Posted: Friday August 25, 2006 9:34AM; Updated: Friday August 25, 2006 11:46AM
Rudy Ruettiger overcame all odds to play for college football's most storied program.
Courtesy Sony Pictures
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The 10 Spot is marking the occasion of the opening of Mark Wahlberg's football movie Invincible to choose our list (in no particular order) of the 10 best pigskin films.
1.Rudy (1993): Classic overachiever Rudy Ruettiger (future hobbit Sean Astin) works his way from scout-team tackling dummy to notching a sack in the final game of his career, the only one in which he took the field. It would be impossible to believe if it wasn't true. It cements its place in the sports-movie pantheon with a script by Angelo Pizzo (Hoosiers) and the casting of Chelcie Ross (Hoosiers, Major League) as coach Dan Devine. As an added bonus, the film also brought together the young duo of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, who would later team for the classic Swingers. To those Fighting Irish-haters who call the film hackneyed, we say: Make your own list.
2.North Dallas Forty (1979): Football's answer to Ball Four is brought alive on the screen by Nick Nolte (before he was a mug-shot punch line) and Mac Davis. The screenplay is from the book's author, Pete Gent, a former wide receiver for the Cowboys. He captures the seamy, pill-popping, violent underside of what was rapidly becoming the nation's most popular sport. The dialogue remains fresh and appropriately salty. Even better, T.O. is nowhere in sight.
3.Brian's Song (1971): The movie that made it OK for tough men to cry. James Caan plays running back Brian Piccolo while Billy Dee Williams is the great Gale Sayers. The two men, one white and one black, transform from rival Bears running backs fighting for playing time to best friends. The hankies come out when Piccolo dies from cancer. Hall of Famer Sayers was actually scheduled to play himself, but training camp intervened. It's arguably the finest made-for-TV movie in history, at least in the non-Melissa Gilbert category.
4.Horse Feathers (1932): The Marx Brothers' comedy (and musical!) classic shows that not much has changed in college football. Groucho plays the new president of Huxley College who hopes to find a quick-fix solution for the lousy football program. He tries to find his two studs-for-hire in a speakeasy rather than an Oklahoma car dealership, but in a case of mistaken identity he ends up with Harpo and Chico. Hilarity, of course, soon ensues. Anyone familiar with the super-PC state of the modern university will appreciate Groucho's big number, Whatever It Is, I'm Against It. Football fans who appreciate history but don't need sound should also catch Harold Lloyd's silent The Freshman (1925), the precursor to every underdog-makes-good sports movie in which the water boy miraculously stars in the Big Game.
5.The Longest Yard (1974): This is the original, not the remake, which pushed "suspension of disbelief" to ludicrous lengths by casting Adam Sandler as a star quarterback. Instead, former Florida State letterman Burt Reynolds gives an entirely convincing turn as quarterback turned convict Paul Crewe. Former NFL stars Ray Nitschke and Joe Kapp are on hand to lend realism, while a young Bernadette Peters plays the secretary of warden Eddie Albert. The movie builds to the famous guards-vs.-convicts slugfest that makes the typical NFL contest look like a sewing circle.