16 Kids Sports Movie Facts You Never Knew
Gordon Bombay was a saint, but he wasn’t perfect.
Neither was Mr. Mertle from The Sandlot. I bet you didn’t know that old man lied to Smalls and sandbagged Jackie Robinson for the better part of a century.
There’s plenty of weird stuff you probably didn’t know about your favorite childhood sports movies, and today, in honor of the 16th anniversary of Air Bud, we’re diving headfirst into the unknown.
The following are 16 facts you probably didn’t know about the sports movies you loved most as a kid.
There will be shock, awe and other strange feelings, but you will gain valuable knowledge today—knowledge you will use the next time your glassy-eyed friends start arguing about the historical accuracy of Cool Runnings at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
‘Space Jam’ Is the Highest Grossing Basketball Movie of All Time
Image via Warner Bros.
If you don’t like Space Jam, then you can giiit out.
What’s not to love about the best basketball player in the world playing no-rules hoops and being out-acted by 2-D animations?
Thankfully, however, people who don’t support this film are a minority in the world, which is proven by the fact that Space Jam is the highest grossing basketball movie of all time.
Since premiering in 1996, Space Jam has made $230,418,342 and counting. Consider that figure against second-place contender, White Men Can’t Jump, which pulled in $90 million.
Did you hear that? That's the sound of Hoosiers fans convulsing on the floor.
The Sandlot: Mr. Mertle Was the 1st Black Man to Break the Color Barrier
Image via 20th Century Fox
While it remains the golden standard of childhood sports movies, The Sandlot completely misses the ball when it comes time to teach kids proper baseball history.
Multiple errors are made throughout the movie concerning the time and place of historic baseball events, but none more egregious than the Photoshopped lie told by Mr. Mertle, the old African American man who owns The Beast.
Near the end of the film—long after the chase scenes and hot lifeguard kissing is over—Mr. Myrtle brings Smalls into his home and shows the young boy a picture of him standing between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a Phillies uniform. The photo is actually an altered version of this picture, with Mertle's faced shopped onto the body of Philadelphia Athletics power slugger Jimmie Foxx.
But the interesting part is the timeline the picture suggests. Given that Babe Ruth retired from baseball in 1935 and Gehrig called it quits in 1939—nearly a decade before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947—the image would make Mr. Mertle the first black man to break the color barrier of professional baseball.
Don’t you ever try to steal Jackie’s thunder, Mr. Mertle!
Air Bud: Buddy Was a Stray
DiCiccio and Brutus, one of Buddy's offspring. Image via Springfield News-Sun
That’s right—the smartest, most talented golden retriever in the history of civilization was originally a stray dog living in the wild without a family.
Kevin DiCiccio—author of Go Buddy! The Air Bud Story—found Buddy while hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the summer of 1989.
DiCiccio was walking on a dirt trail next to an abandoned mine shaft when Buddy emerged from the woods with a pinecone in his mouth. The author says his soon-to-be-best-friend had likely been abandoned and looked like a “disheveled mess."
DiCiccio took him back to his home in San Diego, where he began teaching him sports tricks—and we all know how that went.
Cool Runnings Was Written on Heroin
Cool Runnings is a true story—that fact alone might surprise some of you.
Much more surprising, however, is the fact that Tommy Swerdlow—the movie's writer and the man who penned Little Giants—was tying off and shooting up while writing his version of the true story.
In the name of promoting crowdfunding for a new movie project, Swerdlow went on Reddit Wednesday to answer questions and ended up dropping the bomb that he shot up heroin while writing Cool Runnings.
So there's that, mon.
Mighty Ducks: Gordon Bombay Gets Averman’s Name Wrong
Who can forget the scene in the first Mighty Ducks when Gordon Bombay rolls up in a limousine?
No one, considering half of the acting involves priceless dialogue where Bombay is tooled on by children nearly his size.
