Tuesday, June 29, 2004 Updated: May 31, 2:22 PM ET
Evil women of sports movies
By Bill Simmons Page 2
Editor's Note: This column appears in the July 5 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
Whether it's your first time watching our your 1,001st -- "Hoosiers" still got game.
Having a column allows me to vent about things that drive me crazy. Like people who buy a coffee with their credit card. Or adults who bring gloves to a major league baseball game. But nothing riled me up quite like the fact that there wasn't a collector's edition DVD of Hoosiers. I pleaded for it in my online columns. I printed e-mails from readers who seemed as desperate as I was. Deep down, I hoped someone would listen.
Well, somebody did. It's coming out next spring with a documentary, deleted scenes and even one of those print transfer thingies. The producers interviewed me last month for the documentary, but I just wanted to get a look at the deleted scenes. How did Buddy end up rejoining the team in the middle of the movie? Was Jimmy Chitwood really a deaf-mute? Where did that kiss between Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey come from, the one that made everyone go "Ewwwwww"? I couldn't wait for next spring. I needed answers now. What was left on the cutting room floor of the greatest sports movie ever?
I finished the interview and begged the coordinating producer to show me the deleted scenes. She mulled it over, realized I was a potential threat to stalk the premises, then pulled me into her office. My head nearly exploded. I felt like John Hinckley about to see deleted scenes of Taxi Driver.
Then something disturbing happened. Something awful.
Included in the batch was a scene from the day of the big game: a rally in downtown Hickory for the boys. Everyone was there, including Hershey's character, Myra Fleener -- the mean-spirited shrew who tortures Coach Dale, then jumps on the Hickory bandwagon when Jimmy comes aboard and the team starts winning. In the pantheon of Wet Blanket Sports Movie Girlfriends, she ranks right at the top.
See, this is a sports movie tradition: put your down-on-his-luck hero on the road to redemption, then toss in a woman to make him miserable along the way. These females always jump on the bandwagon near the end, as soon as fortunes change for our tortured hero. In Fast Break, Gabe Kaplan's whiny wife refuses to move to Vegas with him ... and then Cadwallader U. wins a few games, and she's hopping on the next plane. In Rocky IV, poor Rocky is stuck in Russia with Paulie, climbing 55,000-foot mountains with Adrian's "You can't win!" speech ringing in his ears ... and then she shows up as if nothing happened. In Vision Quest, Carla deflowers Louden, inexplicably scampers off and nearly causes him to miss the Shute match ... then shows up to cheer him on.
The list is endless. Ned's wife in Slap Shot. Memo in The Natural. Coach Brooks' wife in Miracle. Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump. Just about every sports movie uses this story arc. Women get in the way. Women don't believe. Women weaken legs. I have no idea why. I do know that when you come across a likable female character -- Daniel-san's girlfriend in Karate Kid, Rod Tidwell's wife in Jerry Maguire -- it's almost jarring. Isn't this a sports movie? Aren't women supposed to bitch and gripe until the climactic final scene?
Kobe, only in the movies can you win without a dominant big man.
No Wet Blanket Girlfriend was worse than Fleener. She didn't invent the genre, but she did perfect it. I was already expecting the worst from the Hickory rally scene ... and then ... there was Myra pulling Coach Dale aside, batting her eyelashes, dusting off a smile that hadn't been used since 1938, her voice softer than ever before. She looked like -- gasp! -- a real person. Myra thanked the coach for everything, wished him luck in the game and announced she was moving to Chicago, win or lose. "I just wanted to thank you," she says. "I wouldn't have had the courage to do this without you."
Wait a second ... what? You're Myra Fleener! You may as well be Satan! You're thanking someone?
Then she drops this bomb: "You know, Chicago isn't that far away." Or something like that. I can't remember the exact wording, because there was blood spurting from my eyes while I was watching it. Basically, she was telling Coach Dale she wanted to continue their relationship in long-distance form. Like two college kids. What was this, the season finale of The OC?
"No!" I kept screaming. "Noooooooo! This can't be happening! MAKE IT STOP!!"
And that's when they escorted me out of the building. But not before I learned three important lessons. First, be careful what you wish for. Second, deleted scenes are usually deleted for a reason. And third, Wet Blanket Girlfriends are much more useful in sports movies than Dutifully Supportive Girlfriends. Find a woman who doesn't believe, a woman with a knack for twisting the knife, and you'll probably find a pretty good sports movie that comes with her.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to write a Hoosiers sequel where Myra dumps Coach Dale for Shooter.
Bill Simmons is a columnist foir Page 2 and ESPN the Magazine