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Popcorn Bowl

Deciding the greatest football movie of all time

We dare you to watch the 1971 classic Brian’s Song without a tear coming to your eye. Can’t be done. Photo credit: Screen Gems Television

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The Big Game is just around the corner.

With that in mind, we've put together a 16-movie bracket for the Popcorn Bowl -- my ranking of the best football films of all time.

The brackets have been divided into Pro and Amateur, i.e., films about professional players and teams, and films about high school and college football.

Without further ado, it's time for the Popcorn Bowl kickoff!


First round:

Brian's Song 1971 vs. Big Fan (2009)

Loved Patton Oswalt as an obsessed fan of the New York Giants, but this is a three-touchdown victory for the greatest ABC Movie of the Week of all time.

North Dallas Forty (1979) vs. Semi-Tough (1977)

In this battle of 1970s period-piece comedy dramas, the grittier and more cynical North Dallas Forty wins going away.

Heaven Can Wait (1978) vs. Draft Day (2014)

The sweet, spiritual and funny remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan edges Ivan Reitman's insightful NFL drama starring Mr. Sports Movie, Kevin Costner, as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

Jerry Maguire (1996) vs. Any Given Sunday (1999)

Leave it to Cameron Crowe -- and Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger and Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. -- to make a lovable film about a sports agent. More enduring than Oliver Stone's star-studded, action-packed and zany satire of the pro game.

Second round:

Brian's Song vs. North Dallas Forty

As much as I loved the cast of North Dallas Forty, I gotta go with Brian's Song, with Jack Warden as Coach George Halas.

Heaven Can Wait vs. Jerry Maguire

I'm taking Warren Beatty's quarterback over Tom Cruise's agent. Plus: Julie Christie! Heaven Can Wait has Julie Christie. And Dyan Cannon. We're talking about 1960s/1970s era Hall of Famers.

Third round:

Brian's Song vs. Heaven Can Wait

Of course, the greatest thing about Brian's Song is the friendship between rivals turned backfield mates Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, played by Billy Dee Williams and James Caan, respectively. The romance in Heaven Can Wait might glisten your eyes or put a little lump in your throat; the bond in Brian's Song is box-of-tissue level. Brian's Song wins by a touchdown.


First round:

Rudy (1993) vs. The Blind Side (2009)

Two wonderfully inspirational films based on true stories, but Rudy revolves around football, whereas The Blind Side is as much about Sandy Bullock getting an Oscar as it is about Quinton Aaron's Michael Oher.

All the Right Moves (1983) vs. The Longest Yard (1974)

Michael Chapman's film starring a young Tom Cruise as a prep defensive back hoping for a college scholarship to lift him up from an economically depressed Pennsylvania steel town is maybe the best movie about high school football ever made. As such, it earns the nod over the original.

Remember the Titans (2000) vs. The Program (1993)

Denzel Washington was perfectly cast in the uplifting if somewhat predictable story of an African-American coach leading the first racially integrated unit in the school's history. But The Program advances for its unblinking look at the pressures of major college football.

Friday Night Lights (2004) vs. We Are Marshall (2006)

I said All the Right Moves might be the best high school football movie ever because it's pretty much a coin toss between that film and Friday Night Lights, which was based on the brilliant book and led to the classic TV series. Peter Berg's kinetic and richly layered Lights moves on.

Second round:

Rudy vs. All the Right Moves

Sean Astin and Tom Cruise are two of the shortest fellas ever to play football players, but Sean's playing a walk-on and Tom's playing a high school DB, so it's believable in both cases. Rudy moves on.

Friday Night Lights vs. The Program

The Lights stay on for another round.

Third round:

Rudy vs. Friday Night Lights

This one was closer than you might think, but Rudy wins by a last-minute field goal for somehow making a great football movie about a guy whose entire career consisted of three plays.


Rudy vs. Brian's Song

"I love Brian Piccolo," Gale Sayers says in Brian's Song, and I don't know anyone who has watched that scene and this movie without being moved.

More than 40 years after its release, Brian's Song is the champion, and it's going to take a special film to knock it from its perch and ascend to the throne as the Greatest Football Movie of All Time.

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