15 Mistakes in Sports Movies

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2014

15 Mistakes in Sports Movies

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Mistakes in sports movies are more common than you might think.

    I’m not talking about major changes to the truth—certain liberties taken to add dramatic effect. For example, we all know that no Notre Dame player ever laid down his jersey for Rudy.  

    But you might not know that Bob Cerv wasn’t on the 1961 New York Yankees Opening Day roster. Or that the makers of The Blind Side might not fully understand clock management.

    I’m also not talking about downright unrealistic plot lines. As if the Cubs would really let a 12-year-old kid pitch for them. As if the Indians would be so devoid of a farm system that they would recruit randos who showed up to training camp uninvited.

    Today I present to you 15 factual mistakes made in these based-on-a-true-story sports movies—minor plot tweaks that you may not have noticed or errors that could even have been unbeknownst to the filmmakers themselves.

    Allow me to delight you with useless movie trivia for a moment, will you?

Invincible (2006)

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    Invincible is the true story of Vince Papale, a regular Joe from Philadelphia who attended an open tryout for the Eagles at age 30—and made the team.

    He still holds the record for oldest rookie in the NFL (not including kickers).

    In the film, Papale’s teammate and 1976 training camp roommate Dennis Franks suggests that he is a veteran on the team. In reality, Franks was a rookie that year, just like Papale.

Remember the Titans (2000)

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    Remember the Titans, a story about racial integration and high school football, is the world’s greatest sports movie. OK, that’s my opinion. But even so, there are a few mistakes in my beloved Denzel Washington flick.

    For example, according to the filmmakers, the T. C. Williams Titans played Haywood, Herndon and Groveton to start the 1971 football season.

    According to ESPN.com, the Titans didn’t play Groveton until the sixth game that year.

Seabiscuit (2003)

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    Seabiscuit is an underdog story—a film about the Depression-era racehorse, based on the book Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand.

    After an unlikely streak of success, Seabiscuit raced (and beat) the 1937 Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, in a head-to-head match race on Nov. 1, 1938.

    According to IMDb, characters in the film mention War Admiral’s height at 18 hands. However, in real life, War Admiral was about the same size as Seabiscuit—15 hands.  

Cinderella Man (2005)

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    Associated Press

    Cinderella Man is another Depression-era underdog story—this one focusing on James J. Braddock, former heavyweight champion of the world.

    Braddock took that heavyweight title from Max Baer in 1935, a fight in which he was a 10-1 underdog.

    In the film’s depiction of their epic battle, Baer wears a robe with his own name on it. Makes sense, right? In reality, Baer actually wore a robe with “Steve Morgan” written on the back, according to IMDb.

    Baer played a boxer in the 1933 film The Prizefighter and the Lady, and the robe was apparently a prop from that motion picture.

42 (2013)

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    According to the film about Jackie Robinson's life, 42, the Brooklyn Dodger was hit by a pitch in a particular 1947 game. This is true.

    What is not true, however, is that Robinson was hit in the head by Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller, as depicted in the film.

    Ostermueller’s daughter recently told Kevin Murphy of Reuters that the film misrepresented her father. Murphy wrote:

    Duesterhaus' father, Fritz Ostermueller, threw the pitch, but it did not hit Robinson in the head and there is no evidence he uttered ‘you don't belong here and you never will,’ as shown in 42.

The Express (2008)

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    Ernie Davis played football for Syracuse University from 1958-61. He was the first African American to win a Heisman Trophy and the first overall NFL draft pick in 1962. The Express is his story.

    Davis died of leukemia before he ever got a chance to play in the NFL, but he was introduced during a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to NFL.com.

    In the film, the introduction happens in a game against the Chicago Bears

Ali (2001)

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    CHRIS PIZZELLO/Associated Press

    Ali is a film about the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali (played by Will Smith).

    The climax comes with the depiction of the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle,” the real-life bout between Ali and George Foreman in which Ali defeated the champ and took back his heavyweight title.

