When Fictional Sports Movie Plots Happen in Real Life

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2015

When Fictional Sports Movie Plots Happen in Real Life

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    LUCA BRUNO/Associated Press

    The Love & Basketball-inspired proposal wasn't the first time that elements of a fictional sports movie played out in real life.

    Take note: This is not about true stories made into movies. You won't find The Blind Side and the story of Michael Oher on this list. Instead, these are fictional movies with an eerily similar real-life counterpart.

    Now, this isn't The Twilight Zone, so most of these examples simply involve a portion of the movie, not necessarily the entire thing. Though the more closely related the film and real-life version are, the better. 

Happy Gilmore

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    Happy Gilmore is a 1996 Adam Sandler movie about a hockey player who can't skate but ends up being decent at golf. The real-life sports world was reminiscent of this comedy a few times recently.

    In February, Bryce Harper crushed a 340-yard drive, similar to a feat accomplished by the movie's title character. Then in June, a shot hit by actual golfer Rickie Fowler landed in the drink. A young fan eagerly went in to retrieve it for him, prompting For The Win to run this headline: "Rickie Fowler fan channels Happy Gilmore, dives in water after ball."

    Once in 2012, Fowler riled up a typically quiet golf crowd—something not many golfers would do. But Happy Gilmore would.


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    Did anyone else find elements of Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao similar to those of the Rocky movies? Maybe not the technical aspects of the actual fight, but still.

    Pacquiao, the underdog, heard his name chanted by fans throughout the Las Vegas arena. (Mayweather lives in Las Vegas.) Remember in Rocky IV when Ivan Drago's home fans in Russia turned on him and cheered Rocky's name?

    In the first movie, Rocky fought valiantly through all rounds but lost in a (split) decision to defending champion Apollo Creed. Pacquiao too fought hard but lost by decision to a champion—albeit a unanimous decision.

    And of course, the broadcast of the Pacquiao fight showed his wife, Jinkee Pacquiao, in attendance. Who could forget Rocky's beloved Adrian and their love declarations at the end of Rocky?

    I'm not saying Rocky is Pacquiao and Mayweather is Creed/Drago, but that's sort of what I'm saying.

Rocky IV

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    Who could forget the iconic training scene in Rocky IV, the one depicting Rocky's regiment in the frigid mountains of Russia?

    Even though Manny Pacquiao was the more Rocky-esque fighter overall, check out Mayweather's pre-fight training routine. Rocky sawed logs outside, while Mayweather chopped logs outside—it's basically the same. I have yet to see a video of Mayweather carrying a massive log up a snow-filled mountain, though.

The Mighty Ducks

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    GUS RUELAS/Associated Press

    The NHL's Anaheim Ducks franchise was actually inspired by a movie, Disney's 1992 classic The Mighty Ducks. When the Walt Disney Company founded the Anaheim franchise in 1993, the name was an obvious choice.

    Emilio Estevez played Gordon Bombay, the coach of a youth hockey team, in what became a Mighty Ducks trilogy. In the first movie, Bombay's team played the Hawks in the championship game.

    So, the NHL isn't youth hockey, but bear with me here. The Anaheim Ducks played the Chicago Blackhawks (Hawks!) in the Western Conference Final. Game 5 was an overtime thriller won by the Ducks, and get this: Estevez practically live-tweeted the whole thing, sprinkling in a glorious amount of film references while he was at it.

    It would appear Bombay roots for the Ducks in real life and in the movies. Quack, quack.  

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

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    Vince Vaughn battled Ben Stiller in the 2004 comedy classic Dodgeball, but there are many examples of professional athletes playing dodgeball in real life, just for fun.

    The Green Bay Packers used the game as a team-building activity in 2013. According to Mike Spofford of Packers.com, Aaron Rodgers said, "I've watched Dodgeball many times, and I've followed the five D's in dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and, of course, dodge. Patches O'Houlihan and I are good buddies." 

    In 2014, Drew Butera and Dee Gordon, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, participated in a dodgeball event at the MLB Fan Cave. They showed their opponents—kids, by the way—about as much mercy as White Goodman would have.

Blue Chips

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    REED SAXON/Associated Press

    Let's be honest—some version of the plot of Blue Chips has happened quite a bit in sports. The premise of the 1994 film involves a college basketball coach, played by Nick Nolte, feeling the pressure to recruit top talent. The coach eventually gives in, allowing boosters to provide gifts to touted recruits.

