TFW you solemnly swear to a bad take. Photo by Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
On Friday, Mike Pence, the Vice President of these United States, made the somewhat bland assertion that Hoosiers is the "greatest sports movie ever made" and made the entire press corps following him on Air Force 2 watch his own personal DVD of the 1986 film. As the former governor of Indiana, Pence has some obvious personal and geographical biases here, and unfortunately they have steered him wrong.
Lol per pool VP Pence had the whole plane en route to Sydney watch Hoosiers pic.twitter.com/8sPdsdsGAK
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) April 21, 2017
Hoosiers is not the greatest sports movie ever made; it's a movie about some chumps playing basketball where some dude with a weird name hits a shot at the end of the game or whatever. The greatest sports movie ever made is Rocky and it's not even close.
First, lets define some terms, specifically "sports movie" and "movie with sports in it." I will give Mike Pence this: Hoosiers is a sports movie. It traces either a team or an individual widely believed to be an underdog and sends that team/person on the Hero's Journey. Goals or aspirations that at one point seemed out of reach become attainable. Along the way, other shit happens—the heroes make new friends and enemies, he or she undergoes a process of self-evaluation and growth, they experience some good fortune and encounter usually unforeseen difficulties—until, against all odds, the goal is within reach, and we have the final showdown. This template can be used to frame both comedies and dramas.
Major League is a sports movie. Rudy is a sports movie. The Karate Kid is a sports movie. Bull Durham is a sports movie. Miracle, etc. The Wrestler is not a sports movie. It is a movie about a fucked-up dude trying to recapture his glory days amid a fog of his own fuckedupedness. He also happens to be a wrestler. It's a great movie with sports in it, but it is not a sports movie.
Rocky is very obviously a sports movie and it is the best of them all. It is a drama, which we all know does better than comedies in these sorts of discussions, for the same reason comedies get boned in awards: the emotional journey of a drama is more significant and stays with you longer than a good laugh does.
And so we have this hapless goon, Rocky Balboa, just sort of wasting away in shitty Philadelphia. He works for some two-bit mafia-type, breaking thumbs and whatnot. When he's not serving as some loan shark's muscle, he is trying to make it as a boxer. He is, well, not great, but he can take a beating. He actually loses his locker at the local gym because the guy running the place is fed up with him. He's looking at a dead-end life of crime, when opportunity suddenly knocks. Apollo Creed, the Muhammad Ali of this boxing universe, needs a chump to fight and he picks Rocky. His life instantly changes—he meets a girl, he gets his coach back on his side, and he starts beating up slabs of meat, running through the streets, and catching chickens. He's got this one shot and he's not going to waste it. And here's the thing: he doesn't want to beat Apollo, all he wants to do is go the distance.
When we get to the final fight, we're not talking about some rag-tag bunch of scrappy white hicks winning a state championship they had no business winning. This is a down-on-his-luck dude who finally caught a break. And do you know what that break was? Getting his ass kicked all over the ring by a physical specimen. But he just keeps coming back for more and more, and even landing a few shots of his own, until the fight is over. He did not win. There was no dramatic knockout to end the fight. Rocky went the distance and it was Apollo who spoke first: "Ain't gonna be no rematch." This oaf wore down Apollo freaking Creed.
That is why Rocky is the greatest sports movie. It resonates on personal level. Sure, you couldn't beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, but could you maybe not get completely embarrassed? Rocky might not be literally realistic, but it offers the most realistic version of hope you will find in a sports movie, and that provides a real connection, realer than "upstart team defies odds, goes on to eternal glory." Hoosiers is the American Dream they're selling, but Rocky is the American Dream we're all living. Just put your head down and take your licks, get by with a little help from your friends. Most importantly, just make it work, and maybe you'll get lucky.