The Irony Of The Greatest Sports Movie

Over the past few weeks, I’ve asked some of my Midco colleagues about their favorite sports movie. All I wanted was what it was and a short explanation as to why it was their favorite. The results were surprising in more ways than one.

Some people sent me multiple movies… so in order to make it ‘fair,’ I used their first choice when they responded. I got 22 different responses and amazingly, 16 different movies. The following movies got one vote each (listed in order of release):

  • Strongest Man In The World (1975) – “Kurt Russell stars as a normal college student who becomes super strong by eating cereal accidentally with a strength formula. Hilarity – and a phenomenal weight-lifting/cereal eating competition – ensue.” – Alex Heinert
  • Slap Shot (1977) – “This movie is a guilty pleasure. Captures the true feeling of hockey personalities top to bottom.” – Mike Derman
  • Hoosiers (1986) – “Just a tremendous underdog story about a coach and his players working through tough times, against all odds, to earn something bigger than themselves” – Brian Shawn
  • Bull Durham (1988) – “From the odd ball coaches to the superstitions, this movie is all about baseball.” – Nick Peterson
  • Sandlot (1993) – “Reminds me of simpler times and how we used to ride our bikes everywhere and play baseball every day.” – Travis Wagemann
  • Cool Runnings (1993) – “A great story of overcoming the greatest adversity. I still use several quotes from the movie on a regular basis.” – Jeremy Dorris
  • Rudy (1993) – “I always felt like I could relate to Rudy because I was one of the smaller kids on the football team…The moment when fans and teammates are chanting his name, he runs out on to the field and his parents are screaming at the top of their lungs, it doesn’t get much better than that.” – Jody Norstedt
  • Happy Gilmore (1996) – “The Bob Barker fight is pretty funny. It was something so different from my normal impression of the former Price Is Right host.” – Eric Vasgaard
  • Tin Cup (1996) – “Never lay up in life.” – Max Jensen
  • Moneyball (2011) – “This movie gave a behind-the-scenes look to a new phenomenon.” – Levi Vander Weide.
  • Rush (2013) – “Driving vehicles that are little more than gas-filled, rolling bombs, English playboy James Hunt and Austrian perfectionist Niki Lauda burn up the track, all the while pushing themselves to the breaking point of physical and mental endurance.” – Josh Munce

As you can see, an eclectic mix of different sports and genres. Four different movies received two votes each:

  • Caddyshack (1980)
    • “It’s golf of course, but hilarious!” – Mark Powell
    • “So many incredible lines!” – Jay Elsen
  • Major League (1989)
    • “Having witnessed some of the behind the scenes antics in a major league clubhouse, the movie is not that far off.” – Cory Wilson
    • “It felt like it was a real story. Even though it was based on the Cleveland Indians, it had a real Minnesota Twins feel to me.” – Nathan Aamodt
  • Field of Dreams (1989)
    • “The message at the end of the movie showed me that there are lessons and messages that our dads teach us that we may not truly understand until after they are gone.” – Quentin Coulter
    • “It has one of the greatest lines of all time, ‘Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.’ Enough said.” – Joey Beltrame.
  • White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
    • “A movie any basketball pick-up player can relate to.” – Jason Andera
    • ‘When I’m clicking through the TV guide, this is a must-see. I will stop every time.” – Tigh Lessman

But our winner with three votes is…

  • Miracle (2004)
    • “Extremely inspiring…will have you running through walls.” – Elaina Lanson
    • “The speech by Kurt Russell/Herb Brooks: ‘If we played ‘em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight.’ Chills every time.” – Tom Nieman
    • “The ‘again’ part reminded me of my own intervals in cross country. And if you don’t like that speech, I don’t know who you are!” – Chloe Edgar


So Many Stories to Tell

So let’s digest this a bit: 22 responses, 16 different movies. Only one movie got more than two votes. What does that tell me? I think it’s indicative of the fact there are so many rich stories to be told revolving around sports.

It’s part of why we do what we do at Midco Sports Network. Regardless of stats and numbers, there are people behind everything we see: people who triumph, people who struggle, people just trying to attain an elusive goal, people pushing through pain. Even the comedies that were mentioned like Caddyshack and Major League have heartfelt, overcoming-the-odds moments.

That’s why, to me, it was surprising that my favorite sports movie of all time wasn’t even mentioned among the responses. It’s a movie that continues to resonate because the franchise is still going. It’s a movie that will (in essence) have its seventh sequel debut in just a week. The best sports movie of all time…*drumroll*…is Rocky.


The Tale of the Underdog

Yes, the original Rocky from 1976 is the greatest sports movie of all time for me. You only need to look to the fact that Creed II (basically Rocky VIII) is coming out on November 21 to see how much of an everlasting impact the movie’s had. Once that movie is released, Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character of boxer Rocky Balboa will have lasted more than 40 years in the cinematic universe.

The amount of actual sports action in Rocky is pretty limited  – but I think pretty much every other sports movie people listed as their favorites owes a thing or two to Mr. Stallone and his 1976 screenplay. Rocky is the ultimate underdog story: plucked from obscurity and given a chance at the title against the heavyweight champion of the world Apollo Creed.

(I don’t think I need a ‘spoiler alert’ for a 42-year-old movie, but just in case: SPOILER ALERT.)

In the end, Rocky Balboa loses the fight, but goes the distance – a full 15 rounds. It’s one of the first movies that showed the beauty of the struggle, how you don’t always have a miracle ending, how the odds are sometimes too great. But the most important thing it teaches is that while people can question your skill, they should never be able to question your heart and effort.

The sequels lent themselves more to setting up big fights against different ‘villains,’ but the heart of the character never changed.

  • Rocky II (1979) establishes that Rocky can compete and win against the best.
  • Rocky III (1982) showed Rocky still has to face challenges even after seemingly reaching the top.
  • Rocky IV (1985) was about motivation and sacrifice.
  • Rocky V (1990) forced Rocky to come to grips with the downside of his career.
  • Rocky Balboa (the title of the sixth movie released in 2006) gave the character one more shot at proving himself.
  • And Creed (the seventh movie showcasing Rocky Balboa released in 2015) was about passing along the lessons of a life full of ups and downs.

Based on the trailers for Creed II, you’ll see a familiar face and family – Ivan Drago from Rocky IV and his son – as they head into battle against Adonis Creed (the unknown son of Apollo Creed) and Rocky, who’s become Adonis’ trainer.

42 years after the original Rocky, the character has grown and evolved, but he’s never seemed fictional. I think that’s why the original is the best sports movie of all time, because it set the stage for a character development that’s so close to what real life is like. We can all relate to feeling like underdogs. We can all relate to finding joy in our triumphs. And we can all relate to trying our best, but still coming up short.


The Debate – and the Irony

And that’s why, at the crux of everything, sports movies are so subjective. No one provided a wrong answer. No one provided a right answer. There is no greatest sports movie of all time. But the underlying thread is how it relates to us, how we choose to view ourselves within the context of the movie. Whether you like Rocky Balboa or Crash Davis or Ricky ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn or Sidney Deane, people are at the forefront of why we love these films.

And that’s why debating the greatest sports movie of all time is the ultimate irony: every single one of these fictional characters brings out the beauty in truth.

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