What you might not have noticed, however, is that when Bombay pulls out his roster list, he completely biffs on Averman’s name. Bombay starts reading the names, saying the player's last name followed by their first. He reads the list “Averman, Dave. Conway, Charlie...” and so forth.
Dave Karp was on the team, but Averman’s first name is Lester. I understand it was your first day, Gordon, and that these kids just threatened to use your eyeballs as hockey pucks, but come on. You’re the Minnesota Miracle Man. You’re better than that.
Rookie of the Year: Gary Busey Was Terrified of Pitching in Front of Crowds
Image via 20th Century Fox
Rookie of the Year was a movie about Henry Rowengartner, a boy whose arm healed in a weird way and gave him superhuman pitching abilities—so it’s already batting low on plausibility.
Even less plausible, however, was Gary Busey having stage fright while shooting the movie. Busey—who played Rowengartner’s hero Chet “Rocket” Steadman—refused to come out of his trailer when filmmakers began shooting at Wrigley Field.
According to director/actor Daniel Stern, Busey was afraid of screwing up his pitching in front of the 30,000 extras in the stands, and he had to slam on the actor's trailer for minutes before he would emerge.
When Busey came out, Stern slammed a fake mustache onto his face and told him to “throw the (bleeping) ball.”
Stern says Busey called it the greatest moment of his life, and thanks him to this day for snapping him out of his funk.
Air Bud: Buddy Played ‘Comet’ in ‘Full House’
I’ll go ahead and assume that if you’re reading an article about kids sports movies from the '90s that you’ve heard of Full House.
What you might not have heard of, however, is the fact that Buddy from Air Bud got his big break in show business by playing “Comet,” the Tanners' family dog, for several seasons.
I’ll also point out that as Comet, Buddy displayed a keen sense of fashion concerning nerdy eyewear.
‘Ed’ and ‘Sandlot’ Were Written by the Same Guy
Image via 20th Century Fox / Universal Pictures
Pretty girls, baseball and big scary dogs—The Sandlot was a masterpiece, and had every single great thing a young preteen could ever ask for in a film.
Then there was Ed, the cinematic equivalent of the Bay of Pigs invasion, where that guy from Friends plays baseball with a monkey who’s actually just a small man in a terrifying ape costume.
What if I told you they were written by the same person?
It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true—David M. Evans, the co-writer of The Sandlot also wrote the screenplay for Ed (1996).
In all fairness, Evans also directed the movie First Kid, in which Sinbad starred as a Secret Service agent, so he deserves respect. Batting .666 isn't bad.
Someone Made a Gordon Bombay '30 for 30' Trailer
A beautiful, amazing YouTube user named “Colin Stanton” made an ESPN-style 30 for 30 trailer for Gordon Bombay.
The video celebrates the life and times of a young hotshot named the Minnesota Miracle Man, who battled with his share of demons on and off the ice before finding solace in coaching a group of punk kids.
It’s also the story of a country—a country that "failed to protect its greatest natural resource": a man named Gordon Bombay.
Becky "Icebox" O’Shea Has Grown Up Big Time
Image via turbodaddy.net / filmous.com
All of the Little Giants have grown up, but none in such a dramatic way as Shawna Waldron, a.k.a. Becky “The Icebox” O’Shea.
Waldron, 31, has continued her acting career since Little Giants with relative consistency. She’s graduated from feel-good childhood sports movies, however, and is playing roles that are bordering on Skinemax.
One of her more recent gigs was the made-for-TV movie Poison Ivy: The Secret Society, where she strips down and does not want to cuddle afterward.
Almost Every Actor in ‘Angels in the Outfield’ Is Famous Now
Image via Getty
Weird Fact: Almost everyone who said anything in Angels in the Outfield is a highly recognizable star, which is an occurrence that doesn’t happen often in kids movies.
The Mighty Ducks franchise sure can’t say that, and chances are you wouldn’t recognize Henry Rowengartner from Rookie of the Year if you saw him today.
Angels isn’t the same, however. It premiered with its share of confirmed stars, but the collection of yet to be nationally recognized actors in the film have all prospered in a big way.
