With NFL training camps kicking off this week, I thought it'd be pertinent for us to discuss my favorite football movie to date and an excellent means to properly perturb all the football-hating female readers out there. Paper Lion stands as a cult comedy that's manes and tails over made-for-tv sniffly Chi-town tearjerkers like Brian's Song (1971) or even the Cowboy-based cocaine and hot tubs of North Dallas Forty (1979), in my book, which is admittedly bound for life in Honolulu Blue and Silver. Tonight's review is based on a best seller by Harvard journo, George Plimpton, and his trials and tribulations while posing as a rookie quarterback for the Detroit Lions for a Sports Illustrated article.In it, the likes of Alan Alda, Lauren Hutton, David Doyle line up against real pro footballers of the day, like Alex Karras, Joe Schmidt, and Frank Gifford, giving the viewer an inside look at the game the way it used to be played, before all the endzone dances, multi-million dollar contracts, and spectacle.See: any number of rotten musical acts plodding through Super Bowl halftime shows for proof of that.
"Listen, Hawkeye. Gap-tooth is gonna stay in and block, Sheriff Brody's gonna run a post route, and I'll be out on the yacht, sipping champagne with the Angels," says Bosley (David Doyle).
After a spirited game of catch in Central Park with the fellows, George's (Alda) editor stumbles upon the really smashing idea of having the thirty-six year old writer pose as a rookie quarterback in the NFL for his next piece for Sports Illustrated, having already gotten him roughed up by boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson and taken deep by baseball all-stars in his earlier work for the publication. After being denied by a few teams, including Vince Lombardi's Packers, the Detroit Lions agree to take him on, with only coach Joe Schmidt knowing Plimpton's true identity: a noodle-armed weenbag. There's some rookie hazings and drunken shenanigans orchestrated by Mike Lucci and Alex Karras, and we see Roger Brown traded off to the Rams. Plimpton sings his "Newfoundland Newfs" school song, gets roughhoused in practice, and the fellas dupe him into thinking he's scored a long touchdown in front of his girl, Kate (Hutton), until he sees them laughing at him afterwards.
"Oh yeah, some kid from USC named Simpson left that for you, Plimpton."
After much Jerry Lewis-like tomfoolery on the gridiron, his teammates begin to suspect that Plimpton isn't who he says he is, and Lucci and company start to play increasingly cruel pranks on the writer, when a knowing Karras takes him under his protective wing. There's a team talent show where the "Mad Duck" does an impersonation of Coach Schmidt as a nazi, and finally, Schmidt decides to let Plimpton take some snaps in a preseason game against the St. Louis Cardinals after the game has been decided, and George obliges by losing yards on four straight plays, culminating in a self-k.o. into the goalposts. Once again, the writer has come through with another memorable tale for his avid readers...
"Let's discuss it in my office. I'll pack us up a super bowl." says Vince Lombardi.
I should probably mention that, though my Lions didn't make much noise on the field in '67(5-7-2, 3rd place), they scored Offensive Rookie of the Year (Mel Farr) and Defensive Rookie of the Year (Lem Barney) that year, the only time in NFL history that a team has ever snagged both awards in the same season(!).Schmidt's Lions would go on to get blanked in the playoff round to Dallas three years later, 5-0 (!!), in Alex "Mad Duck" Karras' final season. Meanwhile, Karras would establish himself as a competent actor in his own right, post-Lions, appearing in things like Blazing Saddles, Porky's, and Buffalo '66, before passing away in 2012, still excluded from the NFL Hall of Fame, despite being a four time Pro Bowler and member of the 1960's All-Decade Team.Speaking of Hall of Fame CB Lem Barney, he would also turn up in the football-based blaxploitation epic, The Black Six (1973), with fellow footballers Mercury Morris, Gene Washington, Carl Eller, Willie Lanier, and "Mean" Joe Greene.The real Plimpton would turn up at the end of the decade in commercials hawking something called Mattel Intellivision. Meh, says the old Atari 2600 man from way back. Four big ones.