' ' Cinema Romantico: Old Sports Movies are Sports Movies Too

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Old Sports Movies are Sports Movies Too

In these times, The Athletic, as its site moniker might imply, is struggling for material. So last week they surveyed their staff and compiled the Top 100 Sports Movies. Alas, their entire site is behind a paywall and I had no access to it. I’m not anti-paywall, mind you. I pay to read several sites. The Athletic is simply not among them. But someone at the site We Will Not Mention but where we nevertheless must respectfully link did throw up the whole list so us non-payers could see it. Granted, that leaves us without access to each individual writer’s rankings as well as the in-depth explainer for why, say, “The Big Lebowski” (#6) or “Caddyshack” (#13) are considered Sports Movies. But I was less interested in the list’s results, really, than seeing how many eras the list comprised.

Not that many, it turns out. The Top 100 Sports Movies contains a single film released before 1950. One. It is “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942). And can you guess where it lands on the list? Seriously, take a guess! I’ll wait. … It’s #100! It’s last! It’s like the token Golden Age representation! Of course it is! [Sighs loudly.] Why just a few weeks ago, on this very blog, before The World Ended, in writing about Kurt Russell’s stellar “Miracle” (#5) performance as Coach Herb Brooks I wrote this: I saw some sportswriters in the Twitter-verse over the ruby anniversary weekend call it the best sports movie ever, or one of the best, which are proclamations I always find a little suspect because much how many sportswriters limit discussions of sports’ best to the so-called Modern Era, like history gives them a headache, their declarations about sports movies never seem to include any films from before, like, the 80s, never mind 1950.” In fairness, The Athletic did include some pre-80s films, but there isn’t much monochrome on that list.

As I say above, I frequently see this not just with sports movies but with the sport itself sportswriters are nominally covering. Every time the Audible college football podcast with Stew Mandel and Bruce Feldman broaches questions from the past, they offer disclaimers about “modern era”, as if studying the deeper history of the game they professionally talk and write about is too daunting. When the late, legendary football scribe Paul Zimmerman wanted to grasp the genius of a pre-WWII player like Don Hutson, he didn’t write it off as before the modern era, he found a guy with a tape of Hutson and did his homework. And while I understand college football writers do not necessarily have the time to transform into college football film historians, I nevertheless feel watching films about the sport from the time when it was arguably America’s most popular might be valuable.

“Rudy” (#76), after all, was on the list, as it always is on lists like this, while “Knute Rockne, All American” (1942) is nowhere to be found even though “Knute Rockne, All American” cultivated the very mythical Notre Dame oxygen that “Rudy” breathed. It would be like proclaiming Tom Brady the best quarterback of all time without having gone back to see how Joe Montana compared. I’m not telling sportswriters to stay in their lane here. By all means, watch sports movies and cast your aesthetic judgments. But hey, no sports are being played and we’re all stuck indoors; watch an old sports movie or two, why don’t you?

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