I love sports movies. Absolutely love them. Sports Comedies, dramas, and the occassional action/sports movie even. And as far as I can tell, through talking to friends and the general movie reviews and such, the best sports movies are those where the underdog comes through and accomplishes his/her/their personal goal in the end, whatever that may be.
In my favorite sports movie of all time, the original Rocky, Rocky doesn’t even win the fight with Apollo at the end. The fight scene is intense, the climax of the movie will have you on the edge of your seat, it truly is a David and Goliath story, not because of size, but experience, talent, training, resources, etc. Rocky loses the fight. But he does still accomplish exactly what he set out to do. He goes the distance. And THAT is what sports movies are about. Going the distance, sometimes that means a winning the big game, or a championship, other times it’s about personal goals and aspirations. And that is because there is a little bit of Rocky Balboa in each of us.
Anyone can appreciate a good sports movie, you don’t have to like that sport. I think golf is extremely boring, but I love Happy Gilmore. I’m no bobsledder, but Cool Runnings is a classic. I wanna examine what it is that makes these movies so distinct, so unforgettable, and what is it about them that makes us all warm and fuzzy inside. Is it just that we, as humans, love rooting for the underdog? Or is it more, something even more abstract and intangible that puts us on the edge of our seats when Daniel-Son sets up for the crane kick, or Roy Hobbes steps up to the plate with wonderboy.
Clearly as individuals we equate ourselves, our plight, with the underdog, striving to survive against the oppression and troubles of a corrupt and omnipotent world. The world isn’t fair, if it was, believe me I’d be swimming in money and power and have a harem that would turn King Solomon green. But I don’t. I work a frustrating job 9-5 like a large percentage of America hoping to hit it big someday, somehow.
But I think it’s more than just mere identification and sympathy with out heroes, although that is a key element. It’s the belief that every hard-working human holds on to for dear life – that the world has a way of evening itself out, and although life may deal you a crappy hand, with some hard work, determination, and a dash of stubborn persistence, the world will reward us by putting our dreams within our reach. After that, it’s all up to us. I think movies about sports illustrate this better than regular action/drama/comedy flicks. Maybe you don’t…you’re wrong.
If the world will ultimately recognize our hard work, then it’s worth it. Everything we, as people, have endured, have suffered through, the blood, sweat, and tears will turn to laughter and we will be standing in our own personal winners circle regardless of whether or not we have the trophy, medal, or ribbon. We love these movies because it could happen to you, or me, or that guy working his way through college, or that guy that has 3 jobs to pay rent. If the unknown Rocky Balboa can be given that million-to-one shot, if sheer determination can will Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn and the Cleveland Indians to turn around from last place and make the playoffs, if a team can rally around one repeated noise – “quack…quack…QUACK…QUACK”, if James Braddock can win to buy milk for his kids, and if Don Haskins and Herman Boone’s coaching ability is really able to turn boys into men (and men who compete as real sportsman), then that spark inside of all of us that says See! If they can make it, so can you glows just a little bit brighter, and keeps us chasing our goals, whatever they are.
Everyone is an underdog when it comes to something, even the most powerful, richest, most influential men/women in the world have obstacles that seem insurmountable. But though looking those obstacles defiantly, right in the eye, were able to grow. Additionally when we see our friends look those obstacles in the eye, we grow with them, because we suffer with them, we bleed with them, we cry with them, we share their pain when they’re down, and we celebrate in their glory when they triumph. The really good sports movies lead us to believe that the athletes on the screen are our friends. The best movies are the ones that best elicit these feelings. Rocky does it for me, when he’s laying on the mat and everyone is shouting stay down, and he gets up anyway, and you see the look on Apollo’s face of sheer disbelief, it tears me up everytime. I might shed one right now just at the mental image. There’s emotion in sports, no one could ever deny that. There’s frustration, hope, anguish, hurt, love, joy, and everything in between. And sometimes, a movie comes along that lets you feel what that athlete feels, Chariots of Fire does it for me also. Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams are both characters that by the end of the movie, I can’t help but feel that I’ve assumed part of their uniqueness (unfortunately not their speed though…). This is where identity comes in. This is where people feel that their heroes can be average, ordinary, and yet still superhuman, superior, and unbeatable, even in the face of sheer hopelessness. Because we know that if the world would just give the US Olympic Hockey team a chance, they could beat the Russians, miracles do happen.
Miracles happen, underdogs win, the world will eventually repay you for everything that’s happened. You will get your shot. Yeah, I love sports movies. I love that, whether there’s an ounce of truth to it or not, I hope beyond reason and logic, that the world is gonna see how hard I’ve tried, and the world will give me that one chance, because one shot is all we need, to prove that we, too, can do the impossible, just like Rocky, just like Haskins, just like Hobbes, and yes, just like Bobby Fischer.