Rooting for the Underdog


Everyone loves an underdog.  It’s an incontestable fact that the underdog will always garner more affection and attention than the champion.  The underdog always has the heart to play every bit as hard as anyone, win, lose or draw and the underdog, if he wins, is the comeback story of the year.  The story of the comeback rings true in the hearts of film lovers everywhere.  From the struggle, the fear of defeat, the hardships and setbacks to the final payoff, the shining moral of the story: that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.  You’re never too small to dream big and success comes to those willing to fight and put everything on the line.

THEMOVIEPOOL takes a look at some of the greatest sports moments in film.  Moments filled with tears, sweat, blood, and heart.  Moments that showed the world that the phrase “insurmountable odds” were never in these sports icons individual vernaculars and that fighting for what you believe in is the only reason you need to pursue a dream.

And the best part of all of them:  they’re all true.

Baseball – “Eight Men Out” 1988

John Cusak as George “Buck” Weaver
Charlie Sheen as Oscar “Hap” Felsch
D.B. Sweeney as Joseph “Shoeless Joe” Jackson
David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte

The story of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal and how two of the greatest players in the game tried to turn the tide they they created.  When notorious gambler and mobster Arnold Rothstein takes advantage of labor disputes between the White Sox and their powerful owner and bribes the disgruntled team to throw the World Series against the underdog Cincinnatti, the team accepts without question.  As the series progresses, it becomes apparent, not only to the league, but to the nation, that something is terribly amiss.  As the White Sox enter the fourth game at a 3-1 deficit, two players, George “Buck” Weaver and Joseph “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, inspire their conflicted teammates to try and restore their faith in the game and themselves.  Though they fight their hardest, their efforts are in vain and the team loses.  Two years pass with the secret intact until the truth breaks and suddenly the players are on trial for their misdeeds.  Though found not guilty, the eight players deemed involved are subsequently banned from the sport for life by the new commissioner Judge Landis resulting in one of the greatest human tragedy stories in the history of the sport and a cautionary tale as the the perils of disillusionment and greed.

Pro Football – “Invincible” 2006

Mark Whalberg as Vince Papale

The story of the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles.  When Dick Vermeil, announces that the Eagles will hold open tryouts for the Pro team the sports world is shocked.  Enter Vince Papale, a down-on-his-luck bartender facing the impending loss of both his job and his wife.  A die-hard Eagles fan, and with nothing to lose, Vince shows up for the scheduled tryout and despite all odds, this 30-year old ne’er-do-well not only makes the team, but enjoys a three year run as a bona-fide professional football player for his most beloved team.  A story that proves you’re never too old to believe in your dreams and that it takes more strength and heart to believe in something bigger than yourself than it takes to discount it.

College Football – “Rudy” 1993

Sean Astin as Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger

The unbelievable story of of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.  Born to a middle class Irish family, Rudy seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, plowing away at the local steel mill with nary a hope for anything greater.  But Rudy refuses to believe just that, dreaming of playing for his family’s favorite college team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  After the death of his one supportive friend at the steel mill, Rudy sets his sights on making the grade.  But the fact remains, he’s not big enough, he’s not skilled enough, he has a severe reading disability, and he’s broke.  But this little guy with the heart of ten men, with the help of those inspired by his struggle, not only fights his way into being the first of his family to go to college and at Notre Dame, but earns his chance into dressing for and playing in one game.

High School Football – “Remember the Titans” 2000

Denzel Washington as Herman Boone

The story of the 1971 T.C. Williams High School football team.  When the federal government mandates that segregated high schools will be integrated, the furor is unheard of.  Things only get worse when the head coach of the black school is put in charge of the white school’s team.  Facing the ire of the town, racism and infighting dividing his team, and a belligerent assistant coach with his own personal demons, head coach Herman Boone takes the team to a grueling two-week training camp in Gettysburg, PA and through perseverance and intelligence, proves that real teams are colorblind.  When the team returns from the camp, their new allegiance faces a town that has fallen into chaos as it struggles to adapt to the integration.  But with a showcase of strength, support, and the love of family, the team brings home a perfect season and in turn brings the town together, stronger than it ever was before.

High School Basketball – “Coach Carter” 2005

Samuel L. Jackson as Ken Carter

The 1999 story of coach Ken Carter.  A former high-school basketball star, Ken Carter runs a successful sporting good store and is a pillar in the community.  When asked to return to high school and coach the basketball team, he discovers much has changed since his day.  Not only does he encounter poor attitudes and poor playing, but he discovers that any sense of team seems to have died out long ago.  An experienced manager and athlete, Carter tears down all the walls by instituting a brutal and controversial reform including a dress code, academic performance, and good behavior.  Soon the team transforms into a powerhouse on the court.  But when Carter learns that his champion players are both unruly in class and their grades are sliding, he does the unthinkable in the middle of the season: he locks up the court and suspends all sports activities until the team gets their acts in gear.  Facing extreme opposition from the parents, the school, and his own players, Carter remains firm and soon discovers in the end that he’s inspired his team more than he actually realized, as people who once accepted mediocrity soon realize their full potential.

