By Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky
Special to Page 3

Want to start an argument? Try to pick out the greatest sports movie of all time. Or, skip the argument and check out Page 2's list from the summer of 2002.

Page 3, on the other hand, is taking things even further. Focusing simply on sports movies excludes too many worthy athletic moments in silver-screen history. So we're going deeper with our list of the top 20 sports scenes of the last 25 years. Not sports movies ... but scenes. If "My Dinner with Andre" had a touch football game, it'd be eligible.

Our criteria:

The Natural
And you're humming the music from "The Natural" right about ... now.
  • The scene must be intrinsically about some aspect of sports -- professional, amateur, on the field or off.

  • Documentaries are ineligible. (Think about it, is it fair to penalize "Ali" for not presenting the Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle as convincingly as the actual footage of the fight in "When We Were Kings"? We don't think so.)

  • The movie had to have been released after 1979.

  • We used each movie only once. It is possible, therefore, for a movie to have more than one scene that could have qualified. But in the interest of diversity, only one scene makes the cut.

  • The quality of the movie is important, but secondary to the quality of the scenes. Some memorable sports movies ("Eight Men Out") are terrific but lack, in our esteemed opinions, truly memorable scenes.

    For easy viewing of our choices, we've indicated DVD chapter numbers when possible. If no number is listed, it's because we reviewed the movie on VHS, like dinosaurs. Join us next week when we go through our 8-track collection to review the newest from Strawberry Alarm Clock.

    1. "The Natural" (1984)
    The Scene: Roy Hobbs homers into the lights to win the pennant (Ch. 26-7)
    If this scene were an actual game, it'd have been the kind where 30 years later, 200,000 people would claim they were there the day Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) blew out the lights to win the pennant for the Knights. No scene in any movie captures everything about sports -- impossible odds, drama, honor, and imagery -- better than this one. He has been shot in the stomach. He has broken his treasured bat, Wonder Boy. And the moment's so great, you don't care about being manipulated by Barry Levinson's direction or Randy Newman's amazing score. Watching Redford circle the bases, his teammates celebrating in the fireworks he has created, is one of Hollywood's enduring visuals. The scene makes you believe in your heroes again, even if just for a moment. It is, in terms of sports scenes, truly "the best there ever was."

    ESPN 25: Best Sports Movies
  • The Show: Movie chat
  • Rank 'em: Best sports movies of the past 25 years
  • Ryder: Best foreign sports movies
  • The Sports Guy: Evil women of sports movies
  • Merron: Real/reel on 'Major League'
  • 2. "Raging Bull" (1980)
    The Scene: LaMotta-Robinson III (Ch. 9)
    No scene in any recent movie has come close to capturing the savagery of boxing like the third match between these two legends. The score mixes menacing timpani drums with the brutal sounds of flesh pounded raw, and a pterodactyl-like screech thrown in for good measure. The punches are mostly close-ups, making the brawls from "Fight Club" look like child's play. The immediacy, intensity and pain feel closer to war than sport. It's fortunate the scene is pretty short. An extra few minutes would have been too much to bear.

    3."Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993)
    The Scene: The Final Match (Ch. 14)
    By the time impossibly doe-eyed chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) has reached the finals of the National Scholastic chess tournament in the film's climactic scene, he already has taught his father (Joe Mantegna) and coach (Ben Kingsley) that a boy's heart is more important than his victories. But this scene is still a powerhouse. Best moment? When Josh realizes he has won, and offers his opponent a draw. Or maybe Josh's whispered apology to his father when he thinks he can't see his winning moves. If you're not at least a little teary after watching, it's time for a doctor to check that lump of coal you call a heart.

    4. "Hoosiers" (1986)
    The Scene: Coach Dale ejects himself from the game. (Ch.27)
    Trying to pick this movie's best scene is like trying to pick the hottest SI swimsuit cover girl. Not easy. But this gem, where hot tempered coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) intentionally gets himself tossed to give his alcoholic assistant coach Shooter (Dennis Hopper) a chance to be the hero, is a prime example of this beautiful movie's theme: redemption. Dale has a last chance to do what he loves (coaching), and uses it to help Shooter get a last chance to regain his team member son's respect. The common thread is a love of basketball. And humanity.

    5. "Jerry Maguire" (1996)

    Tom Cruise
    If sports agents looked and dressed like Tom Cruise, they wouldn't be sports agents.
    The Scene: "Help me help you."
    No relationship in sports has grown more important than the one between player and agent. It's illustrated brilliantly in this movie, centering around that most modern of sports realities, the contract renegotiation. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is at the end of his rope, and his only client, WR Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) has an ego and attitude bigger than Arizona. The scene is hysterical. Cruise offers Gooding a towel. "No, I air dry." Gooding explains the meaning of "Quan." And then, of course, there's exhausted Cruise begging Gooding to "Help me help you." Iconic stuff.