    In the movie, the ring announcer introduces (in French), Ali out of the blue corner and Foreman out of the red corner. In real life and in the movie, the fighters are in the opposite corners, so the film just got the announcement wrong.

Friday Night Lights (2004)

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    CHRIS PIZZELLO/Associated Press

    Friday Night Lights is a movie inspired by a book inspired by a high school football team—all of which later inspired a TV show. You follow me?

    H.G. Bissinger spent the 1988 football season with the Permian Panthers in Odessa Texas and later wrote an account of their tumultuous season.

    In the film adaptation of the book, there is a football scene that shows the clock running immediately following an incomplete pass. However, rules dictate that the clock should stop after an incomplete pass.  

    Also, the film shows Permian losing to Dallas Carter in the state finals, when in reality, its loss came in the semifinals.

Rudy (1993)

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    Rudy is based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, an undersized football player who walked on at Notre Dame.

    There are several inconsistencies with real life in the movie, but many are intentional to add dramatic effect—as is the case with many of the films on this list.

    For example, Joe Montana said on the Dan Patrick Show (via USA Today) that the crowd did not chant Rudy’s name at the end of the game against Georgia Tech, as portrayed in the film.

    But there was an error that may not have been intentional—according to ESPN.com, Rudy is shown in the stands during the movie watching a game against Penn State. Problem is, Notre Dame didn’t play Penn State in 1974 or ‘75.

We Are Marshall (2006)

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    RIC FELD/Associated Press

    In 1970, almost all members of the Marshall University football team were killed in a tragic plane crash.

    We Are Marshall is the story of that crash and the subsequent football season at the university.  

    Jack Lengyel took over the head coaching job in 1971, and according to IMDb, the voice-over at the end of the film indicates that Lengyel is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

    Lengyel did receive the John L. Toner Award from the Hall of Fame in 2005, but he’s not actually an enshrined member.

A League of Their Own (1992)

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    A League of Their Own stars Gina Davis and Tom Hanks in the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

    Davis plays Dottie Hinson, a character inspired by the real-life Dorothy Kamenshek. Kamenshek played for the Rockford Peaches and was once named by Sports Illustrated as one of the 100 greatest female athletes of all time, according to The Washington Post.

    The film accurately identifies the Racine Belles as the 1943 league champions, but it inaccurately depicts the Rockford Peaches as their opponents in the final series. The Belles defeated the Kenosha Comets 3-0 in a best-of-five series.

    The movie also inaccurately portrays the final series as a best-of-seven set.

The Fighter (2010)

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    The Fighter is the story of boxer Micky Ward and his drug-addict, trainer brother.

    The final fight of the movie shows Micky defeating Shea Neary for the WBU Light Welterweight title. Prior to that scene, the two fighters are both announced to have weighed in at 146 pounds.

    This is untrue—Ward and Neary weighed in at 140 and 139 pounds respectively.

61* (2001)

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    Associated Press

    61* is a movie about the 1961 New York Yankees, and more specifically, Roger Maris and his chase to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record.

    Bob Cerv was a member of the Yankees in 1961, acquired via midseason trade from the Angels. In the movie, however, Cerv (played by Chris Bauer) is spotted in an Opening Day scene with the Yankees.

The Blind Side (2009)

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    The Blind Side is the story of Michael Oher, a disadvantaged youth who was taken in by a Memphis-area family and now plays in the NFL.

    During Oher’s first high school football game, the film shows the scoreboard clock running after a kickoff, according to IMDb.

    Here in the real world, the clock doesn’t start running again until the ball has been touched after after the kick.

Miracle (2004)

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    The Miracle on Ice needs no explanation. 

    In the movie about one of America's proudest sports moments, teammates Rob McClanahan and Jack O’Callahan have some beef with each other over an incident in the 1976 NCAA hockey playoffs.

    According to the film, O’Callahan took a cheap shot from McClanahan during a game between Boston University and the University of Minnesota.

    McClanahan did play for Minnesota, and O’Callahan did play for Boston, but McClanahan didn’t get to The U until 1976-77 season, so the supposed cheap shot in the ’76 playoffs could never have actually happened.