The Most Important Part of Football is Heart


Well, it’s that time again. This coming Sunday is the 52nd Super Bowl. This year the Philadelphia Eagles are facing off against the New England Patriots in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the forecasted temperature is 8 degrees. Burr! 

Growing up, I did not watch football. My parents just weren’t that interested in it. Neither was I. I spent my free time either at ballet or reading. However, when my brother came along, he loved football. It was his dream to play it. He seriously LOVES it. Not only did he love playing it in high school (where he was affectionately termed the heart of the team), but he has made a study of the history of the game, the nuances of the plays, the statistics… really, I’ve seen him sit down with some very experienced and studious men and women concerning the sport and leave them slightly flabbergasted at the knowledge he possesses. That being said, because we have always been a family that shares what we love with each other, we have all developed a fondness for the game because my brother’s enthusiasm has won us over. 

There have been two contributing factors in my personal growth as a football fan. 

The first is A Football Life, a biopic series aired on the NFL channel which takes in depth looks into the individual lives of the men who have played the game. Understanding the love and respect these men have for the sport that changed shaped their lives has kindled in me an equal respect and love for it, too. This show helps take the game out of the context of just great plays and whatnot and give it more depth in that it explores the character of the men who have played football throughout the years. A few must sees are A Football Life’s Roger Staubach, Aeneas Williams, Kevin Greene, Larry Fitzgerald, Bruce Arians… oh gosh, there might be too many to list. One of my first posts here at Whiskers was about Vincent Lombardi and the truths I saw played out in his football life (see post here). Needless to say, A Football Life brought a new appreciation of football for me. 

The other is far less studious. It’s movies. To help me get into the game, my brother introduced me to a bevy of films that had at their core an appreciation for football. They helped me identify, even if they were fictional, with how someone could love a sport so much that he would dedicate his life to it.

I don’t know whether you’re football fans or not, dear readers, but today, in an effort to get us all into the spirit of the weekend, I’m sharing with you a few of the movies that helped me grow to love a game I never thought I’d give a hoot about. 


I feel it only right to start with Rudy as this movie always reminds me of the heart with which my brother always played. Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger is like my brother in that he possessed disadvantages physically, but regardless of how poor his running form or his athletic prowess, his heart drove him onward and upward against insurmountable obstacles. From a young age, Rudy’s dream is to play football for Notre Dame. However, as his grades didn’t come up to snuff and his stature was certainly lacking, when the time came for him to apply to Notre Dame, he was pretty much laughed off the campus. Furthermore, even his family couldn’t quite catch the vision he had for his life. Yet, Rudy persists. In the face of no, he works harder, applies himself more diligently, and by his junior collegiate year, he is able to transfer into Notre Dame and walk on to the Fighting Irish’s field. However, his fight doesn’t stop there. In fact, Rudy only becomes more discouraged as the season winds to a close and he hasn’t been able to suit up and step onto the field. After a moment’s self-doubt, he decides that whether or not he steps foot on Notre Dame’s field, he’s going to stick to his purpose until the end. That’s when the players advocate for him to be allowed to suit up. The coach agrees, and Rudy leads The Fighting Irish out of the tunnel. He also plays in the final kick off, thereby ensuring his name on the roster of those who played for Notre Dame. This movie is a biopic, though dramatic license was indeed taken. Yet, in the end, the truth still remains- your dreams are your dreams, no matter how seemingly unattainable, and you owe yourself the respect of chasing after them. I could really go on and on about this movie because there are so many truths to be plumbed here, but I’ll just leave you with my favorite line. It comes when Rudy is thoroughly discouraged and has given up on his dream. His friend Fortune gives him a dose of truth spoken in love:

You’re 5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’, and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. And you’re gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself. And after what you’ve gone through, if you haven’t done that by now, it ain’t gonna never happen. Now go on back.

