By Ralph D. Russo/The Associated Press
Yeah, they can be sappy and cliche-ridden. Yet the best college football movies will make you cry or laugh, with story lines that even Hollywood and Matthew McConaughey can’t screw up.
With the help of some Top 25 voters, here’s a guide to the AP’s 12 most memorable college football movies.
1) “RUDY” — The mostly true story of Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger, who earns a spot on the team through sheer determination. If you’re a Fighting Irish fan, it’s a movie that will bring you to tears. If you hate Notre Dame, it’s pure propaganda.
From the panel: “Great motivational story, even though Joe Montana says now a lot of what happened in the film isn’t really true. Come on, Joe. Don’t ruin it.” Marcus Fuller, St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press.
2) “HORSE FEATHERS” — A Marx Brothers classic. The new president of Huxley College recruits players out of a local bar to help beat rival Darwin. The best part? How about Chico calling out signals such as: “High diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle, this time I think we go through the middle.”
From the panel: “The older I get, the more I realize that the Marx Brothers’ ‘Horse Feathers’ was the most accurate college football movie ever filmed (at least in terms of the relationship between football and higher education).” Cecil Hurt, The Tuscaloosa News.
3) “WE ARE MARSHALL” — Based on the true story of how Marshall rebuilt its football program after a plane crash killed almost all the players and coaches. Even with McConaughey in lead role, it’s an inspirational tearjerker.
From the panel: “Wasn’t the most compelling acting (sorry, McConaughey), but the true story shines through.” Travis Haney, The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier.
4) “THE WATERBOY” — Some seriously repressed anger issues turn Adam Sandler’s Bobby Boucher from stuttering waterboy into a University of Louisiana linebacker so fierce he’d put Ray Lewis to shame.
From the panel: “Became a lot more meaningful to me when I moved to Louisiana.” Randy Rosetta, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.).
5) “THE EXPRESS: THE ERNIE DAVIS STORY” — Didn’t generate much box office buzz, but no college football player was ever more worthy of having a movie done about his life than the 1961 Heisman trophy winner from Syracuse.
From the panel: “Almost like an extension of ‘Remember the Titans,’ it’s important to acknowledge heroes like Ernie Davis.” Haney.
6) “THE PROGRAM” — If the NCAA ever investigated the ESU Timberwolves and coach Sam Winters, played by James Caan, the sanctions would make what USC got look like a slap on the wrist.
From the panel: “James Caan is in it. ‘Nuff said.” Bob Asmussen, Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette.
7) “NECESSARY ROUGHNESS” — Before there actually was a Texas State University, the Fightin’ Armadillos of the fictional Texas State had a 34-year-old quarterback (Scott Bakula) and a female kicker (Kathy Ireland) after NCAA sanctions gut the program. Lane Kiffin’s future?
From the panel: “Kathy Ireland has to be the best place-kicker in fictional college football history.” Adam Zuvanich, Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal.
9) “THE BLIND SIDE” — Based on Michael Lewis’ book about former Mississippi tackle Michael Oher, the movie made an Oscar winner out of Sandra Bullock, which is probably more impressive than blocking an SEC defensive end. And who knew Nick Saban could act?
From the panel: “I realize the story was more about Michael Oher’s journey to college, but it’s a great story with enough college football to put it high on any list.” John Shinn, The Norman (Okla.) Transcript.
8) “JIM THORPE: ALL AMERICAN” — Released in 1951, Burt Lancaster plays the college football and Olympic star Thorpe, whose life after athletics unravels. Sad tale of an American hero who wasn’t properly appreciated during his lifetime.
From the panel: “A window on a different time and place in college football and the country.” Ferd Lewis, Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
10) “THE JUNCTION BOYS” — Coach Bear Bryant, played by Tom Berenger, takes his first Texas A&M team to scorching Junction, Texas, for 10 days of training camp and turns his losers into winners. Note to today’s football coaches: DO NOT TRY THIS WITH YOUR TEAM.
From the panel: “Wasn’t nearly as good as the book, but the scene at the reunion where Bear Bryant said he probably would have quit if he had to go through it tugged at your heart.” Shinn.
11) “KNUTE ROCKNE: ALL AMERICAN” — Pat O’Brien played the legendary coach. Ronald Reagan played George Gipp, the star player cut down in his prime by an illness. The movie that made the phrase “Win one for the Gipper” a permanent part of college football lore.
12) “EVERYBODY’S ALL-AMERICAN” — When Frank DeFord’s novel was turned into movie, the main character, Gavin Grey, played by Dennis Quaid, played for LSU. That mistakenly led to some thinking Grey was based on LSU Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon.