Football Flicks: Former Illinois FCS standouts share their favorites
today at 5:30 am
The recent deaths of two noteworthy figures in 20th Century pop culture has Prairie State Pigskin thinking about films featuring football.
The passing of NFL Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers and musician & actor Mac Davis brings to mind two of the most well-known movies with football as a backdrop.
Sayers — who later served as SIU athletic director from 1976-1981 — was one of the key subjects in the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song, starring Billy Dee Williams as Sayers and James Caan as Brian Piccolo. The film tells the story of the NFL’s first interracial roommates.
Conversely, Davis played fictional quarterback Seth Maxwell in North Dallas Forty, the 1979 controversial movie about life on and off the field in the NFL. It was based on the novel of the same title, written by former pro tight end Peter Gent.
Both through the books I’ve written on college football and the work that Barry Bottino and I have done with Prairie State Pigskin have produced many interesting comments from former players and coaches from the four Illinois FCS schools regarding their favorite football films.
Certainly the era that an individual claims as his own has an influence on the choices he makes. For example, many of the players and coaches from the 1970s list movies such as Brian’s Song or The Longest Yard. Those who came of age in the 1990s or early 2000s lean toward choices such as Rudy, The Program, Any Given Sunday or Varsity Blues.
There are also movies that seem to transcend eras and be popular no matter the selector’s age such as Remember the Titans, which was a runaway winner as the most picked film.
A sampling of the choices
Below is a sampling of some of the choices. They range from the most popular (see previous paragraph) to the most obscure (Leatherheads, anyone?).
Chris Anderson, former EIU offensive lineman who is now an orthopedic surgeon
The Program. It came out in that time of my life when I was playing. In many ways it was accurate in what goes on all year long in football. Even though the movie was highly stylized, it showed things as they happen and not just the bad stuff. Players deal with their girlfriends. Their parents die. You’re between the ages of 18 and 23, and the pressure is on to perform
Rod Butler, 1960s EIU quarterback & state championship-winning high school coach
That Denzel Washington one, Remember the Titans. I always wanted to take a team to a graveyard like he did.
DJ Davis, former SIU all-purpose back
Remember the Titans or Friday Night Lights. Every football player has watched or should watch Remember the Titans. I was in love with the process when he (Coach Herman Boone) got the job and there were a lot of things going on at the high school, a lot of distractions. He brought them together to become a great team. All of the kids and players bought into what he was telling them. Friday Night Lights is patterned after a great program in Texas and they’re expected to win but they go through some adversity, like losing their the star running back. People who usually don’t get in the game have to step up to save the season. Both of those movies represent some kind of process to overcome adversity to get to where they wanted to be.
Jim Edgar, 1968 EIU student body president & former Illinois governor
Rudy was good, but I really liked The Longest Yard. It’s not usually the kind of movie I like, but it stands out. The good guys won. They overcame the obstacles. When I go to the movies, I want the good guys to win.
Jimmy Garropolo, record-setting EIU quarterback now with San Francisco 49ers
I’d have to go with Friday Night Lights. It’s a classic. When it first came out, I was in middle school. My team and I went and saw it in the theater. It’s a very inspiring story even though they lose at the end. It’s always been one of my favorites.
Larry Garron, WIU Hall of Famer & former AFL standout
I enjoyed that one about Ernie Davis (The Express). Brian’s Song too. I knew a lot of those fellas.
Jeff Gossett, EIU baseball-football standout & NFL All-Pro punter
Brian’s Song, I always liked it as a kid. I’m not ashamed to say I cried. Rudy is pretty good too. His brothers were great wrestlers at Eastern.
Jim Hart, SIU star QB who played 17 seasons in the NFL, also served as SIU AD
Paper Lion I had a part in that one
Mark Hendrickson, former WIU head coach 2008-12
Little Giants. I watched it with my two sons, one (Myers) who is a wide receiver here at Western Illinois and the other (Davis) who plays baseball at the University of Illinois. An interesting bit of trivia is that if you look up the Western Illinois record for the longest punt return, it was 95 yards against Eastern Michigan (in 2003), James Norris holds it. Well, when James Norris was the double for the kid who played the Cowboys’ quarterback in that movie. The kid was an actor and whenever there was a football scene, James went in for him. We enjoyed those stories when James played for us at Western.