    NCAA recruiting violations are nothing new, but accepting money from a booster sounds a little like the University of Miami football program. Former booster Nevin Shapiro admitted to providing improper benefits—cash, cars, jewelry—to 72 football players from 2002 to 2010.

    In the movie, the coach 'fesses up, and the university is punished. Such was the case with Miami. The university accepted self-imposed sanctions and also lost nine scholarships.

Little Giants

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Little Giants is a classic coming-of-age tale about a rag-tag team of peewee football misfits. The O'Shea brothers coached opposing teams in a game to decide which would represent the town—younger Danny with the misfits and older Kevin with the seemingly superior team.

    The concept of two brothers facing off as head coaches in a pivotal game is much like Super Bowl XLVII, aka "the Harbowl." Jim and John Harbaugh coached the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively.

    Much like Jim Harbaugh, Kevin O'Shea had a successful playing career, but also like Jim, Kevin's team lost the big game.

Love and Basketball

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    In May, two former college basketball players got engaged after a game of one-one-one. The concept of basketball players falling in love and getting married is the basic premise of Love & Basketball, a 2000 film starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan.

    In the movie, the two lead characters played one-on-one in one of the final scenes. Former N.C. State guard Alex Johnson orchestrated a similar scenario and proposed to girlfriend Brey Dorsett after the game.

    Lathan saw the video, along with over three million YouTube viewers. She told Sanjay Kirpalani, a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, "I loved it so much. I've never seen anything like it. Proposals are so important because obviously, that's the one time you make that gesture. She's going to remember that for the rest of her life."

Necessary Roughness

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    In Necessary Roughness, Kathy Ireland played a female place-kicker on a fictional college football team. Ireland's character, Lucy Draper, was recruited from the women's soccer team.

    Ten years after the movie was made, in 2001, Ashley Martin became the first woman to both play and score in a Division I football game. According to ABC News, the Jacksonville State kicker was responsible for extra points and was also recruited from the women's soccer team.

The Replacements

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    Raul Demolina/Associated Press

    The Replacements is a 2000 film about a strike in professional football that resulted in the use of replacement players. This actually happened in real life, but although the film may be loosely based on the 1987 NFL strike, it's not meant to accurately tell that story.

    In the movie, one team went on strike with four games remaining in the season. The replacement players included a soccer player, sumo wrestler and a grocery store employee.

    In real life, the NFL Players Union organized the strike, and the owners responded by hiring replacements. These players, most of whom had professional football experience, played in Weeks 4-6 before the union voted to end the strike.

The Cutting Edge

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Cutting Edge is a 1992 film about a professional hockey player-turned-Olympic figure skater. The film version is rather implausible (the male lead, played by D.B. Sweeney, was an Olympian in both sports), but a toned-down version of this actually happened in real life.

    Max Aaron started out as an elite youth hockey player. Like Sweeney's character, Doug Dorsey, an injury curtailed Aaron's hockey career and prompted his migration to figure skating.

    According to John Powers of the Boston Globe, Aaron led his youth league in points and had a real shot at Division I hockey. However, he fractured two vertebrae at age 16 and eventually hung up the hockey skates. He hoped to use prior figure skating experience to continue chasing an Olympic dream.

    He won the 2013 U.S. figure skating championship but failed to make the 2014 team for Sochi. Most recently, he placed fourth in this year's U.S. championships.

The Longest Yard

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    The Longest Yard, originally released in 1974 and remade in 2005, is a comedy about a former professional quarterback, Paul Crewe, in prison. The warden asks Crewe, played by Burt Reynolds, to assemble a team of inmates to play football against the guards.

    In real life, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick served 19 months in prison as a result of pleading guilty to dogfighting charges. Vick, like Crewe, played football while in prison. Falcons owner Arthur Blank told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, "He is staying in shape. Apparently, there was a prison football team and he played quarterback for both sides."

The Wrestler

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    Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

    Mickey Rourke's performance in 2008's The Wrestler earned him an Academy Award nomination. Although the plot was fictional, it bore some compelling similarities to real-life professional wrestler, Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

    Rourke played Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging wrestler who struggled to make ends meet, battled health issues and attempted to mend a broken relationship with his daughter.

    According to Mike Pesca of NPR, Roberts also had an estranged daughter, and he battled drug addiction later in his career. Darren Aronofsky, director of The Wrestler, told Pesca, "It's sad to say what has happened to Jake is not that original a story for pro wrestling. We met so many guys who had similar journeys, who were big stars and just didn't take care of themselves and ended up in really, really terrible situations."


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