What would happen if there was a 4-team playoff of teams from popular football movies?
A more detailed description is likely not necessary; you probably already know if you’re in or out based on that one sentence. This piece will examine the teams, intangibles, and possible outcomes of such a playoff. It will not declare a prohibitive favorite, but will present detailed information for the reader to form their own opinion.
Friday Night Lights (FNL)
The Permian Panthers are a 5A team from Texas, which is roughly the equivalent of a Division 1 college team from, say, the Sun Belt Conference. They were a traditional power running team before an injury to Boobie Miles forced them to put the ball in the hands of their quarterback to make plays. Unfortunately their quarterback is about 5’3” and 130 pounds. They have a very good defense, and we know this because the big defensive player named Ivory scowls a lot. The chief downside to the Friday Night Lights squad is the hair situation: Head Coach Billy Bob Thornton is still a few years away from his semi-permanent grey plugs, so he is wearing a sort of hair-like widget that looks like it was fashioned by toddlers as a vacation Bible school craft. And then there is Head Raging Father Tim McGraw, and no one has any idea what his hair situation is supposed to represent. Like, “I’m bald but have fake hair but still kind of bald” or something.
The Blind Side (BS)
The Wingate Christian School Crusaders are a 2003 private Christian school from Memphis, Tennessee. They play in a smaller classification that is comprised mostly of other private schools.
The Crusaders are a team of rich kids and one gigantic 30-year-old who was somehow allowed to play because he didn’t have a bed and Sandra Bullock yelled a lot but no one seemed to mind because she had pretty highlights. Tim McGraw has a son on this team, too, kind of. His son is the 30-year-old man, whom he adopted. Tim McGraw is nicer in this movie; he gives his 30-year-old son a bed and probably a lot of Taco Bell, I think.
Remember the Titans (RtT)
It is impossible to forget the Titans, ever, because this movie plays eleventy billion times a week on cable. It is not a great film; it is a jumble of ham-fisted monologues and teenagers defeating segregation with synchronized dance routines. Anyway, the Titans are a 1971 Virginia team that is basically an all-star squad distilled from two huge high schools merging together, yet they are underdogs, I guess, because Disney. Since Head Coach Denzel Washington is too busy grumbling about stuff to open the playbooks, the Titans only ever run six different plays. This is six plays too many for Ryan Gosling, who is somehow an award-winning defensive player despite not being able to cover anyone ever, even on accident. There are problems at quarterback, too: the Titans’ starting quarterback is injured, and the team is forced to use Sunshine, who can throw a 60-yard spiral on a dime but cannot underhand toss a football five feet. Oh, okay.
Varsity Blues (VB)
The West Canaan Coyotes are a 1998 3A team in Texas. They have a long history of winning, thanks largely to their overbearing head coach Jon Voight. They have one token black kid, one token fat kid, a token party dude, and two really good quarterbacks. By the end of the season, they have lost their two best offensive players and their head coach, and resort to running a hurry-up spread offense, which proves to be very successful.
Varsity Blues is what happened when MTV decided to tap into the current of late-90s angst by making a 90-minute music video disguised as a Texas football movie. There are horrible Texas accents, Jon Voight slumming through the film and hamming himself up to 11, and lots and lots of sneering and looking off into the distance. In the years since, it has never been equaled.
- A standard 4-team, 2-round playoff. No homefield advantage; games are played at neutral sites, with tickets split evenly between the fan bases.
- Matchups are left undefined. You don’t know which team will draw which opponent, so each team’s chances will be analyzed against the field as a whole.
- Each team must enter the playoff in the condition that they finished their season. In other words, imagine all four teams’ seasons as happening simultaneously, and the playoff begins the weekend after their last games.
- This means that 1) RtT will be playing without Bertier and Rev, 2) FNL will be without Boobie, and 3) VB will be playing without Wendell, Lance, and coach Kilmer, and will instead be coached by Lance.
Now we must examine the minutiae of the gridiron world, intangibles. Even the smallest factor could turn the entire playoff on its head, therefore we must search out possible confounding variables and identify which team has the advantage in each category.
