The only thing I like as much as sports are sports movies. I have seen hundreds over the years and own many of them.
Like you, I enjoy Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, Rudy, Bull Durham and many other classics. I have watched a couple of these popular films with my boys to fill unexpected down time over the past couple of weeks due to the COVID-19 quarantine.
Unfortunately, it appears we will have several more weeks to stay occupied, so I have prepared a list of 10 movies that are entertaining but off the radar a bit. Some you may have heard of or seen years ago. You may have to hunt a bit to find these, but it will be worth it. Enjoy and be safe.
1. Greater (2016) – If you are a Hogs fan and haven’t seen this you need to IMMEDIATELY. The story of the late All-American offensive lineman Brandon Burlsworth, who died in a car accident soon after being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1999. This low-budget project played select theaters and is available on DVD, but this week it hit Netflix, which has given it a new buzz. I have already seen new rave reviews from critics who didn’t see it the first time around. Quit binging Tiger King long enough to see this picture that is close to Arkansans hearts and may someday be vaulted into the list of football classics.
2. Hoop Dreams (1994) – One of my all-time favorite basketball movies, the documentary constantly flies under the radar on top sports movie lists. Since it was released 26 years ago, there is a new generation that is becoming familiar with the tale of two inner-city Chicago teens who have the same goal of playing in the NBA. Both William Gates and Arthur Agee encounter a myriad of struggles and neither player enjoys a “happy ending,” but the editing and story is well-done and after watching this again last week, I discovered it is timeless. As a bonus, Arkansas State fans may remember Agee, who played for ASU after two seasons of junior college in Missouri.
3. The First Boys of Spring (2016) – This is a documentary produced by University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media Departmental Chairperson Larry Foley that chronicles the five decades when pro baseball teams called Hot Springs home for spring training. The documentary does an incredible job of setting the scene of that time with a myriad of interviews and reenactments, one of which stars my good friend and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette senior editor Rex Nelson. Being a New York Yankees fan, I especially liked the stories about Yankees slugger Babe Ruth. Anyone who has been to Hot Springs will appreciate the retelling of the tales from different parts of the city. It’s a cool period of history from the city that many sports fans are not familiar with.
4. Pistol – The Birth of a Legend (1991) – This is the story of Pete Maravich’s eighth grade season at Clemson, S.C. Maravich, who went on to star at LSU and the NBA, made the varsity squad as a small, skilled freshman, but not everyone was impressed. I love this movie and rank it among the best sports movies of all-time. This is an especially good movie for kids. Anyone who likes basketball or Maravich will be cheering.
5. War Eagle Arkansas (2007) – This movie based on a true story set in Arkansas, focuses on a talented high school baseball pitcher Enoch Cass (Luke Grimes), who must choose between college baseball and staying behind in his hometown with family and his lone friend Samuel Macon (Dan McCabe), who is confined to a wheel chair thanks to Cerebral Palsy. The two form a close bond as Macon deals with life in a wheelchair and Cass struggles with a stuttering problem. The movie includes a good cast, including familiar Brian Dennehy, who plays Cass’s grandfather, and provides a feel-good message of friendship and family as Cass is pulled in two different directions.
6. The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh (1979) – Straight out of the 70s, an astrologer (Stockard Channing) helps a water boy assemble a cast of players for a pro team to match the astrology sign (Pisces) of the team’s star played by Julius Erving. The motley crew of a team makes for hilarity and like fellow NBA star Ray Allen in He Got Game; Erving does a good job in his debut role.
7. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) – I still need to see this one and don’t know how I have missed such a good story with a star-studded cast. Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) is frustrated with how his Negro League team owner treats him, so the star pitcher forms his own squad which includes slugger Leon Carter (James Earl Jones) and Charlie Snow (Richard Pryor). Boycotted by Negro League teams, the squad plays white minor league teams who don’t take them seriously. However, the tour helps revive their careers. I enjoy the history of the Negro Leagues plus with this trio of actors, this has to be a home run.
8. Fast Break (1979) – Another film straight out of the 70s featuring an NBA star. In this zany comedy Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter fame, is basketball-loving deli clerk David Greene from Brooklyn, who is a former junior high coach looking to break into the college ranks. He gets a chance to coach at a small college in Nevada. He brings a group of rag-tags with him including “Hustler” (NBA Star Bernard King), a former basketball star and pool hustler. The school’s president will only pay $60 a win but promises a lucrative contract if a game can be arranged with perennial power Nevada State. The colorful group that makes up the team and how they come together and eventually play Nevada State is entertaining and funny.
9. The Air up There (1994) – I’ve always thought this movie was underrated on sports and basketball movie lists. Kevin Bacon plays Jimmy Dolan, a former college basketball star and assistant coach who always finds himself in the dog house due to a hard head. A highlight tape of a 6-foot-10 player from Africa catches his eye, and he sets off to land the raw talent. Once he arrives, Dolan discover the process will be harder than he thought.
10. Semi-Tough (1979) – The story follows pro football friends Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds) and Marvin “Shake” Tiller as they both court their attractive roommate Barbara Jane Boookman (Jill Claybaugh). The movie received mixed reviews, but I am a sucker for anything football and Reynolds, so I enjoyed it.