Friday, August 22, 2014

Three Sports Movies Where the Protagonist Doesn’t Win the Final Game (Spoilers)

It’s almost a given with sports movies that the good guy wins.  Down in the final game but not out, he or she or they pull together an amazing finish and are hoisted above their fan’s or team’s arms with their trophy in hand…except when they don’t.  There are a select few movies, either because it actually happened, or because winning wasn’t the point (wait…what?).  Instead, these movies focused on the protagonist person or team losing but with their heads held high.  They did the best they could do.  Obviously, this post contains spoilers!

Rocky (1976): Perhaps the most famous of all of these type of movies, Rocky focuses on Rocky Balboa, a dumb-sounding debt collector for a loan shark, who does some club fighting on the side.  Then as luck would have it, Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion, needs a new fighter as the World Heavyweight Championship is suddenly without a fighter.  He decides on Rocky Balboa, simply because he likes his nickname, “The Italian Stallion.”  What makes the ending work is that Rocky wants to “go the distance” with Apollo, that is, give all he has in the fight, and trains as if he can.  The seriousness to the fight that Rocky brings enables him to knock Creed down (but not out) in the first fight and stay on for fifteen rounds.  While he is ultimately defeated, Rocky showed more importantly that he can “go the distance.”

Cool Runnings (1993).  This movie is a comedy focusing on the attempts of four Jamaican men trying out for the winter bobsled team.  The comedy comes from Jamaicans in a fish out of water type experience, where they try a sport they have never tried before to go to a place they have never been before, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  The four main characters, Derice (Leon), Sanka (Doug E. Doug), Junior (Rawle D. Lewis) and Yul (Malik Yoba) are comedic characters coached by Irving Blitzer, played by John Candy.  The team barely qualifies to the Olympics.  In their first attempt, they come in at 28th place.  But in their second attempt, they come in 8th place.  Feeling they may have a shot, they go in the final race for the gold.  But in that race their old sled flips over and crashes.  But instead of leaving dejected, they pick up their bobsled and walk across the finish line to cheers. 

Friday Night Lights (2004): This movie focuses on Permian Panthers High School football team in the small town Odessa, Texas.  Trouble stars when the team loses its star player, James Miles, to a torn ACL.  Now the team has to work together and start winning games without him.  The problem for the team (at least in the movie) is that entire livelihood of town is wrapped up in the success of its football team, so they have to deal with enormous pressure.  The team makes it to the playoffs, but in a three-way tie with two other teams.  Permian wins the coin toss and makes it to the finals.  This puts them against the stronger and more powerful Dallas Carter High School.  While do ultimately lose, they nevertheless give all they have to stop the team, and doing so earn the respect of their town and their loved ones. 

All of the above movies have one big thing in common: the personal victory is far, far greater than the physical victory.  All three pushed themselves to the limits of their ability and grew and changed from the experience.  In that way, these movies perhaps show a different side of sports altogether from the winning takes all attitudes most movies hold up on a pedestal.  And that is something that makes these movies all the more interesting and special. 

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