Life is people, Meat, not plot lines.
Think about your favorite, say, Al Pacino movie for a minute—Scarface, Scent of a Woman, Gigli, whatever. What's the first thing, the clearest thing, you remember? If you're anything like us—or anything like most folks, near as we can tell—you're probably channeling personality traits. The self-consuming ambition of Tony Montana. The desperate bravado of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade. The tragic myopia of anyone foolish enough to cast his lot with the train wreck that is Ben Affleck's career. Sure, the action is important (and affective—the crew at the Spot still flinches every time we hear a chainsaw rev up), but it's the acting that really sticks with you, right?; it's the humanity that has a stubborn knack for lingering on, long after the screen has faded its way to black—
And so it goes for sports flicks: the characters make the picture, not the other way around. Behind every great jock tale is a commensurately great jock personage, a figure with the moxie and the magnetism to, as they say in the industry, seize the audience by the short and curlies. Which doesn't mean, of course, that there's only one way to do the seizing. On the contrary, the guys (and girl) who made this list cut a wide swath across the thespianic spectrum—some are serious, some are silly, some have the sort of legs you'd like to suck on for a long weekend. For all their differences, though, this week's honorees share a certain irresistible essence; they're vibrant enough—vital enough—to make your neck hair stand on end. Or, for that matter, to make other parts of you stand on end, because, well, my God Meat—
Don't tell us you saw Bull Durham without praying for one night of sainthood—even just one night—in Annie Savoy's Church of Baseball...
Number Five: Steve Lattimer (Andrew Bryniarski) in The Program
Where better to start than with the ultimate anti-Rudy? Bryniarski's Lattimer, if you'll remember, is the erstwhile walk-on who shows up for his senior year with a serious case of BALCO bloat—he's so beefed out that the staff at ESU hardly even recognizes him. His training secret, of course, has more than just something to do with his not-so-natural testosterone levels, and the season plays out like a 'roid-addled roller coaster: the early success, the drug suspension, the rape charge (style points to Bryniarski for the way he literally tosses that chick across the room), and finally the shamefully poignant staredown with coach Sam Winters (Brian Piccolo...er, James Caan) at the end of the film. It's the stuff of a darkly vivid Faustian bargain, all told, and Lattimer makes it work—really work—by refusing to apologize for any of it. "Not everybody has your talent," he tells stud D-lineman Alvin Mack when confronted about his anabolic fixation. "You do what you have to do to play." Eat your heart out, Sean Astin. Eat your plucky little pipsqueak heart out.
Number Four: Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) in Major League
Talk about a man ahead of his time: Roger Dorn had the prima donna athlete act nailed in the late 80s, back when T.E. Owens was just a gangly Alabama high schooler. From the interior design fetish to the no-calisthenics contract clause, the Indians' third baseman knew how to walk the superstar walk—even if his olé bullshit around the bag drove manager Lou Brown up a wall. Jake Taylor may have liked Dorn more when he was "just" a ballplayer, but we'll take him as he comes in Major League...knit sweaters and all. And let's not forget Bernsen's heroically uproarious performance as owner-player in an otherwise lame-duck sequel. "Is April too early for Roger Dorn night?" Not if we have anything to say about it.
Number Three: Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) in Tin Cup
Yes, yes, we can hear you: a poor man's Crash Davis, right? Maybe a vulgarized version of Ray Kinsella? The man they call Tin Cup tends to get overlooked in discussions of Costner's most memorable jock roles, and we'd be lying if we said we didn't understand why: Davis (Bull Durham) and Kinsella (Field of Dreams) are both iconic figures, characters whose artfully idealized virtues—gritty masculinity for the former; unflappable piety for the latter—make them almost literally jump off the screen. The corollary to all that larger-than-lifeness, though, is that McAvoy's story is infinitely more real—more human—than those of his forbearers; where Crash actually gets his one last dinger and Ray finally has a game of catch with his long-lost pop, Roy's irredeemable flaws net him a grisly 12 on the final hole of the U.S. Open. The point, of course, is that the free-swinging maverick doesn't always wind up on top of the leader board...and if you can't see the verisimilitude in that one, Meat, you're obviously not a Phil Mickelson fan.
Number Two: Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) in Point Break
Maybe it's a stretch to call Point Break a sports flick, but Swayze is so good as the board-riding, bank-robbing Bodhisattva that we couldn't not find a home for him at the Spot this week. The shaggy surfer-qua-guru is, by far, the most quotable figure in an eminently quotable movie—so much so that any description of the performance has to start and finish with a few nuggets of what we can only call Zen Bodhism. To wit: "Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation causes your worst fears to come true. You project strength to avoid conflict." Or better still: "It's not tragic to die doing what you love. You want the ultimate thrill you, you gotta be able to pay the ultimate price." We could go on, of course, but if you haven't gotten the point by now, you're probably not going to get it at all. If you're picking up what we're putting down, on the other hand...via con dios, brah. It's time to go dance with universe.
Number One: Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham
A long-limbed redhead who reads Walt Whitman and coherently references the Frank Robinson-Milt Pappas trade? Oh we want her, Meat—we want her bad. Sarandon in Bull Durham delivers nothing less than a career-forging performance, to the extent that she's brought a little bit of Annie—in our eyes, at least—to every role she's played since. Louise Sawyer in Thelma and Louise? We were thinking she'd have been better off if she settled down with Crash in Carolina. Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking? We couldn't help but wonder whether she was wearing a garter belt under her habit. Granted, we're a little disillusioned by the fact that she and Nuke Laloosh have gotten hitched and become uncritical mouthpieces for the limp-wristed politicos of the modern American left...but we're even willing to look past that, so long as we know that somewhere, in the most hallowed recesses of our subconscious, we've got a little piece of Annie waiting for us. She's not easy to get to, after all these years—not easy like she used to be, anyway—but she's still there, buried in a frazzled mess of longing and memory, and in the end, well—
It's just like hitting a baseball, Meat: all you gotta do is relax and concentrate...