College Basketball – “Glory Road” 2006

Josh Lucas as Don Haskins

The story of Texas Western’s coach Don Haskins who led the first all-black starting lineup to the 1966 NCAA Championship.  Facing uncertainty, Don Haskins is given the insurmountable task of securing a winning team for Texas Western.  Unable to recruit solid white players for the team, he heads north and hits the streets, recruiting the best black players the asphalt courts can offer.  The street savvy players, unused to NCAA rules and play style, prove to be the least of his troubles as he faces ridicule and opposition from the collegiate association for showcasing black showboats on his team instead of actual players.  Nonetheless, Haskins’ color-blind coaching proves the dominant as he leads his team to not only the championship game, but to one of the most thrilling victories as Texas Western upsets powerhouse Kentucky.  His actions reshaped the entire collegiate focus on recruitment and skill assessment for all time.

Pro Basketball – “Brian’s Song” 1971

James Caan as Brian Piccolo
Billy Dee Williams as Gayle Sayers

The true story of the hard-fought friendship of Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo of the Chicago Bears.  When Sayers, and up-and-coming running back joins the Bears he faces adversity in the form of Brian Piccolo, the over-achieving starter.  Things are made all the more difficult as Brian is white and Gayle is black.  As the two vie for the same position on the team, each pushing themselves and the other as hard as possible, they are soon paired as roommates as the team hits the road.  What develops is one of the most inspirational stories in the history of pro football, as the pair forge a friendship that super-cedes the stereotypes and racial bigotry of the time.  As their families intertwine, they are brought ever closer as the two must eventually reconcile the harsh reality of Brian’s diagnosis with cancer and that life holds more within it than just playing football, but the eternal bonds of friendship.

Hockey – “Miracle” 2004

Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks

When America needed a miracle, what they got was a hockey game.  The story of player turned coach Herb Brooks, who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team to an incredible victory over the seemingly invincible ice-born Russians.  In a time when disputes could be put to rest through sport and a Cold War could be put on ice, Herb Brooks took a rag-tag group of collegiate hockey players up against the Russian juggernaut.  Their struggle both together and against the formidable opposition united the nation in a way few have ever seen before.  Proving that a sport can not only transcend itself but also a country, Herb Brooks and his 1980 team showed the world that all it takes to win is hard work, perseverance, belief in one’s team and just maybe…a little miracle.  Do we believe in miracles?  Yes!

Boxing – “Cinderella Man” 2005

Russell Crowe as James J. Braddock

The story of pro-boxer James J. Braddock, the pride of New Jersey, and the hope of America.  It is of no argument that America faced it’s darkest hours during the 1930’s, the time of the Great Depression.  With tens of millions out of work, even more homeless, and no hope in sight, Americans struggled to get by on whatever they could scrape together, day by day.  After losing everything in the stock market, Jimmy Braddock, former contender for the heavyweight boxing title has suffered hardships and defeats.  Considered a bum by most and washed-up by the rest, Jimmy is put out to pasture, his license revoked, and his major source of income lost.  Facing the brutal New York winter and starvation, Jimmy works long hours at the docks to try and save his family, their bonds held together often by love alone.  When his longtime manager Joe Gould suddenly appears in 1934 and offers him a one-time fight against the #2 contender for the world heavyweight title, Jim, with nothing left to lose, accepts.  What ensues is the most stirring comeback story in the history of pugilism as one man remembers what he’s truly fighting for and a nation finds the inspiration it needs to persevere through the darkest time in its history.

Tennis – “When Billie Beat Bobby” 2001

Ron Silver as Bobby Riggs
Holly Hunter as Billie Jean King

The sordid tale of the historic 1973 tennis match between middle-aged champion Bobby Riggs and young feminist Billie Jean King.  A dynamic battle of the sexes, the chauvinistic Bobby Riggs, hot off his win over female contender Margaret Court, challenged young professional Billie Jean King claiming that he female tennis game was inferior to the males and at 55 years old, he could prove it by trouncing any woman who accepted his challenge.  A brilliant promoter of both himself and tennis, Riggs proved that it doesn’t take style or class to make money and soon he had a match set up against the considerably younger feminist King.  At 26 years his junior, King came fast and hard and led Riggs all over the court, shattering his defensive play style.  She soundly defeated him in straight sets.  Though the media hoopla turned the entire event into a comedic spectacle and it is widely speculated that Riggs threw the match (though doubted by those that truly know the man), King nonetheless scored a decisive victory for the gender in her defeat of the baudy and audacious Riggs.  The fact that she came out many years later, even furthered her cause as a fighter for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens throughout the nation.

Throughout history, we have always admired the athlete, team, or coach who comes from underneath and behind.  The ones who persevere when even sometimes the community, nation, or even his own teammates and players oppose them.  The ones who fight for what is right no matter what the cost, because they’re fighting for the right things.  In our hearts, win, lose or draw, they will always be heroes to us for they, like us, are human.  Though on display, their personalities and personas magnified and scrutinized, they see past the limelight and through the spectacle to the one and only thing that matters: they goals they have set and what they must do to achieve them.

They are the role models for all of us and they will inspire us with their epic stories until the end of time.


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