"The Comebacks" star David Koechner.
The Comebacks, opening nationwide this week, follows Balls of Fury to become the latest member of the comedy-spoof family to mock the uplifting sports movie. From Hoosiers to Miracle to Rudy, no goosepimply underdog triumph is too sacrosanct, no sports cliché too goofproof. And as every comedian can attest, the most memorable characters provide the best opportunity for laughs.
Funny or dramatic, who are the sports movie genre’s All-Stars? Here are a few of our picks for the Dream Teamers who first spouted the classic lines of dialogue now quoted ad nauseum by dudes in dirty, white baseball caps over pitchers of macrobrew at the local Slammers, Shooters, or Hooters. Print out this ballot, grab your pen and punch out your All-Star ballot below.
* Kevin Costner (Roy Kinsella), Field of Dreams (1989)
* Robert Redford (Roy Hobbs), The Natural (1984)
* Gary Cooper (Lou Gehrig), The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Baseball is clearly the sport most steeped in sepia-drenched tradition so it makes sense that our heroes reside on the diamond. The heartfelt Cooper (as Lou Gehrig), with his emotional speech to the crowd at Yankee Stadium, is probably the most touching, and Costner’s mystical journey through the corn fields is compelling. But in terms of capturing the magical essence of what a sports movie should be, there’s no beating Robert Redford going yard with his magical bat, “Wonderboy”, and knocking out the lights in a hail of sparks.
* Muhammad Ali (himself), When We Were Kings (1996)
* Robert De Niro (Jake LaMotta), Raging Bull (1980)
* Arnold Schwarzenegger (himself), Pumping Iron (1977)
No one ever said boxers were humble, and it seems that the same can be said of body-builders as well. Ali motioning to the African crowd to chant his name as he rope-a-dopes Foreman is even more unbelievable when you remember it’s a documentary. And of course, Arnold’s self-indulgent flexing throughout his own doc is much more hilarious when you remember the allegations of sexual harassment that stemmed from this period. De Niro’s portrayal of LaMotta stands alone, though, when it comes to the audience switching between rooting for him and rooting against him, almost minute by minute. And some advice, if your brother ever asks you if you slept with his wife – say no.
* Chevy Chase (Ty Webb), Caddyshack (1980)
* Tim Robbins (Nuke LaLoosh), Bull Durham (1988)
* Charlie Sheen (“Wild Thing” Rick Vaughn), Major League (1989)
Veg-head Sheen may have the haircut, and Robbins is probably technically more of a dumbass than a smartass. And then there’s Chevy. There’s a reason that grown men can have a conversation for a half hour with nothing but Caddyshack quotes, and his name is Ty Webb. The cockiness, the physical comedy, the deadpan deliveries – it all combines to make Chase the dream hypothetical 4th for your 8:04 tee time. Despite the fact that he …never liked you.
Best Keanu Reeves Character:
* Keanu Reeves (Shane Falco), The Replacements, (2000)
* Keanu Reeves (Conor O’Neill), Hardball (2001)
* Keanu Reeves (Johnny Utah), Point Break (1991)
Somehow, some way, the man formerly known as having “Excellent Adventures” found his way into a plethora of sports movie roles. Technically, Conor O’Neill is not a former player, but Hardball is a baseball movie, and who can forget Keanu momentously urging the team to “show up.” Shane Falco in The Replacements did play in the NFL, but only during the strike. Surfing FBI agent Johnny Utah in Point Break was potential personified. Who knows how good he would have been if that knee injury didn’t famously cut him down in the Bowl game? Keanu as Utah gets my nod over the other Keanus here, if for no other reason than his epic performance in the beach football game with Swayze and crew.
* Paul Newman (Reg Dunlop), Slapshot (1977)
* Gene Hackman (Norman Dale), Hoosiers (1986)
* Al Pacino (Tony D’Amato), Any Given Sunday (2001)
Aliens are invading Earth. They have challenged humanity to a life-or-death game to determine the fate of the planet in an unspecified sport. We’re 5 minutes from the start of that game – who gives the pregame motivational speech? Newman has the edge of being a player-coach, as he could also suit up if need be. Pacino clearly has the fiery vitriol down cold, as seen in his legendary halftime speech to the Miami Sharks, but I worry that our alien-battling players might just think it’s “Pacino doing Pacino” – you know, chewing the scenery again. That leaves us Hackman as Norman Dale. He unified Hickory High to become one of the most smoothly running teams in the history of sports movies. He deals with bad apples, delegates when necessary and gets game-winning performances from the most unlikely of players. Hackman’s likely watching game film on the aliens already, and my bet is that the picket fence is gonna own their Martian asses.
* Ted Knight (Judge Smales), Caddyshack (1980)
* Mr. T (Clubber Lang), Rocky III (1982)
* Christopher McDonald (Shooter McGavin), Happy Gilmore (1996)
Both Knight and McDonald play formidable foes to the golfing heroes in their respective movies. That said, this vote simply comes down to the fact that Mr. T would beat the everlasting snot out of either of the other two. Knight is at Bushwood sipping brandy, and McDonald’s firing air pistols at the hole on the putting green. Meanwhile, the Mohawked One is an abandoned barn doing upside-down situps and grunting gratuitously. Consider the fool pitied.
* Michael J. Fox (Scott Howard), Teen Wolf (1985)
* Wade Schenck (Ollie), Hoosiers (1986)
* Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Rocky (1976)
* Last-Minute Write-In: Sean Astin (Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger), Rudy (1993)
The character at the emotional core of a good sports movie is the underdog who everyone counts out. The producers of Teen Wolf should get an award for casting 5’2” Michael J. Fox in a basketball movie, because hey, our little lupine friend pulls it off. Unknown Indiana boy Wade Schenck was never an actor, and Hoosiers is actually the only movie he ever did. Not a bad decision, given that it’s hard to top the movie moment when his character’s underhanded free throws win the game. Stallone’s part in Rocky is probably the quintessential underdog role. In real life, the fact that he was a nobody who went on to star and write an Academy Award winner is a pretty darn good story itself. The character’s path is just as powerful, especially considering that he doesn’t even win the last fight. But you know what, I still gotta go write-in on this one. The category should be fricking named for him - I’m voting for Rudy. Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Ru-dy!
Now you’ve got your players, you’ve got your coaches, and your All-Star Team is ready to go. If you give it your all, you might just come out ahead. No doubt in a highly unlikely, emotionally satisfying, and quite possibly hilarious last-second way.
Grant Thompson is an actor and screenwriter living in Los Angeles, currently working on a sports movie screenplay (a film he hopes will not be satirized in “The Comebacks 2”). He was the national runner-up on ESPN's show, “Dream Job” and can be seen in “Blades of Glory”, “Bring It On”, NBC's “Chuck” and the upcoming “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”
Which of Grant’s picks would make your “Hollywood Dream Team”? Send us your choice for each category to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll post the top picks in this column later in the week.
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