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Author spins Oscar-style list of 100 sports films

Groucho, De Niro, Newman and Crash Davis all make the cut in Randy Williams' book. By request, he adds his twist on Academy Award categories.

February 24, 2007|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

It was a different time, but it could apply to today's sports world.

Professor Quincy Wagstaff, the newly appointed president of Huxley College, addressing two professors, asks, "Do we have a university? Do we have a football team?"

When the professors say, "Yes," Wagstaff replies, "Well, we can't afford both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the university."

The above is from the 1932 Marx brothers movie "Horse Feathers." The role of Wagstaff is played by Groucho Marx. And the line, according to sports movie expert Randy Williams, is the best ever in a sports-themed movie. The Oscar winner, if you will.

There have been more than 2,000 sports movies made since the advent of motion pictures in the late 19th century. And Williams estimates he watched some 1,200 of them over a six-year period.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 28, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 98 words Type of Material: Correction
Marx Brothers movie: An article in Sports on Saturday about sports-themed films misstated dialogue from 1932's "Horse Feathers." The piece said that Professor Wagstaff, as new president of Huxley College, asks two professors: "Do we have a university? Do we have a football team?" Told yes, he says, "Well, we can't support both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the university." Wagstaff's lines in the movie actually were: "Where would this college be without football? Have we got a stadium? ... Have we got a college? ... Well, we can't support both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college."

The result is an oversized soft-back book titled "Sports Cinema: 100 Movies: The Best of Hollywood's Athletic Heroes, Losers, Myths and Misfits," compiled by Williams. In it, he ranks his top 100 sports movies.

Of those 100, four have won the Oscar for picture of the year -- 2004's "Million Dollar Baby," 2000's "Gladiator," 1981's "Chariots of Fire," and 1976's original "Rocky."

Asked if categorizing "Gladiator" as a sports movie wasn't a bit of a stretch, Williams said, "It was the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Daytona 500 of its day. And with higher stakes. If they had pay-per-view back then, it would have set a revenue record that would still stand today."

But "Gladiator" comes in at only No. 33 on Williams' list. His highest-ranked picture of the year, at No. 4, is "Chariots of Fire," which is about a group of British athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics.

"Rocky" is No. 7 and "Million Dollar Baby" No. 32.

With the Academy Awards ceremony taking place Sunday night, Williams was asked to name his all-time sports Oscar winners. They are:

* Best picture: "The Hustler" (1961), starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason as pool hustlers "Fast" Eddie Felson and Minnesota Fats. And, yes, he ranks it No. 1 in his book.

* Best actor: Robert De Niro, "Raging Bull" (1980).

* Best actress: Susan Sarandon, "Bull Durham" (1988).

* Best supporting actor: Jack Warden, "Heaven Can Wait" (1978).

* Best supporting actress: Anne Revere, "National Velvet" (1944).

* Best song: "Gonna Fly Now," by Bill Conti, the theme from "Rocky" (1976).

"Bull Durham," the Ron Shelton movie starring Kevin Costner as minor league catcher Crash Davis and Sarandon as Annie Savoy, is ranked No. 2 on Williams' list, while "Raging Bull" is No. 5, "Heaven Can Wait" is No. 21 and "National Velvet" is No. 40.

In his top 10, at No. 6, is a title perhaps not so well-known: 1938's "Olympia," the official film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics by German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl when Adolf Hitler was in power.

Williams' passion for sports movies kicked into high gear in 2001.

"I lost my job and my marriage broke up on the same day," he said. "It was the ultimate one-two punch."

To combat his depression, Williams went out and rented four sports movies -- "Jim Thorpe: All-American" (No. 63), "Rocky," "Hoosiers" (No. 20), and "City for Conquest" (No. 64), starring James Cagney.

From then on, watching sports movies consumed his time.

Williams, who is still single and lives in Santa Monica, had planned a career in international trade until a job with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee led him to sports broadcasting and writing.

He is currently the U.S. correspondent for China Sports magazine.

And if anyone wonders about the runner-up for best line in a sports-themed movie, Williams sticks with the No. 31-ranked "Horse Feathers," right after Groucho's "tearing down the university" line.

Professors: "But where will the students sleep?"

Wagstaff: "Where they always sleep. In the classroom."

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larry.stewart@latimes.com

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The contenders

The top 10 sports films, according to book compiled by Randy Williams:

*--* 1 "The Hustler" 2 "Bull Durham" 3 "This Sporting Life" 4 "Chariots of Fire" 5 "Raging Bull" 6 "Olympia" 7 "Rocky" 8 "Breaking Away" 9 "Requiem for a Heavyweight" 10 "Slap Shot"

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TIMES ONLINE POLL

There were 4,230 votes cast in the most recent online poll: What is the best sports movie of all time?

*--* "Hoosiers" 18.3%

"Rocky" 17.8%

"Caddyshack" 13.5%

"Field of Dreams" 13.2%

"The Natural" 10.0%

"Bull Durham" 8.1%

"Raging Bull" 7.2%

"Slap Shot" 5.3%

"Seabiscuit" 4.8%

"North Dallas Forty" 1.7%

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