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A lineup of great football films

February 01, 2009|Geoff Boucher

This month the real world finally lived up to Hollywood fiction by giving us two transcendent moments that many reasonable people expected might never happen. The first was the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States, following through on the White House dress rehearsals by James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock and Dennis Haysbert. The second moment was even more staggering and unexpected: The Arizona Cardinals actually won a big game.

Thirteen years after "Jerry Maguire" tested the boundaries of our national imagination by presenting the Cardinals as the winners of a crowd-pleasing victory, the perpetually downtrodden redbirds are playing for the NFL championship today against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's not the first time Hollywood had a crystal ball: In 1978, a spectral Warren Beatty led the Los Angeles Rams (remember them?) against the Steelers in "Heaven Can Wait" and, 18 months later, the Rams made it to the big game for the first time. There was a big difference, though: Instead of movie extras, real-life Rams passer Vince Ferragamo played the actual Steelers and, well, that didn't go so well.

"Jerry Maguire" and "Heaven Can Wait" are part of a long tradition of football films. How long? Well, the New York Times review of a movie, "The Quarterback," ran under the been-there-done-that headline of "Another football comedy" -- and that was in 1926. Despite the heritage, the sector gets relatively little credit, which you can blame on baseball snobs who have the world convinced that sports-film history must be measured in innings. That's "Horse Feathers," to borrow the title from another good football film, and upon further review we've found enough quality gridiron movies to come up with a starting lineup -- the 11 essential movies -- and another 11 for a strong bench. These films, like football, are tribal, violent, cynical and fast-paced (it sounds like "GoodFellas" with a scoreboard) but also defiantly sentimental and funny.

Some of our picks may surprise you, but feel free to get defensive; that's half the game after all.

-- Geoff Boucher

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

The backup squad

"Against All Odds"

(1984) Jeff Bridges vs. James Woods & Alex Karras.

"The Best of Times"

(1986) Robin Williams goes back to school to win the big game.

"Everybody's All-American"

(1988) Dennis Quaid takes life's hardest hits after the cheering stops.

"The Freshman"

(1925) Harold Lloyd's comedy is like classic Rose Bowl reels -- there's even USC players.

"Jim Thorpe, All-American"

(1951) "Casablanca's" Michael Curtiz directs, Burt Lancaster takes on the starring role.

"Knute Rockne, All American"

(1940) The Gipper distressed to see Ronald Reagan here.

"Lucas"

(1986) Corey Haim suits up to win the girl.

"Remember the Titans"

(2000) This is where we get the angry letters.

"The Waterboy"

(1998) Bobby Boucher brings it.

"We Are Marshall"

(2006) Director McG overcame a fear of flying with team-plane crash tale.

"Wildcats"

(1986) Locker gags as Goldie Hawn coaches Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes.

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