The Sports Fan's Oscar Game

CBS.com's Gary Paul Gates recently told a sports fanatic that he has been sadly misinformed about the irrelevance of this year's movies to his obsession. In truth, he explained, many (if not most) of the Oscar-nominated films dealt with sports themes of one kind or another. Here's his take on this year's nominees.


A young friend of mine is a sports fanatic of such extreme devotion that his entire life seems to revolve around games and the gifted jocks who play them. In his daffy world, all major holidays and even the changing of the seasons are viewed through the prism of sports events.

He insists, for example, that the first day of spring is Selection Sunday, that blessed day in March when the 64 teams are picked for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Press him further and he will argue that spring turns to summer on the Saturday in early June when they run the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Thus, it naturally follows that summer ends and fall begins on the Sunday in September when the tennis finals are played at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows.

Nor is there any doubt in his mind that autumn gives way to winter on the Saturday in early December when college football brings down the curtain on its regular season.

The young man's single-minded obsession with sports is so deeply ingrained that his companions find it extremely difficult to shift the conversation to other subjects. But we still try from time to time, and one day recently I brought up Hollywood's annual extravaganza - the Academy Award show - and asked him this question:

"Of all the movies nominated for major Oscars this year, which was your favorite?"

He promptly replied, "The Hurricane, but I wouldn't call it a great movie. It should have had a lot more boxing in it, and a lot less of the legal claptrap."

"I see," I said, hardly surprised by his answer. "And how would you compare it to some of the other big nominees, like American Beauty or The Green Mile?"

"I can't say because I didn't see them." He then went on to reveal that of all the high-profile Oscar nominees, the only one he had seen was The Hurricane. "I'm just not interested in all that other stuff," he explained.

At that point, seized by a mischievous impulse, I decided to have a little fun with my friend's insular approach to life. I told him that he had been sadly misinformed, and that, in truth, many (if not most) of "all that other stuff" dealt with sports themes of one kind or another.

He didn't believe me, of course, and so the next day, after indulging in a few flights of fancy, I sent him the following synopses of top contenders for this year's Oscars.

Topsy Turvy: An entertaining look at the 1999 National Football League season, in which most of the teams that were supposed to be powerhouses - the Broncos, the Falcons, the Jets, et al. - didn't even mke the playoffs. Instead, it was a perennial doormat, the St. Louis Rams that wound up as the Super Bowl champion. Go figure.

The Insider: The story of the star major league hurler Roger Clemens and his favorite pitch, also known as a duster, a beanball and - the description Roger himself prefers - a little chin music.

The Green Mile: The stirring saga of Michael Jordan and how he managed to parlay his awesome skills as a basketball player into a vast personal fortune. The title refers to Michael's average annual income as measured in a row of $100 bills.

A Pete Rose is a Pete Rose

American Beauty: The upbeat title is ironic, for the film is actually based on a hard-hitting series of investigative magazine articles built around the theme that a Pete Rose by any other name - Charley Hustle, for example - is still a compulsive gambler.

Boys Don't Cry: Adapted from the best selling book, Boys Don't Cry, But Old Coaches Do, the movie depicts the career of St. Louis Rams Coach Dick Vermeil as he blubbers his way through a series of lachrymose breakdowns. Vermeil's bawl-fests are such an embarrassment to his team - the boys of the title - that they vow never to tear up, even when suffering a career-ending injury or losing a critical game on a last-second field goal.

The Talented Mr. Ripkin: The story of the valiant but ailing Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripkin Jr., who, having pushed himself to the point of utter exhaustion, begs to be taken out of the starting lineup, even though he is 200 contests shy of tying Lou Gehrig's record for playing consecutive games. But the hard-hearted Baltimore management pressures Ripkin to stay in the lineup to keep those turnstiles humming. Just as he's on the verge of total collapse, an Oriole scout miraculously discovers a Ripkin look-alike - almost an identical twin - who can play shortstop and hit major-league pitching. He is secretly inserted in the Baltimore starting lineup every third game or so to give Ripkin a much-needed rest.

Angelo's Ashes: The title refers to the epithet many sportswriters use to describe the Baltimore Oriole franchise - which is owned by Peter Angelo - after the Ripkin fraud is exposed years after he was credited with breaking Gehrig's record.

The Rider House Rules: A spirited yarn about the nation's top jockeys and the clever steps they take to circumvent the Racing Association's regulations that prohibit them from betting on - or against - the horses they ride. As one of the mighty mites testifies at his trial: "Hey, we're the ones who risk our lives riding the nags. So why shoudn't we be allowed to throw a race once in a while?"

Being John Rocker: The plot of this fanciful tale is driven by a happy-go-lucky group of psycho racists who find a portal into the mind of Atlanta's ace relief pitcher. Their subsequent observations on social and cultural matters - as delivered through Rocker's mouth - cause a certain amount of commotion in New York and other urban centers where the population is not confined to Caucasians.

All About You Mothers: Although shot in Spain and therefore technically a foreign film, this flick is actually a light-hearted look at trash talking in the ranks of professional basketball. The movie features such classic lines as, "Yo! I left my skivvies and thug boots under your Mama's bed last night."

So there you have it. I won't say that my young friend completely fell for this scenario in all its absurd details. But he was sufficiently intrigued to promise me that he would tear himself away from whatever hockey or basketball game he would normally be watching on the last Sunday night in March, and take a look at Hollywood's big show.

Now if only I can convince him that the Academy Awards themselves - the celebrated statuettes - are named for a certain Mr. Robertson who was a star player in the NBA during the 1960s.


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