Peterson: My top sports movies

It used to be there was no choice when it came to choosing a sports movie to watch.

There was William Bendix playing a very poor rendition in The Babe Ruth Story. Or Jimmy Piersall playing himself in Fear Strikes Out, also not an Academy award winner.

But the last couple of decades have brought out a flood of movies about sports figures or events that have been average at best. But there a few that were very good.

Here’s a few of my favorites:

1. “Miracle” Based on the 1980 Olympic hockey upset of the USSR by a young United StatesTeam.

I was curious to see how they would portray U.S. coach Herb Brooks in the movie.

I had the chance to talk to Brooks a couple of times while covering Minnesota-Michigan Tech games for the Milwaukee Sentinel. I found him to be gruff and to the point. He was not a person to sugar-coat anything.

Kurt Russell actually did a passable job of playing Brooks in the movies. His former players agreed that Russell wasn’t as tough as their coach, but close enough.

Brooks — a tactical genius — prepared his team in every way to defeat the heavily favored Russians. The outcome went a long way toward establishing hockey as one of the top pro sports in this country.

2. “Hoosiers” — Based on the improbable feat of a small Indiana high school beating a school much larger in the state championship game.

Of course, there were things in the script that had to be changed. The Hickory (actually Milan) Huskers didn’t exist and neither did their coach, Norman Dale (played very well by Gene Hackman).

But the overall theme stayed true to story. A school with less than 60 boys managed to beat city school with 3,000 students.

One ironical thing was that only one player in the movie had ever played basketball was the Hickor’s scrub Ollie.

And sharp-shooting Hickory guard Jimmy Chitwood play little basketball until he was chosen for the role.

The late Dennis Hopper won an Academy Award as the town drunk/hoops expert.

One other thing.The Hickory gym was a perfect replica of the old Bergland High Gym.

3. “The Natural” — A movie was that was panned when it first was released.

Robert Redford, who played the star who came out of nowhere to lead his team to the World Series, was criticized for not looking like a baseball player.

But Redford, in his 40’s at the time, played a perfect role as Roy Hobbs. And it turned out that his swing wasn’t that bad after all.

Oldtimers who saw the movie said that ballparks used in the movie was identical to the old ballyards the 1930s.

And you had to like the ending when Hobbs connects for the homer that wins the game and thwarts the crooked owner and his gambling partner.

4. “Rudy” — It took three years to get the movie released but it turned into a popular flick when it did arrive.

Based on the story of Rudy Reuttiger, an undersized and modestly talented football player, whose only goal in life is to play for Notre Dame.

Battling the many hurdles, he lands a role on the Irish practice squad. He manages to convince ND coaches to let him dress his the final game as a senior and comes up with a sack.

Like most movies, there’s a few subtle changes in the script. He doesn’t have to get his teammates to lobby coach Dan Devine, Devine was already aware of the promise.

Reuttiger, who gives inspirational speeches, appeared at Baraga High a few years ago. He said most of the crowds coming to hear him are expecting to see Sean Astin, who portrayed him in the movie.


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