The Super Bowl is not just about splendid TV spots for upcoming cinema releases, there is a game to be played too. Many of us on this side of the North Atlantic rather look down our noses at American Football. Some dismiss it as rugby for softies (the “too much padding” argument), others as too stop-start (the “not as fluid as proper football” argument), others as too convoluted (the “I don’t really understand what’s happening here” argument).
For what my opinion is worth (please don’t tell me how little that is, I really am quite delicate) I think American Football is hugely entertaining and easily comprehensible, but more than that, the intricate choreography of its set-piece plays is so much better suited to cinema than either rugby or normal football.
Disagree? Tell me of a convincing and realistic portrayal of football in cinema? Mean Machine? Escape to Victory? You see?
Now of course that doesn’t make American Football a better or more compelling sport, but this is a film blog and so what it does make it is a better theme for a Six Of The Best article, in this case, Six of the Best cinematic portrayals of American Football. The film doesn’t need to be wholly or exclusively about Gridiron, but it must be a legitimate theme rather than a mere background detail. The Waterboy would be eligible, but sadly doesn’t make the list because it is deeply and enduringly terrible.
The excellent and exciting American Football-themed opening to Welcome to the Jungle (or “The Rundown” as it is otherwise known) is probably too peripheral a reference to qualify, more’s the pity. So what’s in? Here’s my list, please feel free to lambast me in the comments section for any glaring omissions, but be gentle. Remember, I’m delicate.
1. Jerry Maguire
Although Cameron Crowe’s 1996 film is not essentially about sport, but rather about a man trying to find his way to being the man he should and wants to be, American Football is threaded through. Very little on-field action is presented to us, save for the nail-biting finale when we wonder whether Rod Tidwell (a never-better Cuba Gooding Jr) will be able to pick himself up from the crunching end zone tackle that leaves him flat on his back, but the world of the NFL is there all the way through, from players getting caught in compromising situations, to the quest for a life-changing multi-year contract, to a splendid cameo from the Cowboys Troy Aikman (“I really liked your memo”).
Ultimately, Jerry Maguire is a great film because of its delicious script, note-perfect performances and deftly handled direction, not because it revolves around the world of the NFL, but revolve it does, commenting on the unpleasant side-effects of exclusive merchandising deals and the impact on the wives and children of professional athletes who continue to put their bodies in danger because they have such a small window within which to make their living. Although these matters are not the principal concern of the film (the condition of Jerry’s heart is), it is a fascinating insight to some of the collateral damage occasioned by American Football.