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Texas Tidbits

Over the years, filmmakers have tried to capture the essence of Texas athletics through comedy and drama. These movies tackle the deep-seated sports culture of the state.

By June 2004Comments

Texas has a history of excellence in high school, college, and professional athletics, so it isn’t surprising that years ago filmmakers took note. From fictional tales to detailed documentaries, the Lone Star State has been frequently represented in sports movies. Here’s a look at the must-see pictures of this genre.

Kill the Umpire (1950): Ex-baseball player Bill Johnson looks down on umpires but can’t seem to succeed in any other career once his playing days are over. His father-in-law, a retired umpire, urges him to try working behind the plate. Encouraged by his wife, Johnson signs up for umpire school but then tries every trick in the rule book to get expelled—to no avail. Instead he gets assigned to the Texas League and provokes a riot with one of his calls. Directed by Lloyd Bacon.

North Dallas Forty (1979): Money talks, at least to the North Dallas Bulls in this semi-fictional film. Based on the novel by former Dallas Cowboys receiver Peter Gent, this tale follows the free-spirited pass-catcher Phillip Elliott as he navigates the savage landscape known as football. Elliott understands that players don’t always represent hometown heroes; instead, they’re vital pieces in the marketplace of sports. The team’s management pumps him up on painkillers for the games but eventually pulls him out of the starting lineup after replacing him with a teammate he had trained. Elliott must reevaluate his love of the game. Directed by Ted Kotcheff.

Necessary Roughness (1991): When NCAA sanctions prohibit the Texas State University Fightin’ Armadillos from offering scholarships, the school must concoct a hodgepodge football team from the regular student body. A 34-year-old quarterback and a female placekicker find spots on the field in this uphill search for a winning season. Directed by Stan Dragoti.

Tin Cup (1996): Former University of Houston champion and failed golf pro Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy (Kevin Costner) works as an instructor in the West Texas town of Salome. He’s already lost his business on a bet, and he’s lowered himself to caddying for his archrival, PGA star David Simms (Don Johnson). But he really putts himself into trouble when he enters the U.S. Open to impress his new love interest, Simms’s girlfriend (Rene Russo). Scenes from the tournament were filmed at the Kingwood Country Club just north of Houston. Costner hits a hole in one in the lead role. Directed by Ron Shelton.

The Story of Darrell Royal (1999): Willie Nelson, Earl Campbell, Mack Brown, George W. Bush, and Keith Jackson make appearances in this tribute to Darrell Royal, the famous University of Texas football coach who led the Longhorns to three national championships. Hollywood hotshot and loyal Longhorn Matthew McConaughey narrates this award-winning documentary. Directed by Ryan Haidarian.

Varsity Blues (1999): Led by Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), the West Canaan Coyotes seek their twenty-third division title. When the star quarterback is injured, second-stringer Jonathan Moxon (James Van Der Beek) must take the reins—and learn how to cope with the pressure and popularity that accompany his new position. To establish the feel of Texas football, this MTV production was filmed in Austin-area locations, including the Georgetown High School stadium. Directed by Brian Robbins.

The Junction Boys (2002): In this ESPN original movie, Texas A&M football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant (Tom Berenger) pushes his 1954 wannabe players to the limit during the preseason, forcing them to undergo a grueling training camp. The film is based on the true story of how ten days of torture in Junction, where the temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees, yielded 35 determined players—about 70 boys quit before the camp was over. Directed by Mike Robe.

The Rookie (2002): Filmed in Austin and set in the West Texas town of Big Lake, this Disney-produced story exudes Lone Star spirit. Houston native Dennis Quaid stars as high school coach Jim Morris, a former minor league pitcher whose professional career was sidelined by a shoulder injury. He makes a deal with his baseball team that he’ll try out for the majors if they win the district championship. They keep their end of the bargain, and now it’s his turn. Directed by John Lee Hancock.

Friday Night Lights (2004): Country music star Tim McGraw and bad boy Billy Bob Thornton star in this high school football drama. Opening this fall, Friday Night Lights follows the 1988 Odessa Permian Panthers in their quest for the state championship. Each player struggles with his own personal battle, but the group fights to fulfill the town’s unanswered dreams on the field. The charged atmosphere of the stadium squelches the economic worries of the fans each Friday night with a tradition that unites the community. McGraw makes his film debut as Charlie Billingsley, an alcoholic father and former all-state football hero. Directed by Peter Berg.

Death and Texas (2004): This satire fuses politics and pigskin to parody the Texas legal system. Barefoot Bobby Briggs, the famed running back for the Austin Steers, is sentenced to death for his role in an armed robbery and murder at a convenience store. But as the team advances toward the Mega Bowl, a season-ending injury incapacitates the Steers’s wide receiver. The Texas governor, therefore, negotiates a controversial furlough with Briggs in order to help the team. Producer Stephen Israel is still seeking a distributor. Directed by Kevin DiNovis.

This list was compiled from production company Web sites, the Internet Movie Database, and viewer reviews.

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