The VB team rolls into the playoff being coached by 18-year-old Lance Harbor. While it is implied that Lance is a very good coach, it is likely expecting too much of him to hold an advantage over his seasoned counterparts.
As for the BS squad, they are coached by this bumbling Barney Fife character:
(spoiler alert: they’re in favor of it)
Billy Bob is clearly a better Xs and Os coach, but Denzel has a valuable co-head coach/defensive coordinator in Coach Yoast, who saves the team from crooked refs by pulling out his Good Old Boy Card in the playoffs.
Advantage: Remember the Titans, by the slimmest of margins.
There is no debate. VB wins this comparison hands down.
However, we would be remiss if we did not mention FNL cheerleader Karen, who made a statue of Don Billingsley out of Rice Krispies. It may lack the desperate flair of Darcy’s whip cream bikini, but doggone.
I mean, doggone. Some serious love went into that little statue. That’s great hustle, Karen.
FRISKY SANDRA BULLOCK INTANGIBLES
She struts around in sun dresses that are cut like cocktail dresses, she waltzes into the projects and threatens to shoot a drug dealer when he calls her a bad name, she slaps the football coach on the butt…
Sandra came to play in The Blind Side.
The seminal moment of the film occurs when she wags a finger and utters the phrase “titty bar” in that bacon-flavored Mississippi accent. Oh, and she had nice highlights, too.
FAT GUY INTANGIBLES
Big Mike Oher is elevated above the generic Fat Guy label because he is his team’s best player, and you cannot be the MVP and Token Fat Guy at the same time. And since the FNL squad does not have a discernible fat guy we are left with a two-man race:
Louie Lastik from RtT
- has some soul
- starred on both Boy Meets World and My Name is Earl
- is finally eligible
Billy Bob from VB
Comparing the two players would seem to favor Louie Lastik. He has a larger frame, and projects more highly than the roundish Billy Bob. However, Lastik is the softer of the two; he is a gentle giant, whereas Billy Bob stood up for Wendell and threatened to tear off Bud Kilmer’s arms if the coach gave Wendell the same painkillers that contributed to Lance’s downfall. This gravitas, coupled with his marksmanship with a shotgun, give the slight edge to Billy Bob and VB.
The RtT team is playing for their teammate Bertier, who was paralyzed before the state championship game. If ever there were a circle-the-wagons moment, this is it. It remains unclear exactly how far this boost can carry RtT, and it is reasonable to suggest that the emotional rush will peter out to some degree between the first and second round of the playoff. By the final, RtT could feel Bertier’s absence, but it will be a powerful motivational tool nonetheless.
SOUTHERN ACCENT INTANGIBLES
All four films take place in the South, so this makes for a relevant comparison. RtT and BS produce passable—if unremarkable—attempts at southern accents.
Where the train goes off the rails completely is Varsity Blues. It is unclear if anyone involved in the production of this film had ever previously set foot inside Texas. In any other film, the horrible accents would have been cringe-worthy, but everything else in Varsity Blues was over the top, so it more or less fit the motif.
“I…don’t want…YER LAHFE.”
The clear winner is the FNL team. When Coach Billy Bob Thornton and starting quarterback Lucas Black speak to each other, the result is so authentic it sounds like you’re standing in a Walmart sporting goods aisle listening to the guys in camo discuss shotgun shells.
WET BLANKET GIRLFRIEND INTANGIBLES
A treacherous category to navigate, full of many worthy contenders.
There is Waterbug’s girlfriend, who constantly harps on him because he’s not as famous as the first-string running back. Then there is racist Kate Bosworth, who does everything but kick Gerry Bertier in the crotch to convey her malevolence.
The winner, though, is Amy Smart, who becomes threatened the moment that her iconoclast boyfriend is thrust into the starting quarterback role…and proves to be pretty good at it. While she is not particularly evil, her behavior is strange and irritating: she whines, she shakes her head, she scolds him, saying you’re enjoying this, as if “this” was punching babies in the face. All because he went mainstream and had fun throwing some touchdowns.