Roger Bomman, the film’s young protagonist who prays for angels, is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is now a major film star with roles in The Dark Knight Rises, Looper and Lincoln.
Angels outfielder Ben Williams was played by Matthew McConaughey. It was his fourth movie role, coming right after Dazed and Confused. We all know how his career has expanded.
Adrien Brody played Danny Hemmerling, a member of the Angels. He has since starred in a host of films, and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist.
Angels pitcher Whitt Bass was played by Neal McDonough, who has stuck to television roles, including parts in Band of Brothers, Desperate Housewives and Justified.
The Original ‘Air Bud’ Was Filmed for $3 Million
Image via Disney
Stop the presses. You’re meaning to tell me that a sports movie for children was shot on a shoestring budget?!
Yes, and while that fact alone might not be incredibly surprising, the original Air Bud truly was a Dollar Menu bargain compared to the rest of the films featured in this slideshow.
The Real Rudy Ruettiger Scammed People for Money
Image via Rudy Foundation
I don’t mean to be a bubble buster, but the real Rudy Ruettiger has done some things that clash greatly with his hard-work-first persona.
The movie Rudy was the guts-and-glory story based on Ruettiger’s real-life struggle to play for the Notre Dame football team. He worked his tail off day in and day out, but years after his story inspired a generation, the real-life Rudy found himself in trouble.
In 2011, Ruettiger was charged with securities fraud after the SEC found him operating a “pump-and-dump scheme.” America’s favorite benchwarmer was discovered scamming $11 million from investors with bad stock options in his sports drink company.
No cutting corners, Rudy. You of all people should know that doesn’t get you anywhere.
'Angels in the Outfield’ Was a Remake
Image via Disney / MGM Studios
If you aren’t old enough to be planning your retirement, chances are the Angels in the Outfield film you’re familiar with came out in 1994 and featured Danny Glover, Doc Brown and “Hold Me Closer” Tony Danza.
The original Angels in the Outfield, however, came out in 1951 and featured the Pittsburgh Pirates as the team in need of divine intervention instead of the Anaheim Angels—which I believe we can all agree makes the first film more realistic (barring 2013, of course).
Also worth mentioning is the fact that at the time of remake in 1994, the Anaheim Angels were partially owned by the Walt Disney Company, who produced the movie. In other words, the remake was Disney pumping up its own brand.
Disney Overdid the Racism in ‘Remember the Titans’
Image via Walt Disney Pictures
As it’s “based on a true story,” Remember the Titans is a more or less accurate story about a real football team in 1970s Virginia that put aside race and united their community through gridiron victory.
That being said, Disney jumped on the race-fiddle and started playing it hot while writing the film version of the story. Racism wasn't absent in Alexandria, Va. in the 1970s, but according to the real-life coach Bill Yoast and Titans quarterback Ron “Sunshine” Bass, the movie greatly dramatized the tension.
The integration of T.C. Williams and other high schools in Alexandria occurred in 1965—six years prior to the fateful season depicted in the film. No protesting occurred during the initial integration phase (as shown in the movie). According to Yoast and Bass, by the time 1971 rolled around white and black people were coexisting peacefully for the most part.
Both men admitted the championship run brought the town together and improved race relations within in the community, but claim Disney laid the tension on thick for dramatic effect.
The '90s Were the Golden Age of Kids Sports Movies
Image via Disney
It comes from a biased place, but this "fact" seems obvious: there just aren't as many quality sports movies aimed toward the youth anymore.
There are plenty of articles and slideshows on the Internet about the "The Greatest Kids Sports Movies," and I've yet to discover one that includes a selection from the last decade.
Perhaps it's because the writers are all in their twenties and older. Maybe one day we'll read an article about how Sandlot 2 was an amazing movie that helped form someone's childhood—but not today.
Today is Air Bud's day. Today is our day.
Happy anniversary, Buddy.
Join me on Twitter, where I reminisce on the '90s like it's my job.