Mention Caddyshack to many a sports fan and he will rise, as if summoned to lead the class in the Pledge of Allegiance, and begin recital. "Be the ball," he will say. "Big hitter, the Lama," and, in dramatic conclusion, "Wanna make 14 dollars the hard way?"
That so many of us are familiar with these lines from the film, if not downright fluent in Bill Murray-speak, is a testament to the 1980 comedy's enduring appeal. This Saturday at 8 p.m. NBC attempts to trade on that popularity with The Story Behind: Caddyshack, a 56-minute special that airs before the movie and includes new interviews with director Harold Ramis and Michael O'Keefe (who played Danny Noonan). If it seems peculiar that NBC would devote a Saturday night to showing a film that's been on cable about every six hours for the past decade, well, that's the nature of the Caddyshack phenomenon. Here we are, 21 years later, and pro golfers are still being heckled with Bushwoodisms (as Justin Leonard was at the 1996 Phoenix Open when fans yelled, "Miss it, Noonan!"); in fact, at least one, teen phenom Ty Tryon, was nicknamed for a character in the movie. The media keep the film aloft: In the past six years SI has mentioned Caddyshack 34 times and alluded to it countless others. Even politicians pay homage. Upon meeting the Dalai Lama in May, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura posed "the most important question" he could think of: Did His Holiness (who of course is referred to in that deathless line) ever see Caddyshack? (He hadn't.)
So why is it that a movie that critic Roger Ebert wrote "never finds a consistent comic note" has inspired a Comedy Central series—Murray and four of his brothers star in the upcoming golf-themed The Sweet Spot—and a chain of eateries, the Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurants? Some might cite Caddyshack's timeless theme of class struggle, a triumph of the putter-wielding proletariat over the bogeying bourgeoisie. More likely, it is that every guy who ever shanked a drive would love to be Chevy Chase's charmed Ty Webb, to play with Rodney Dangerfield's fun-loving Al Czervik and to stand a reasonable distance from Murray's greenskeeper, Carl Spackler.
For, in one magical m�lange of dancing gophers, buoyant Baby Ruths and rock-music-blasting golf bags, they and the rest of the Caddyshack crew captured the inherent absurdity of a sport we weren't supposed to laugh at and let us know that sometimes it's all right, as Webb suggests, to measure yourself against other golfers by your height, not your score.