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Thursday, February 5, 2004
Updated: February 6, 12:37 PM ET
Movies we need to see

By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

After "Miracle" about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey squad, where do you go? What other teams are worthy of big-screen immortality?

Respectfully submitted for your consideration, a wish list:

The 1969 Seattle Pilots -- Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" squad

The "Miracle"
"Miracle," about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, opens Friday. Check out all our "Miracle" content and then watch a replay of the historical "Miracle on Ice" game against the Soviet Union tonight on ESPN Classic.

Content
  • Jim Caple: Behind the scenes of the filming of "Miracle"
  • Page 3: 10 Burning Questions with Kurt Russell
  • Sports Guy: I'm not going to watch
  • Review: Learning to believe in "Miracle"
  • Eric Neel: Other teams worthy of big screen

    Tonight on ESPN Classic:
    8 ET: SportsCentury: Jim Craig
    8:30 ET: The Making of Walt Disney's "Miracle"
    9 ET: Classic Big Ticket: U.S. vs. USSR
  • How is it that maybe the best sports book of all time has never been made into a movie? It was actually a TV series for about a month in 1976, with Bouton playing himself. (And if you have copies of any of the four episodes, please, please, please, I beseech you, send dubs to Eric Neel, c/o Page 2, ESPN Plaza, Bristol, CT.)

    But other than that, nada. Huge oversight. Sex, drugs, violence, inside baseball on inside baseball, a witty, loveable loser for a protagonist, and the venerable Yanks and a scroogey Commish playing the heavies. Whaddyathink, would it resonate much today? Uh, yeah. Put George Clooney and his wry, jaded grin in the lead. Let Ron Shelton have a run at directing a Bouton-penned screenplay, and get out of the way.

    Pitfalls? Including a voice-over from the book. The way to get the good authorial insights into the mix? Do what Cusack does in "High Fidelity" with the talk-to-the-audience bits.

    The 1985 Chicago Bears -- 46-10 winners of Super Bowl XX

    Pros: McMahon's slaps at Rozelle make Joe Horn look like a debutante at a cotillion. A chance to remember how sweet Sweetness was. The whole wacky fridgeness of the Fridge. And at the heart of it all, the story of a stirring, gripping relationship between a team that tortured and pillaged its opponents like barbarians on the make and a city full of downtrodden, frozen-popsicle locals out of their heads with love for their hometown Monsters.

    The Fridge
    Who plays the Fridge? We recommend Cedric the Entertainer.

    Cons: No actor alive can duplicate Payton's dances down the sidelines. And it seems inevitable that viewers would be subject to a dramatic re-enactment of "The Super Bowl Shuffle."

    Casting: You think we could get Tim Robbins to bulk up a bit and play McMahon? And then maybe get McMahon to slump down a bit and do a turn as Rozelle? I'd like that.

    The 1972 Miami Dolphins -- The 17-0 team

    (Yawn) Just kidding.

    The 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants -- The "Shot Heard 'Round the World" clubs

    This is the film everyone's afraid to make. The teams, the time, and the game are too mythic, too iconic. There are endless ways to screw up the telling; and every choice you make would be measured against the memories, longings, and imaginations of the fans who were there and the generation of fans who've been raised on the story (in other words, of everyone).

    But still, someone should step up and do it. I vote for Steven Soderbergh, but I'm OK with Scorcese, too. Somebody with a feel for weaving threads and taking chances, is what I'm asking. Somebody who'd see the richness of the story, who'd know it's about a moment in American history, about the instant in which two men's lives are forever changed, about the joy and anguish that always and forever pump in alternating bursts through fans' hearts, about intrigue in the outfield bleachers, and about carpe diem in the box.

    Christina Aguilera
    In our movie, Yao Ming plays the evil nemesis and Christina Aguilera portrays the girl who causes the Shaq-Kobe feud.

    The present-day Los Angeles Lakers

    Only one way to do this. Director: Rob Reiner. Starring: Michael McKean as Phil Jackson, Christopher Guest as Shaquille O'Neal, Harry Shearer as Kobe Bryant, and Paul Shaffer as Jack Nicholson.

    The 1968 New York Jets -- Namath's guaranteed victory crew

    Everybody's all hopped-up about Sean Penn's work in "Mystic River," and deservedly so. But I say we hold the Oscar until we see Sean get a shot at playing Broadway Joe, complete with poolside umbrella drinks and go-aheads, sign-of-the-times chutzpah and swagger, and solid brass stones firing from the pocket. Can't you just hear the voice on the trailer now? "They thought he was soft. They thought he was a freak. They thought he was a joke. HE MADE THEM PAY. Sean Penn is Joe Willie!"

