Football isn’t just a matter of life and death for some people. It’s way more important than that.
In the purgatory that football fans refer to as the period between the last second of the Super Bowl and the first kickoff of the next football season, fans have been known to do some pretty strange things.
For instance, they will feign interest in baseball. They will spend time with their families. Some might even read a book ... about football.
None of these activities, however, truly fills the void left by the absence of football.
The only proven way to kill time before the start of football season is to watch a movie about football. The next best thing to watching football on TV is watching a football movie on TV.
A really good football movie even can ease the pain of Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the season. Those are the dark days after “Monday Night Football,” and before “Thursday Night Football.”
College football began this week, and the National Football League’s regular season kicks off Thursday, so I thought you might want to jot down a list of my favorite football movies.
For the record, Adam Sandler’s “The Waterboy” did not make the list, even though it is the biggest-grossing football movie of all time. If I had expanded the list to 1,000, it still would not have made my list.
1. “The Longest Yard” (1974)
Any of the top four films on this list could have been No. 1, but this is the movie that can be watched over and over again. Sheer entertainment value scores six points for this Burt Reynolds classic. The 2005 remake isn’t worth mentioning, although I just did.
2. “Friday Night Lights” (2004)
Before there was a pretty hot TV series, there was this excellent Peter Berg-directed movie about an orthodox religious sect called Texas high school football.
3. “North Dallas Forty” (1979)
If you were to send me a nasty e-mail about not putting this at the top of the list, I would not put up much of an argument. I love this movie, but gave it a five-yard penalty for casting Mac Davis as the quarterback. Otherwise, a great film about the dark side of professional football.
4. “Remember the Titans” (2000)
Denzel Washington stars as a high school football coach who fights bigotry in the South. That scene-stealing, football-savvy daughter of the white coach is none other than Hayden Panettiere of “Heroes.”
5. “Everybody’s All-American” (1988)
Director Taylor Hackford’s saga of a football hero (Dennis Quaid) and his homecoming queen wife (Jessica Lange) who try to adjust to life outside the college spotlight. He is good in the role, but she truly is his better half.
6. “Brian’s Song” (1971)
I never cried. I never cried. I never cried. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. This film ranks high on this list despite its diminished status as a made-for-television movie. It was a milestone in the history of football movies.
7. “Rudy” (1993)
Ru-dee, Ru-dee, Ru-dee, Ru-dee, Ru-dee, Ru-dee, Ru-dee.
8. “Heaven Can Wait” (1978)
OK, it doesn’t have the look and feel of a football movie, and Warren Beatty isn’t a physically imposing athlete, but he’s got a quarterback’s pretty face and he gets the girl. Therefore, it qualifies as a realistic football movie.
9. “Lucas” (1986)
You might not be familiar with this film, but it’s a worthy coming-of-age story about a bright high school dweeb (Corey Haim) who falls for a girl who prefers the studly football player played by Charlie Sheen.
This would be rated at the top of the list in Philadelphia because it’s a real-life story about a guy from the neighborhood who wins a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles after new coach Dick Vermeil holds open auditions as a publicity stunt. A peek at the legendary politeness of Philadelphia sports fans.
11. “The Best of Times” (1986)
Ron Shelton (“Bull Durham”) wrote this film about a hapless former wide receiver (Robin Williams) who has spent 20 years trying to live down dropping the winning pass in the big game.
12. “Jerry Maguire” (1996)
Oscar showed Cuba Gooding Jr. the money. They had me at “The human head weighs eight pounds.”
13. “We Are Marshall” (2006)
Matthew McConaughey plays the courageous coach who picked up the whistle after the 1970 plane crash that wiped out the Marshall University football team.
14. “Varsity Blues”
Ali Larter in a whipped-cream bikini. I’m not proud.
15. “Knute Rockne All American” (1940)
Future President Ronald Reagan campaigned for his team to “win just one for the Gipper” in this film about the famed Notre Dame coach. This was an important football film when Notre Dame was an important football team.
16. “Black Sunday” (1977)
Director John Frankenheimer’s thriller about terrorists at the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the subject matter isn’t outdated 32 years later.
17. “Little Giants” (1994)
Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neill play competitive brothers who use Pop Warner football teams as surrogates to wage their sibling rivalry.
18. “M*A*S*H” (1970)
OK, it’s not a football movie, but football plays an important role, and it was the first football movie to introduce syringes into the sport.
19. “Paper Lion” (1968)
Alan Alda portrays writer George Plimpton, who played with the Detroit Lions for a book. At the time, it was funny. Now, Plimpton (who died in 2003) probably could make the team for real.
20. “Semi-Tough” (1977)
Loved the book; didn’t love the movie. But it deserves a look when you’ve got absolutely nothing else to do for a couple of hours.
21. “All the Right Moves” (1983)
A young actor named Tom Cruise plays a high school football player who squares off with his coach.
22. “Johnny Be Good” (1988)
I keep trying to hate this movie with the miscast Anthony Michael Hall as the star quarterback, but the subject matter (college recruiting) is serious enough to make it worth a viewing. Better than “The Waterboy.”
23. “Wildcats” (1986)
Goldie Hawn plays a football coach. OK, whatever.
24. “Leatherheads” (2008)
A look at professional football’s growing pains during the 1920s. George Clooney tries to look dumb and unattractive. It doesn’t work.
25. “Horse Feathers” (1932)
The most realistic football footage in Hollywood history. I’m kidding. It’s the Marx Brothers.