Commentary

My ode to the best sports movie ever made

Updated: November 29, 2007, 1:58 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

What's the deal here?

Why wasn't the "Slap Shot" anniversary more widely commemorated?

There should have been a deluxe 30th anniversary DVD.

"They brought their $#&$#&! toys with them!"

[+] EnlargePaul Newman
Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesPaul Newman's Reggie Dunlop is one of cinema's best sports characters.
No, make that a multiple-DVD set, complete with interviews with the cast, and an off-the-cuff commentary track from screenwriter Nancy Dowd and star Paul Newman. (Alas, director George Roy Hill died in 2002.)

Throw in a travelogue of Johnstown, Pa., the real-life Charlestown, with archival footage of both the old Johnstown Jets and the current Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL.

Perhaps have one of the TV cinema critics (the snobbier, the better) proclaim it superior to Hill's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting," but also to "Casablanca," "Gone With The Wind," and "The English Patient." Build a case for the obvious -- it is the best sports movie ever, certainly better than the 1976 Oscar winner, "Rocky," and 2004 best picture, "Million Dollar Baby."

"Dave's a killer!"
"Dave's a mess."

At symposiums or in a master's thesis, use "Slap Shot" as the working example of how even those who detest gratuitous obscenity have to admit a great movie becomes terrible when it's cleaned up for broadcast television, with the "Gee, whiz" voice-overs for every "$#&$#&!"

The Ogie Ogilthorpe jerseys at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto should have been taken off the wall in back and placed in the featured display rack just inside the door of the gift shop.

"You stupid when you do that, some English pig with no brains."

The NHL could have mandated that every team book the still-touring Hanson Brothers -- Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and David Hanson -- for appearances at games, perhaps the 17th meeting of the season between each divisional rival in each building to relieve the tedium.

Hold a public burning of the sequel's master print, or whatever the master of a straight-to-DVD monstrosity is called nowadays.

Thirty years ago, when I was a rookie NHL beat writer, I went to see the movie. Despite its credentials, it was doing tepid business, and I was among an audience of about 10. We all laughed.

"Sergeant, you will never meet a greater champion of pure hockey than me. Sergeant, I knew Eddie Shore!"

One of my favorite scenes is when Dickie Dunn, the Charlestown sportswriter, tries to look modest as Chiefs player-coach Reg Dunlop (Newman) reads his prose aloud in the bar.

(I hesitate to even put those identifiers in here, because I know every hockey fan worth his or her salt doesn't need them. And those fans also can stumble across a repeat showing on uncensored cable and recite the lines as they come from the actors' mouths, as if this is a midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at the avant-garde cinema house downtown.)

Dunlop reads: "To see the three Chiefs make a scoring rush, the bright colors of their jerseys flashing against the milky ice, was to see a work of art in motion." Then he adds: "Now, that's good writin' Dickie."

"Aw," Dickie responds, ''I was just trying to capture the spirit of the thing, Reg.''

"Oh, you did," Reg says.

I have been trying to capture the spirit of the thing ever since.

"Got stinkin' $#&$#& on the bus. Louise left me, and that son of a $#&$#& over there keeps playin' me when he knows I'm $#&$#&."

I had read Dowd was the sister of Ned Dowd, who played Ogilthorpe, who was modeled after, among others, WHA goon Bill Goldthorpe. She had her brother carry around a tape recorder during his playing days in the minor leagues, and much of the movie came right out of what really happened in Johnstown and other stops on the circuit.

Perhaps five writers at every showing of "Rocky" walked out thinking if Sylvester Stallone could do it, so could they, and went straight to Waldenbooks -- the big bookstore chain then -- to buy a book on screenwriting, or enrolled in USC film school.

"Slap Shot" did that for me. Within a few days, I put a stack of new records on the automatic turntable, including Kansas' classic "Leftoverture," and was fooling around with the opening scenes of a screenplay.

(It made the rounds, but never got made.)

"I can't name names, but let's just say that there's a senior citizens community in a Southern state that's in the market for a hockey team."

Seriously, it's a great movie, great on several levels, great as a comedy and a satire, both laugh-out-loud funny and smile-wryly funny. The first time you saw it, you laughed the second the line came out of the character's mouth, and then several hours later after you thought about it.

And years later, it's still a classic.

I'm torn about the concept of a remake. Though it did well, in part because of relentless prerelease promotion and savvy selection of media types for cameo roles, "The Longest Yard" remake was a joke. There are more "Poseidons" -- disasters in more than genre -- than there are "Oceans 11s."

But think of the possibilities.

• Jose Theodore as Denis Lemieux.

• Sean Avery as any of the lunkheads and any of his 27 actress ex-girlfriends as Francine and/or Lily.

• Ernie Sabella as Joe McGrath.

• Brothers Eric, Marc and Jordan Staal as the Hansons -- though it would take some acting.

• Chris Chelios as Tim McCracken.

• George Parros as Ned Braden. (He has the Ivy League background, if a different game.)

• Gary Thorne (although he does not wear a toupee) as Jim Carr.

• Con Madigan is too old to reprise his role as Mad Dog Madison, but who has the guts to tell him?

• Pierre LeBrun as Yvon Lebrun.

• Absolutely, Barry Melrose as Reg Dunlop.

And I'm already practicing my lines, including:

"Now, let me get this straight. A retirement community has bought the Chiefs?"

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and the upcoming "'77."

Terry Frei

Special to ESPN.com
Terry Frei is a columnist for the Denver Post. He is also the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."