Jerry Maguire

And, when it comes to football movies that deal with chasing after dreams, I think Jerry Maguire is one of the best. It’s a totally different take on football, but it brings a very important perspective. Jerry Maguire is a sports agent who has an epiphany about the sport’s business as it is and how he believes it should be. As his mentor, Dicky Fox said, The key to this business is personal relationships. When he expounds upon this epiphany and sends it to the entire staff at his firm, he is subsequently fired. You see, Jerry’s epiphany is that agents should take fewer client so that they can give more focus to those clients, thereby nurturing the quality of the player/agent dynamic rather than the quantity of the clientele lists. It’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see how that could really fall flat in a world dominated by the Almighty Dollar. (It’s somewhat ironic, too, that one of the most famous lines from this film is screamed by Jerry. Y’all know it. SHOW ME THE MONEY! - I still wonder how Tom Cruise didn’t win an Oscar for this performance as he was stellar.) In the face of seeming failure, Jerry presses on, refusing to apologize for his mission statement. His world says he shouldn’t succeed, but because of a handful of people who latch onto his mission and throw their whole heart behind him, he does succeed. This film is a football favorite for me because it delves into foundations upon which people build their lives. Do we do what we do for the money or for something more? Jerry decides it’s for something more, for a greatness that can’t be measured in dollars or accolades but in the quality of the relationships and community we build around ourself, and I agree with him completely. As Rod Tidwell says to Jerry: 

Some guys may have the coin, but they will never have the kwan... it means love, respect, community, yeah, and dollars, too. Kwan- the entire package. 

The Replacements

This one I used to think I needed to apologize for liking because it was somewhat silly, but now I own up to my love of The Replacements fully. It’s a quirky one to add to this list as it definitely doesn’t have the gravitas of the other two. However, it expertly demonstrates how heart is really what makes football so great. In fact, Jimmy McGinty, the replacements’ coach, says it best by quoting Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ Damn Yankees classic, Heart, to encourage his quarterback, Shane Falco, when the final game seems lost: You gotta have heart; miles and miles of heart. If The Replacements is about anything, it’s about heart. The film opens during the tumult of an NFL season caught in the middle of a strike over contracts. The players are refusing to play until their owners cave to their demands. One owner refuses and decides to employ replacement players. He enlists the help of his old friend, McGinty, to compile a team. McGinty does just that, searching out players who he knows are truly great but had quirks or mishaps that prevented them from turning pro. One of those players is Shane Falco, played by Keanu Reeves (one of my absolute favorites), has a collegiate history in the sport that has left him gun shy. He lacks all confidence, so he joins the replacement team reluctantly. He can’t turned down this second chance, though; he loves the game too much. Slowly, he gains confidence in the face of real resistance (which is when true growth happens, by the by). This team of misfits comes together to do something really impossible, all because they embrace their second chance and play with their hearts. As McGinty says,

But what they didn’t know, was that their lives had been changed forever because they had been part of something great. And greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man. Every athlete dreams of a second chance, these men lived it.

There are many more movies I could list that are worthy watches to get you in the mood for the Super Bowl: 

  • Radio, a Disney biopic starring Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr. 
  • Leatherheads, a fun romp into the past about the beginnings of a professional league for football starring George Clooney and Renee Zellweger 
  • The Blind Side, the Oscar nominated biopic about NFL tackle, Michael Oher 
  • Remember the Titans, another Disney biopic with Denzel Washington 
  • Facing the Giants, a faith film that shows how life’s lessons can sometimes be taught best on the field

Needless to say, all these movies purvey something powerful. If you want to achieve greatness, whether on a high school, college, or professional football field (or anywhere else for that matter), your heart must be the force behind your drive. In fact, if you do it with heart, you will surprise yourself. Sure, you may not win the game, but you’ll take something far more important away from it than a trophy. You’ll take away the satisfaction of knowing that you went out there and laid your everything on the field. Lessons of dedication, fortitude, and tenacity are important for us all. Those qualities are inspirational and they apply in all areas of life, not just football. 

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend. If you’re watching the Super Bowl, like I will be, I wish you all a good game- regardless of who wins. If you’re not watching the game, I hope you take a shot and watch one of these movies. If nothing else, they will leave you inspired. Lord knows, we can all use a dose of inspiration now and then. 

Did I miss any football movies? (I’m sure I did.) Which are your favorites?