Can you just be happy for him, Amy? No one says you have to build him a Rice Krispy statue.
SO WHO WINS?
A COLLABORATIVE ANALYSIS
The Blind Side
Ha ha. No, but seriously, The Blind Side team is probably getting bounced, and here’s why: they are a small private school who have gotten used to playing other private schools. When they have to step off their gilded gridiron and line up against a 5A powerhouse, all of the bad habits accrued from years of playing slow and undermanned teams will be exposed.
Don’t some private schools, especially the wealthy ones, use their money and influence to recruit talented kids to buoy their football teams? Yes. All the time. But there is little evidence that anyone on that squad other than Big Mike is a ringer. Big Mike is their best player, and when your best player is an offensive lineman, you have to game plan shrewdly. You have to control the clock and limit turnovers. You have to keep the game in front of you and be flawless.
Unless The Blind Side is flawless, they are probably not going to win.
It could be accurate to say that the VB squad will benefit from its own misfortune.
After losing Wendell and Lance, and after the coup d’état against Bud Kilmer, Lance reorganized his remaining teammates into a hurry-up spread formation and gave Mox the keys. The result was found money: the Coyotes rolled to a victory in the season finale. The real payoff, though, could come against their playoff matchups.
Here’s why: RtT is from 1971, and FNL is from 1988. It is highly unlikely that either team has faced a 5 wide receiver offense that resembles the Moxon spread. These are defenses geared to stopping the run, not to the wide-open game of Moxonball. If VB can stay ahead of the sticks and avoid short yardage situations, they have the ability to score points quickly.
A point of concern would be that their only remaining marquee playmaker is Tweeder. This is problematic because up to this point Tweeder has existed primarily as a second option to Wendell, and it remains to be seen if his 5’4” frame can withstand the rigors of every down football.
Nevertheless, VB remains a strong pick to win. Mox has a certain Favrian/Manzellian gunslinger vibe, and he is not above beaning an opposing mascot when throwing the ball out of bounds. And because he is white, these things are chalked up to being “fiery” and not “out of control”, so he’s good.
Remember the Titans
On paper, RtT should win. They enjoy significant advantages in talent and depth due to the combining of the area schools into one. They have two accomplished head coaches on their sideline.
Winning the playoff, though, is far from a sure thing. Serious questions need to be addressed:
How will the team cope with the loss of Bertier?
Will the team be torn apart when ESPN sends a reporter to ask the possibly-gay Sunshine if he showers separately from his teammates?
When Yoast discovers that Ryan Gosling can’t cover Tweeder, will he go behind Denzel’s back and lift Petey’s suspension to get him back on the field?
Friday Night Lights
In somewhat of a surprise, not a single person contacted for this piece considered FNL a favorite to win the playoff. It is unclear what exactly scared off my friends and associates, but I for one consider the Mojo a strong contender.
The strength of the FNL team is their tenacious defense. They are anchored up front by Ivory, who could be the hardest hitter of any team in the playoff. The secondary is led by Chavez, who is a ball-hawking safety known to intercept backfield pitches and race them back for touchdowns. Because that is a thing that happens sometimes, I guess.
Don Billingsley’s fumbling problems have been well-documented, but the emergence of Chris Comer has taken the pressure off of Billingsley after Boobie’s injuries.
A valid concern for FNL is their recurring inability to win the big game. They were forced to back into the postseason via coin toss after blowing a vital regular season contest. They lost to Dallas Carter in the state final. Does the FNL team have a stigma of losing the big game?
Also a problem is the size of quarterback Lucas Black. Black is about 5’3”, and it is unclear if he can adequately see over his offensive linemen. This deficiency likely led him to scramble out of the pocket on the final play of the state championship, where he foolishly believed he could bull rush through the entire NFL-sized Carter defense and score a winning touchdown.
Still, the Mojo are a deep and disciplined team. While it is routinely mentioned in the film that Permian is undersized, it is unlikely that this would present a problem in the playoff, because none of the three other teams will present the kind of size Dallas Carter presented in the 5A state final.
Karen is the winner.