Football Movies – Some Lessons About Character, Vice, and Virtue

Last Saturday when I sat down to watch my Texas Longhorns the sports pundits said that they expected more of a running game since they would need to adjust their game to match their new talent. I groaned. I love the thrill of seeing the football hurtling down the field to a receiver who catches it and runs it for a long gain.

But that’s not what happens in real life. In real life we inch forward, lose ground, and sustain hits that knock us down. In most football movies the struggle on the field, that tedious inch-by-inch progress punctuated by blocks and tackles, unjust calls and rookie mistakes is a metaphor for the way life usually works. Sure football movies are full of clichés, but the stories they tell can serve as reminders of how often our attitudes thwart our relationships and our forward progress.

Any Given Sunday – In the half-time pep talk Coach D’Amato says that, “the inches we need are everywhere. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch.” Life events come at us from every direction and sometimes seem to conspire to lay us flat. I can figure I’m just a victim of fate and envy the lucky ones; or I can learn some patience, figure out the holes in the line and rejoice in progress by inches.

Friday Night Lights (TV series based on the movie) – Watching Coach Taylor lose ground professionally has been like watching a valiant but outmatched team being pushed into their own end zone. He struggles with anger but chooses to act with integrity and makes his priorities match his “clear heads, full hearts” motto. Coach Taylor won’t let me use hurt or anger about what’s just or fair as an excuse for mediocrity or ignoring my responsibilities.

Remember the Titans – Coaches and players move from the sin of pride, arrogance, and conceit to positive pride, which is about dignity and self-respect. I’m inspired to take pride in what I produce and the team that produces it with me rather than focusing on my desire for recognition or control.

Rudy – Talent, intelligence, and financial resources can factor into success but heart and persistence might just make up the difference. Rudy endures years of hard work, disappointment, and disrespect to attain his goal. It is impossible to indulge my slothfulness or cynicism after watching this movie.

The Replacements – When the pros go on strike the amateurs have a chance to take the field. After overcoming the usual relationship and self-doubt issues they become a team and play like there is no tomorrow because, for them, there isn’t. The Replacements reminds me to make the most of every moment even when there is no promise of reward.

Jerry Maguire – Football player Rod Tidwell challenges his agent, Jerry Maguire to “Show me the money!” He shares his philosophy of pursuing the “quan” which involves “love, respect, community…and the dollars, too. The package,” but his greed causes him to lose sight of the joy of the game that offers him the opportunity to achieve said “quan.” Jerry fully grasps what it means to love his job but can’t translate that passion into his home life. Jerry Maguire reminds me that the “quan” comes as the by-product rather than the goal.

Radio – Coach Jones transforms the life of a mentally challenged boy, Radio, through friendship and support. Making Radio part of his football team not only changes Radio but changes the players, Coach Jones and his family.  Helping Radio changed and blessed the lives that changed and blessed his. Pride and self-centeredness tells me I should focus on my own success, but humility reminds me that others, regardless of their challenges, are equally important.

I like getting the job done quickly, efficiently, and with as little interference as possible, but conflict and struggle make stories interesting. Characters develop because they deal with challenges. Nobody wants to hear a story that goes: “Once upon a time there was a really talented, smart, attractive individual with unlimited resources who accomplished great things with little effort or interference and lived happily ever after.” Watching football movies helps me embrace the struggle and celebrate victories by inches.

What are your favorite football movies?

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