    1998 Utah Jazz

    Yeah, right.

    1978 New York Yankees -- The Bronx Zoo

    It'd be great because you'd get the whole Billy vs. Reggie thing. You'd get the coming back from 14 games out thing. You'd get the age-old rivalry with the Red Sox thing. You'd get John Goodman in make-up putting on Bob Lemon's nose and Steve Buscemi gluing on Martin's 'stache. You'd get the gritty, gutty Brian Doyle story, of course. And if I had my way, you'd get Dule Hill in a breakout role as Mickey Rivers.

    But more than any of this, it would be great because it would further cement the Yankeefication of American culture, which would further enrage my friend and colleague Jim Caple, which would, I believe, lead to no less than 27 The-Yankees-Are-Evil-and-George-Steinbrenner-is-the-Anti-Christ columns from Jim, every single one of which would crack me up.

    Tell us what you think!
    Which teams did Eric miss? You came up with a few suggestions, from the '86 Mets to Tark the Shark's UNLV teams to the lowly '76 Bucs. Check out your ideas and Eric's responses to them.

    1975 New York Nets -- But really I'm talking about the whole ABA

    When Artis Gilmore elected to sign with the Kentucky Colonels coming out of college, a sports reporter asked him why he chose the ABA instead of the NBA. Artis' answer? "I like the red-white-and-blue ball." Me, too, Artis. And I like Dr. J's double-jointed genius, and a young Bob Costas (played here by, I don't know, maybe Donnie Wahlberg?) at the mic in St. Louis, and Ice and Skywalker, and funky uniforms, and big, big hair.

    And most of all, I like upstarts and underdogs willing to flip a big fat foam finger in the face of the NBA Man, you know what I'm saying? I like rebels and outcasts. I like thinking that if Brando weren't so ice-cream loagy and bats-in-the-belfry crazy, he'd bankroll this whole project. And he'd cast Johnny Depp in the role of the young Larry Brown, Sam Rockwell as a young Hubie Brown, Mekhi Phifer as Darnell Hillman, and Ben Wallace as Darnell's hair.

    Lance Armstrong
    Could a movie about Lance come close to matching the real-life drama?

    The 1999-2003 USPS Cycling teams -- In other words, Lance

    I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, it's one of the most miraculous sports stories ever told, and it deserves to be blown up as big and as bold as can be. On the other hand, watching it unfold on-screen for two hours would cheapen what he's done and how it's moved people these last five years. So I'm torn. Two things, though, I'm not torn about, should the movie get made any time soon: 1) Lance plays Lance; and 2) Sheryl Crow gets nowhere near the soundtrack.

    The 1966 Texas Western Miners -- First all-black starting five in NCAA title-game history

    This one is already in production, actually, which is great news. But Ben Affleck has been cast as Texas Western head coach Don Haskins, which is very, very bad news. Here's a story full of drama and import, a story about one of those moments when the world as people knew it changed forever, a great story. But now, it's a great story mucked up by the incredible, inexplicable, virulent, no-talent, Pia-Zadora-in-slacks career that is Ben Affleck's. This is just so wrong.

    The 1992 Duke Blue Devils

    Over my dead body.

    The Oakland A's and Raiders of the '70s

    Al Davis makes like the Pope, calls it sacrilege and tries to shut the thing down in pre-production. Charlie Finley makes like Jacob Marley and haunts director Oliver Stone. "He's speaking to me," Stone says. "I don't care what anyone says; he's not dead by a longshot." In the end, though, the story is Randy Quaid, whose brave, searing portrayal of John Matuszak has folks talking Oscar.

    The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers -- Robinson's first year

    "The Jackie Robinson Story" was terrible. Cast Denzel before he gets too old to play young and take a do-over, would you please?

    The 2003 St. John's University football team -- Division III National Champs

    You know these guys? The head coach has 400-plus wins. He runs no-contact practices, with no tackle sleds, no whistles, and no screaming, red-faced rants. So here's what I'm thinking: You make a guerrilla-style documentary on the cheap -- shots of him smiling with his kids, cheering them on, wrapping his arm around them, and whatnot -- and you sit Bobby the Knight down in a chair all Clockwork Orange-like, with straps on his wrists and toothpicks holding up his eyelids, and you leave him there. For a week. Cruel? Maybe. Unusual? Sure. Heartwarming? You got that right.

    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.