Nick Hill, record-setting SIU quarterback now head coach at his alma mater
I watched all of them, Rudy, Remember the Titans. I’m a sports fan, so I’ve seen all of the sports movies. They all get me going.
John Jurkovic, ex-EIU & NFL defensive lineman heard today on Chicago sports radio
The Longest Yard. It was one of the first football movies I’d ever seen. It’s the story of a bunch of guys taken advantage of who get together to win against the greater power.
Tim Lance, former EIU linebacker featured in 1990 Sport Illustrated article about small school stars
I’d have to say Rudy. I didn’t see it until after I was done playing. He’s just a kid who kept trying and persevered. It made me think about all those guys on the scout team. It made me realize what they were thinking and why they kept doing it. They never got the chance to take the field, but they made us better. I really thought about those scout team guys.
Fred Layne, former WIU offensive lineman
Everybody seems to like Rudy, but for me, it’s Varsity Blues. It’s more my age than any other reason. That movie hit me square in the face.
Raphael Leonard, ex-SIU wide receiver
In Friday Night Lights I like Bobbie Miles and Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday. Bobbie was the prototypical big-headed star football player. I like the storyline in the movie and what was going on with him. Willie Beamen was a nobody on the team, and he showed he could play when he got the shot. Then he got the big head when he was doing good.
Carl Mauck, SIU Hall of Famer who played 13 years in the NFL
When I was a kid it was Knute Rockne: All-American. Now I’d say it’s Leatherheads. That movie captures the essence of pro football in its infancy.
Bob Otolski, former ISU head coach 1981-87
Rudy is a great movie. I still have friends from my days at Indiana University, people like Jim Gruden, John Gruden’s father, and Jim Johnson, the former Eagles defensive coordinator who passed away a few years ago. Since they were both there at Notre Dame, I asked them if Rudy’s story is true. They both said, “Yes, but Rudy was a big pain in the butt.” I imagine he had to be, for that story to work out the way it did. I also loved the movie about Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers (Brian’s Song).
Ryan Pace, former EIU lineman now the Chicago Bears’ general manager
Brian’s Song. I know it’s a “tear jerker” but I like the way it shows the value of friendship and how close your teammates can become.
Lito Senatus, former WIU wide receiver
It would have to be Remember the Titans because I wasn’t born in that day in age when racism was like that. For me to see that era, and to see how those guys came together, was a learning experience. It also showed how football could bring a team as a family together no matter what race, color, age. It also brought the community together. I still get chills down my spine when Denzel Washington calls that last play, 652 with a backside reverse.
Cameron Siskowic, ISU linebacker who was 2006 conference defensive player of the year
Rudy. I didn’t even like football until I saw that movie. I was a weird kid. I liked swords and stuff like that. When I saw Rudy my dad sat me down and explained that I came from five generations of football players. That movie changed me. I still love seeing it.
Brock Spack, ISU head coach & former Purdue defensive coordinator
Remember the Titans. We watched it in 2000 the night before we played Michigan. That launched us into the Rose Bowl.
John Teerlinck, WIU Hall of Fame defensive lineman & longtime NFL assistant coach
Jim Thorpe, All-American I thought I was going to be the next Jim Thorpe when I was a kid
Colton Underwood, ISU All-American linebacker turned TV’s “The Bachelor”
I’d have to go with Rudy. I just like that story. I’ve always like the underdog especially since I come from a small town. In a small town you don’t always play for the best team or get looked at by all the colleges like say the Chicago-area players. So, for me, that movie is the one I most relate to.
Extra Point: From flicking passes to making flicks
Then there’s the curious case of former Southern Illinois quarterback Rick Johnson, who helped lead the Salukis to the 1983 I-AA national championship.
Following a successful pro football career in both the United State Football League and the Canadian Football League, Johnson embarked on a career in acting and directing. His credits include roles in Jerry Maguire and Any Given Sunday. He directed and starred in 2001’s Rustin, the tale of an ex-pro player turned sheriff in his Alabama hometown. The film also featured one Marvin Lee Aday — better known as Meatloaf — as Coach Trellingsby.