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Super Bowl Report

10. 'Brian's Song'

February 01, 2009|Chris Erskine

There are two times a guy can cry: when his girlfriend bangs up his Trans Am and at the end of "Brian's Song." If that seems an antiquated notion, wait till you see this classic football movie. It's creakier than my left knee.

James Caan stars in the true story of Brian Piccolo, a Chicago Bears running back stricken with terminal cancer, whose friendship with team star Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) blossoms during the toughest challenge imaginable.

See, the two are opposites. One is white, the other black. One is a run-of-the-mill player, the other great. One is a wise guy, the other a taciturn halfback carrying the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. Sure enough, they fall in love, and then one dies.

It was 1971, the era of simplistic love stories, and boy did I ever fall for this one (directed by Buzz Kulik). Granted, the score by Michel Legrand would make you sentimental at a NASCAR race, but I will still rank this as one of my top 10 flicks of all time and probably the only TV movie on this list. It's a merciful 73 minutes, or roughly the length of the first quarter of the Steelers-Ravens game.

There's Caan's cringe-worthy chitlins joke and quick cameos by Abe Gibron (a coach) and Ed O'Bradovich (a player). If you know of O'Bradovich, consider yourself a true Chicagoan. But the movie's great achievement, and what makes it worthy of this list, is its ability to capture the sort of locker-room camaraderie that transcends the game itself. Athletes know all about it. For the rest of us, there is "Brian's Song," a triumph of sports filmmaking that should be on every real fan's list.

-- Chris Erskine

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