Football Stories That Could Be Made Into Compelling Films
Any movie aficionado knows that using the Oscars as a barometer of taste is absurd. Some nominees and winners are valiant and worthy. Others are political and fueled by connection. I’m still fuming about Kobe Bryant’s ‘I worked hard at basketball, I was good, goodbye basketball,’ animated short beating out Lou and all the other category nominees last year. This year’s absence of Blindspotting and Sorry to Bother You in the Best Picture category is equally infuriating.
Even through endless controversy and snubs, the Oscars remains the gold standard for movie awards. And as the 91st edition of this dog and pony show rolls on Sunday night, it’s a good reminder of the one category that rarely gets recognized: sports films. The only sports movies to ever win Best Picture are Rocky (1976), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Million Dollar Baby (2004). Even sparser are the football films, which occasionally eke out acting awards – Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side are key examples – but are passed over when sweeping achievement like direction, film and cinematography are awarded. Beyond lack of recognition when you compare football films to other sports films, the quality and memorability of adaptive football films is lacking. (Yeah, yeah there are exceptions like Rudy and Brian’s Song but name a football movie that sparks universal emotion like Rocky or The Natural?)
Some possible culprits for the scarcity of football cinematic gems: football as a team sport with many teammates makes individual players less compelling as biopics; football’s popularity means too many stories are inherently spoiled; football is already rooted in frequent drama which is hard to top on the big screen, documentaries are increasingly popular like ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America, which won the 2017 Oscar in the category.
But just in case Hollywood screenwriters want to soon take another stab at the desolate world of football filmmaking, here are some possible modern inspirations.
Runs in the Family: The Deland McCullough Story
Sarah Spain’s mind-blowing story of an adopted kid from Youngstown, Ohio searching for his biological parents while concurrently being mentored by his football coach is chockfull of twists, emotion and a grand surprise almost as shocking as the ending The Sixth Sense. This story is so rich that even those knowing the big reveal would clamor to see it on opening weekend, sharing the experience with those not in the loop. Spain’s story gained much attention at the beginning of this football season but the fact that it revolves around McCullough, the Chiefs running back coach who is a relative unknown, adds to its appeal.
I’ve re-read this story at least four times with tissues in hand and each time the notion of a film version becomes more crystallized.
Untitled Colin Kaepernick Film
As a hero sacrificing a career for lingering civil rights issues like less police brutality, Colin Kaepernick’s story, of course, transcends football. His protests on the stage of the all mighty NFL with its polarized fanbase a microcosm of today’s Americana is intriguing enough. But Kaepernick’s story is even richer.
One challenge for filmmakers producing biopics is incorporating information not already widely know by the public. While Kaepernick’s every move has garnered the spotlight in the past two years, how he got here has been a bit more under the radar but crucial for understanding the man we see today. His loving, adoptive parents, trying to fit in, the eventual quest to understand his heritage which led to an ancestry kit, which led to a trip to Africa, which led to an education in slavery, the drippings of which he saw in modern day America.
The story of Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin has been widely told. Born with amniotic band syndrome, Griffin’s left hand was amputated at age 4. He somehow persevered to succeed in football and eventually got drafted to play for the same NFL team as his twin brother, Shaquill. Yes, the difficulty of living and thriving in sports with only one hand is unique and inspirational.
But the special relationship between Shaquem and Shaquill, who turned down offers from the biggest D1 schools and wound up at Central Florida insistent on playing with his brother, is the nucleus that really makes this story sing. Those unaware that Shaquem was drafted by the Seahawks better come with plenty of tissues.
The Delivery Man
Like McCullough, this story will only be known by those who read the original piece worthy of a screenplay. Meet Austin Murphy, longtime NFL scribe for Sports Illustrated. A gazillion covers. Well decorated. Highly respected. Covered Presidents and every major sporting event in existence. Then after decades of success, he quicksand of modern journalism stripped Murphy of his career, leaving him to search for answers. In the meantime, he lives in the the most expensive part of the United States and to help make his mortgage, took a job delivering packages for Amazon.
Murphy’s brilliantly penned account of his trajectory jumps off the page with shocking twists, heavy realism, a dose of humor and an inside look at the very unglamorous life of a delivery man. Like the written version, a film version would surely leave the viewer appreciative of what they have.
While I’m trying like wildfire not to cast any of these notions, it would be a travesty if Jeff Bridges doesn’t play Murphy in the film version.
Tom Brady as a biopic falls into the category of too obvious. We know his story too well. Gangly at the Combine, sixth round pick, seizes his chance, wins a million Super Bowl bowls and a perfect wife and kids along the way. Blah blah blah.
But things get mysterious and quacky in 2006 when Brady teams up with controversial “body coach” Alex Guerrero. And any Brady film should explore this relationship. Guerrero, who has been in trouble with the FTC for making false claims about his medical background, as well as falsely claiming some of his supplements could minimize HIV and multiple sclerosis, is still attached to the hip to Brady. He is the brainchild of the TB12 training method and center, conveniently plopped down right next to Gillette Stadium and the brainpower behind Brady writing books that makes claims like drinking excessive water can prevent sunburns.
There is definitely robust weirdness and possible shadiness to explore. Or maybe Guerrero really is a hero who will spawn a new generation of athletes who extend their primes by astounding numbers.
Since Triplets the long-awaited sequel to Twins which is finally closer to filming (with Eddie Murphy as the third brother to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito) will most like succeed in the box office and bomb with critics, a third in the series is sure to follow.
No need to wait 30 years this time because Hollywood already houses an offbeat third and fourth brother to pair up with Arnie and DeVito – Sean McVay and Wade Phillips. Young, soulless wunderkind obsessed with nothing but football meets 71-year-old party animal Drake-obsessed football coach meets whatever Schwarzenegger and DeVito are supposed to be other than tall and short. The McVay-Phillips dynamic is one of the most fascinating in football and with a little imagination could be brought to cinematic life in hilarious fashion, especially when the film reveals that McVay has Benjamin Button Syndrome and is exactly the same age as Phillips.