigan State win the National Championship in 1966? (Did you-know-who never become President?)

And that would have been my ultimate What-If if there wasn’t one more What-If to go, a phenomenal What-If because it’s a What-If sandwiched around a What-Happened? As in, what if Frank Drebin doesn’t masquerade as Enrico Palazzo masquerading as the umpire during the Angels/Mariners one-game playoff in “The Naked Gun” (1988)? Does Reggie Jackson get to the Queen? And who won the baseball game anyway? Was it even finished? Was it just called on account of assassination attempt? Did the Mariners actually get to a World Series? Does everyone remember Jay Johnstone instead of Kirk Gibson?

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