In honor of last night’s Academy Awards, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some cinematic classics that featured football. I selected just one or two films per decade that any good fan should at least be aware of. Today, we look at films from the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Check back to this space for another post featuring classics from the ‘70s through the 2000s.
Classic from the 1920s:
The Freshman (1925): Not to be confused with the 1990 Marlon Brando/Matthew Broderick film of the same name, The Freshman is the only silent movie on our list. This comedy features an awkward college freshman, played by Harold Lloyd, who is determined to attain notoriety on campus. He finally tries out for the football team. In the tryouts, Harold only succeeds in breaking the tackling dummy and willingly takes its place for the remainder of the practice. Impressed by his enthusiasm, but not his physical talents, lets him be the team’s water boy. Naturally, he is given a chance to play in the school’s big game at the end of the movie—because so many of the team’s players get injured—and feats of heroism ensue. In 2000, The Freshman was included in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Laughs” list.
Classic from the 1930s:
Pigskin Parade (1936): This Academy Award-nominated film (for best Supporting Actor) is a jovial look at the college game, but it is also worth noting as Judy Garland’s first feature film role. At age fourteen, Garland plays the younger sister of an Arkansas hillbilly with a monster throwing arm developed by throwing watermelons. He is recruited by a married couple who coaches football at a small Texas school that was mistakenly invited to play against Yale University (a football powerhouse at the time) in big bowl game. The challenge for the coaches is to get the school to admit their new star, who they need to fill the shoes of their injured quarterback.
Classic from the 1940s:
Knute Rockne, All American (1940): This biopic about Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne (played by Pat O’Brien) is the origin of the classic quote “Win one for the Gipper.” A young Ronald Reagan played the role of George “The Gipper” Gipp, thus earning him the nickname that would follow him into politics 40 years later.
|O'Brien and Reagan|
Classics from the 1950s:
Crazylegs (1953) and Jim Thorpe: All-American (1951): In the first biopic, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch played himself in a film that focused on his collegiate career, which began at the University of Wisconsin. He played running back at Wisconsin in 1942, but had to transfer to the University of Michigan because of a commitment to the Navy. In his 1943-44 school year, he became the only athlete at Michigan to letter in four sports in a single year: football, basketball, track and football). In the second film, the great Jim Thorpe was played by Burt Lancaster and chronicles his athletic development starting from young child on an Indian reservation to his celebrated collegiate football career, his medal-winning performances in the 1912 Olympics and his professional athletic career.
|The real Jim Thorpe|
Classic from the 1960s:
|Alan Alda as George Plimpton|
Paper Lion (1968): This comedy was based on the book of the same name written by George Plimpton. In 1963, Plimpton wanted to see how the “average” man would fare in the NFL. With the coaches in on his plans, he joined the Detroit Lions training camp under the pretext of trying out to be the Lions’ third-string quarterback. The book discussed several of the Lions players, many of whom played themselves in the film, including Alex Karras and Joe Schmidt. Alan Alda played the role of Plimpton and several other football greats were featured in the film, like Vince Lombardi and Frank Gifford.
|The real George Plimpton|