    6. Lucas (1986)
    The Scene: "Throw it to Lucas!"
    A typical movie would have had runty Lucas (Corey Haim) take the field during the final seconds and miraculously move like a receiver. Lucas looks ridiculous. A typical movie would have had Lucas make a catch for a touchdown. Lucas bobbles and drops the ball. A typical movie would have had Lucas tackle the defender who recovered the fumble. Lucas gets beat up so bad, he ends up hospitalized. So why is this loser end up a winner? Because he never gives up and does the best he realistically can. Which is what playing football's all about.

    7. "Naked Gun" (1988)
    The Scene: Drebin as Umpire
    Possibly the best parody of baseball culture ever documented. Everything's here, from the Jumbotron blooper reel (choose your favorite: the shortstop being hit by a car or the runner mauled by a tiger) to the Queen of England passing a hot dog down her row to the player's wives spitting tobacco. But nothing's funnier than Leslie Nielsen's send-up of umpires. He moonwalks, he calls pitches before they arrive at the plate, waves to the crowd, uses a Dustbuster to clean home plate, and then a bottle opener to crack open a corked bat. And it's the best performance of Jay Johnstone's career.

    8. "Without Limits" (1998)
    The Scene: Steve Prefontaine and Coach Bowerman discuss running philosophy (Ch.10)
    The relationship between coach and athlete is often complicated. Coach Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) can't understand Prefontaine's (Billy Crudup) compulsion to front run, as opposed to pacing himself and making his last lap his best. Pre can't fathom Bowerman's inability to understand why running that way is "chickens---." This nuanced, thought-provoking scene turns the "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" adage on its head. For Pre, winning isn't paramount if it means compromising his values.

    9. White Men Can't Jump (1992)
    The Scene: Woody suckers Wesley (Ch. 2-3)
    In a great movie of hustles and cons, the scene where our two leads meet is king. From Billy (Woody Harrelson)'s geeky pre-game stretches to his cheery reactions to the disses ("My mother was too drunk to be an astronaut"), he's leading Sidney (Wesley Snipes) exactly where he wants him; top of the key, to school him in a first-to-five shooting match. With the bet on the line, Billy informs Sidney he's "hustled a hell of a lot better players than you before." Sidney keeps smiling. But his eyes reveal a fear of the inevitable brick.

    10. The Karate Kid (1984)

    Karate Kid
    Without the waxing, Daniel LaRusso's wrists wouldn't have been limber enough to pull off the crane technique.
    The Scene: Mr. Miyagi's training finally makes sense. (Ch.17)
    Tired of getting his butt kicked, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) requests karate lessons from maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Unfortunately, since all that the lessons seem to entail is car waxing, floor sanding, and fence painting, Daniel is ready to bail. At long last, Miyagi reveals how the unorthodox regimen has cemented Daniel's fundamentals, along with their friendship. "Wax on, wax off" remains a universal catchphrase. (Side note: Can you picture Miyagi getting a modern athlete like Allen Iverson to buy into this technique? "What are we talking about? Car waxing. Car waxing, man! Not a tournament. Just car waxing.")

    11. "Bull Durham" (1988)
    The Scene: Meeting on the Mound
    "Why is he always calling me meat? I'm the guy driving a Porshe."
    -- Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins)

    Just a sample of the hilarious running monologue offered during this scene, one of the first in the long education of LaLoosh by his catcher, Kevin Costner's Crash Davis. Matters of baseball ("Strikeouts are boring and besides that, they're fascist," says Davis) and women are discussed as Davis hashes out why Nuke's girlfriend (Susan Sarandon) is with the rook instead of him. Great dialogue makes the scene pop, and great performances round it out. Robbins is funny as hell, and even Costner manages to be entertaining; never a small feat. His tipping of Robbins' pitch? Tough love at its best.

    12. "Ali" (2001)
    The Scene: Training Run Through Kinshasa (Ch. 24)
    While training for "The Rumble in the Jungle," Muhammad Ali (Will Smith) takes a training jog through imporverished Kinshasa. As he runs, hundreds upon hundreds of Kinshasans follow him, cheering "Ali Bumaye" (Ali kill him). Director Micheal Mann uses no words (English ones at least) to show Ali's realization of how significant this fight is to the people of Zaire, and what he represents to this downtrodden nation. The scene is aided by an upbeat score that turns haunting as the full weight of his importance dawns on Ali.

    13. "The Color of Money" (1986)
    The Scene: Eddie Felson gets hustled (Ch.16-18)
    After everything Eddie has taught Vincent (Tom Cruise), all the lectures, arguments and "I-told-you-so's," the guru himself manages to get hustled by Amos (Forrest Whitaker). It's not being outplayed that bothers Eddie. It's that he didn't see it coming. When the skills are deteriorating, an aging athlete's best weapon is wisdom. Thinking he might have lost that, too, brings on a crisis of confidence so severe, Felson briefly debates walking away from the game altogether.

