Football is perfect subject material for cinema. The bone-jarring collisions, deep passes and fast, dynamic rushes are natural highlight set pieces for the silver screen. The nature and drama of the gladiatorial struggle at the heart of every play offer plenty of material for willing screenwriters.
Despite its possibilities, football's record on the big screen is an uneven one. As sub-genres go, football has not produced many classic movies, but it has produced plenty of memorable cinematic moments. Even in the most mediocre football films there is usually the customary rousing, inspirational speech. The physical, combative nature of the game and the often mythical status given to coaches mean that football lends itself well to such lofty dialogue.
The football movies that have managed to produce the instantly and endlessly quotable speeches are those where vivid writing has been combined with a true respect and understanding for the game itself. These speeches either elevate or, in some cases, reject the generic rabble-rousing to say something deeper and more meaningful.
Here is a list of five cinematic speeches which encapsulate both the good and bad of football.
There are a number of memorable speeches in this story of federally mandated segregation in early '70s Virginia.
Denzel Washington's brash turn as coach Herman Boone may steal most of the scenes in an otherwise forgettable flick, but it's reluctant assistant Bill Yost, played by Will Patton, who enjoys the film's best moment.
This speech represents a turning point in the movie, when the previously passive Yost finally decides to step forward and declare himself against the entrenched discrimination of many in his community.
Yost's rallying call to a defense being victimised by a bigoted referee, perfectly crystallises the nature of defensive football:
"Now, I don't want them to gain another yard. You blitz all night!"
His threatening exhortation to the defense to allow nobody across its threshold embodies the siege mentality behind all good defensive play. Sending his rabid unit back onto the field to "leave no doubt," Yost's call for his players to fight back against the offense reminds you that in football, attack is the best form of defense.
Jerry Maguire struck a chord with its portrayal of the rare agent who can care about his clients more as friends than as a potential commission percentage. But the film also tried to highlight what a love for football can do to change an egotistical, paycheck player.
Maguire's only client is motor-mouthed wide receiver Rod Tidwell, played to the hilt by a raucous Cuba Gooding Jr. Tidwell is the poster boy for every fan's negative image of the attention-seeking wide receiver. On the field he is equal parts demanding, sulky and selfish in his often shallow pursuit of the "Quan."
It is only when Jerry calls on him to start "playing the game from his heart" that Tidwell begins to rediscover how much he loves football. Maguire cuts through Tidwell's conceited bravado to inform him that playing as though the world owes him a living is never going to endear him to the fans.
This is a great speech about how people want to see players who enjoy the game and play with a tangible enthusiasm. Not even Tom Cruise's cringe-worthy high-pitched imitation of Gooding Jr. can blunt the import of this scene.
In an era where fans have too often been subjected to egotistical, sullen and self-serving wideouts, it's easy to wish that this speech be repeated to every "me first" receiver in the game.
Perfection on the gridiron is the ultimate goal for the high school players in this true story about the significance of football in a financially bereft Texas township. Billy Bob Thornton's understated portrayal of coach Gary Gaines features many quotable lines, but it is his halftime musings on what perfection really means which have the most resonance.
With his Permian Panthers trailing at the halfway point of an emotional season finale, Gaines surprises his players by inverting one of the key lessons he has preached since taking over. After beginning the season urging his players to chase perfection at all costs, Gaines seizes the opportunity to put things into perspective.
His treatise on showing love for one another and playing with a "full heart" in a game ultimately not measured by its scoreline is certainly inspiring. But it would likely not be a realistic appeal to make in the win first, money talks culture existing at the pro level. Ironically, it's the pro game which probably needs this speech the most.
This iconic half satire on the motivation of the modern athlete certainly remains topical during the current labor dispute.
When money-hungry Rod Tidwell barked these infamous orders down the phone at a beleaguered Jerry Maguire, many would likely have been glad to see the roles being reversed on the nefarious agent. But the scene also hinted at the growing power and demands of the players themselves.
Like it or not, the sentiment behind Tidwell's proud assertion that his need to be shown the money is "a very personal, a very important thing" lies just behind Albert Haynesworth's $100 million contract and every exorbitant signing bonus enjoyed by today's players.
The scene still remains entertaining, but 15 years on, it can also be read as a haunting cautionary tale about football's inability to control escalating player demands and owner spending.
Football is the ultimate team game. Every member of the roster has a genuine opportunity to directly affect the team's chances of winning. The standout moment in Oliver Stone's brilliant football epic, this speech takes the team concept to its perfect limit. Each member of the team needs the other in order to survive.
What makes this the best football speech in cinema history is how it transcends sport without demeaning it. Its achingly poignant parallel between the pitfalls on the field and the near misses in life could not fail to illicit an emotional response even from someone who has never even glanced at an NFL logo. Positioning football as a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life reminds us why we love the game. It's the safe viewing of organised drama.
Al Pacino's performance makes coach Tony D'Amato the kind of coach every fan wants their team to have. His skilled delivery does full justice to the superb dialogue. As his gruff voice gradually grows into a roar with each line, you know it's more than just a game:
"Because that's what livin' is! It's the six inches in front of your face!"
After he has built the locker room into a frenzy of anticipation and tension, Pacino masterfully pauses, only briefly, and then simply asks, "Now, what are you gonna do?!" It's a psychological flourish on a par with Jimmy Johnson's "How 'bout them Cowboys?!" The locker room explodes.
No speech before or since has better encapsulated the finer aspects of football. Within D'Amato's words is an image of the game all fans want to believe is the truth and all marketing men probably wish they could mass-produce on every item bearing an NFL symbol. It makes you wish there was never an offseason.