If you’re a lifelong Texas resident, like myself, do you remember being a kid? It seems like I do, but this absolutely soul-crushing heat doesn’t ring a bell. It’s to the point that every morning when I ask Alexa about the forecast, she just replies, “Eff you!,” in a raspy smoker’s voice. So, if we’re all going to be inside, we should at least be entertained while anticipating other people flirting with heatstroke enveloped in pads for our spectating delight. Here in no particular order is my should-watch Power 5 of football-themed movies to prepare you for Texas’ upcoming second summer that will inevitably masquerade as fall.
Necessary Roughness (1991)
This gridiron masterpiece is essentially the story of the SMU Mustangs’ fall from grace transposed into a feel-good story starring Scott Bakula as a mid-30s high-school sensation who never attended college but is drawn back by a defensive coordinator (Robert Loggia). The film was mostly shot in and around Denton, primarily on the campus of UNT. The Fightin’ Armadillos of the fictitious Texas State (before there actually was a Texas State) field a team entirely from a legitimate student body, and it is a pretty good representation of what would happen at a Division I college playing without scholarships: They’re awful. The movie contains some genuine football action paired with familiar surroundings and thoughtful acting, including a very young Jason Bateman, Sinbad, and Kathy Ireland. The cameos during the convict scrimmage are golden, and if you’re quick, you’ll catch a glimpse of hopefully-not-to-be-a-senator Herschel Walker. It would be difficult to find more than one degree of separation from an extra in this film if you lived in Denton County in the late ’80s/early ’90s and are in your 40s.
A good old-fashioned rich-versus-poor flick featuring Goldie Hawn as an aspiring coach in a male-dominated sport. Hawn, spurned from a freshman-football slot at an uppity Chicago-area school, takes the head varsity position at a crumbling inner-city program. Aside from the ’80s-era socioeconomic stereotypes, this is required watching for film and football fans alike. The depth of the story won’t win any awards, but Hawn, combined with the likes of a pre-felon Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson with a full head of hair, give the picture a fun feel as the coach fights her way through a divorce, custody battle, and skepticism from everyone about her ability to function as a woman in football. Despite being light on actual football action compared with others on this list, an awesome soundtrack and lots of feel-good dialogue will leave you primed for pigskin afterward.
I’ll be honest. It pains me to add Rudy to this list, but it’s valid, and the acclaim it’s received and the more prestigious lists it’s included in are deserved. Based on the true story of an eventual walk-on to the Notre Dame football team, Rudy covers the early and college life of the film’s namesake character, played by Sean Astin, as he makes his way from undersized high-school football contributor to junior-college student and eventually to a member of the Fighting Irish. This is really a movie about the fortitude of the human spirit as it faces seemingly insurmountable odds. Rudy overcomes tragedy, financial hardship, and expectations to reach a goal that no one cared about but him. The movie itself is shot well and seems spot-on in the early ’70s. It is a serious story while ending happily and being appropriate for the entire family. I’ll personally Venmo any reader $10 who doesn’t get goosebumps from the final scene. Actually, scratch that, because you’re either lying or dead inside, and I don’t associate with either of you kinds of people.
Varsity Blues (1999)
A watch-after-the-kids-go-to-bed classic, Varsity Blues represents the cultural zeitgeist of the late ’90s for high school football in Texas, at least to the rest of the world, and it isn’t too far from reality. The dynamic collision of Fast and Furious and Dawson’s Creek erupt when Paul Walker, who plays a heralded senior quarterback prospect, is injured and his GPA-prioritizing backup, James Van Der Beek, replaces him and experiences immediate success. Jon Voight plays the repugnant but believable win-at-all-costs coach who essentially runs the fictitious small town. Most of the filming occurred at Elgin High School, east of Austin. The game progressions aren’t the most realistic, and the characters are very “charactery,” but if you’re a Gen-Xer or Xennial, it’ll bring back a lot of high school nostalgia, for better or worse. Just remember to plug your ears when Van Der Beek says, “I don’t want your life” — or really anything else in his gag-worthy attempt at a Texan drawl.
12 Mighty Orphans (2021)
Based on a post-Depression football team from an orphanage in Fort Worth, 12 Mighty Orphans sports a star-studded cast, including local son Luke Wilson, who is flanked by Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen. Viewer reviews love the bootstrapping story of boys from a local Masonic home setting Texas football on fire in the 1940s. Adapted from the book Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football by Jim Dent, this one rounds out my Power 5 out of pure homerism, the way the football gods intended.
Also receiving votes: Remember the Titans, The Waterboy, We Are Marshall, Little Giants, The Program, Any Given Sunday, The Blind Side, The Longest Yard.