    Miracle
    Team USA did the country proud in 1980.
    14. "Miracle" (2004)
    The Scene: "Again." (Ch. 7)
    This scene is so painful to watch, you can feel your own legs burn and stomach churn. After watching his team put in a lousy effort in an exhibition match, 1980 Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) lines the team up for suicide drills. Suicide after suicide after suicide. Suicides after the lights go out. Suicides after the team doctor and assistant coach plead with him to stop, after the players have puked on the ice. Suicides until the team understands that on their jerseys, "The name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back."

    15. "Diner" (1982)
    The Scene: The Quiz (Ch. 28)
    Before Eddie Simmons (Steve Guttenberg) will marry his fiancé Elyse, she must pass a Baltimore Colts football quiz of multiple choice, true/false and short answers. As the questions get insanely difficult (the original Colts' team colors?), Eddie's friends and father (who contributed a couple questions himself) sit back and hope for the best. Do they think Eddie's being reasonable? No. But most guys understand that since anything could potentially kill a relationship, it might as well be sports. Elyse fails, but Eddie goes through with the wedding after eventually deciding she'd have known an answer his buddy blurted out.

    16. "Remember the Titans" (2000)
    The Scene: "Who's Your Daddy?" (Ch. 5)
    Think the Lakers were tough to manage? Try Virginia in 1971, and the newly formed and integrated T.C. Williams High. The football team is ready to go to preseason camp, under the direction of black head coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington). When his white All-American linebacker, Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst), demands that half the team's positions be reserved for the white players, Coach Boone artfully and emphatically puts him in his place, quietly forcing Bertier to admit, at least as far as football is concerned, Coach Boone is his new daddy.

    17. "Caddyshack" (1980)
    The Scene: A Cinderella Story/Golfing in the Rain
    There are certain people who can make everyone laugh. Demented groundskeeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) is one of them. Watch him tee off on Bushwood Country Club's flower bed with a garden hoe, doing commentary for his own private Augusta ("He's a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess."). Then catch his advice while caddying for a priest in a violent storm ("I don't think the heavy stuff's gonna come down for quite a while.") In a film chock full of classic lunacy, this scene is the best.

    18. "North Dallas Forty" (1979)
    The Scene: Phillip Elliot Quits (Ch. 20)
    Aging wide receiver Phillip Elliot (Nick Nolte) spends the whole movie doing anything possible to numb his achy body and get through the season. He knows the organization's using him, but cynically accepts it. Now the season is over, and the owners, who already hate him, are trying to run him out without honoring his contract. Elliot says "screw it" and shows himself the door. But first he rips into his soulless ex-bosses, exposing the hypocrisy of owners and coaches who speak of family while grinding players through the mill, spitting them out when they're no longer useful.

    19. A League of Their Own (1992)

    Tom Hanks, Geena Davis
    Tom Hanks and Geena Davis became quite a tandem.
    The Scene: Jimmy Dugan decides to start managing. (Ch. 22 )
    "There's no crying in baseball" is still the flick's best line. But scene for scene, nothing's funnier than Dugan (Tom Hanks) taking a timeout from his drunken sulking when Dottie (Geena Davis) calls for an illogical suicide squeeze with their best hitter up. The two engage in a hilarious signals battle, Jimmy prevails and the game-winning run is scored. Afterward, Jimmy still maintains these chicks are "not ballplayers," and he might only know them as "Batter," "Blonde Girl," and "Whatever Your Name Is," but he does decide to give this team a whirl.

    20. Love and Basketball (2000)
    The Scene: Monica's Challenge (Ch. 27-8)
    They were friends, they had a relationship, they broke up. Now Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) wants Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) back before he gets married. To do it, she challenges him to a one-on-one game. Lose, Monica buys a wedding present. But if she wins, she gets Quincy. Sounds cheesy, right? It could have been, but instead the game becomes a metaphor for their entire relationship, a way of saying through ball what they can't say to each other, the hand checking and jersey pulling expressing the frustrations of their love. Most importantly, Epps and Lathan make you believe.

    SPECIAL AWARD: "Rocky IV," the training montages

    Honorable Mention (in no particular order): "Wildcats": Goldie Hawn outruns her team to stay coach; "Field of Dreams": Moonlight Graham saves the girl; "Better Off Dead": Final Ski Scene; "Big": Hanks and John Heard play paddleball; "Parenthood": Kevin finally catches a ball; "A River Runs Through It": Brad Pitt catches a honkin' big trout; "Swingers": Vince Vaughn makes Gretzky's head bleed in video hockey; "Tin Cup": Costner takes a 12 on the Open's final hole; "Fast Times at Ridgemont High": Jefferson tackles everything in sight; and "Major League": Spring Training.

    Bonus Category: BEST USE OF SPORTS EQUIPMENT for non-sports purposes:
    Robert DeNiro (baseball bat) in "The Untouchables," Tom Hanks and Wilson (the volleyball) in "Cast Away," Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze (explosive rigged footballs) in "Three Kings," and Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duval (baseball bat) in "The Shining"

    Andrew (ANETZKYK@aol.com) and Brian Kamenetzky (bkamen@earthlink.net) are frequent contributors to ESPN The Magazine, Page 2 and Page 3.