Hardwood and Hollywood

GOAT Week: The Greatest Movie Athlete

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Hardwood and Hollywood’s G.O.A.T. Week is a series of posts on various categories to be published in two-week period. Yes, there were so many categories, we had to do two weeks, not one! Here’s the schedule: August 7th – Basketball PlayerFootball Player; August 8th – Drama Film, Ending to a Film; August 9th – Sports Announcer, Sports Cult Hero; August 10th – Baseball Player, Movie Athlete; August 11th – Ending to a TV Series, HBO TV Series; August 14th – Movie Actor, Movie Actress; August 15th – TV Series, Album; August 16th – Comedy Film, Film Franchise; August 17th – TV Actor, TV Actress; August 18th – Musician, One Hit Wonder 

Sonny Giuliano – Rocky Balboa

You could make an argument that there have been other fictional movie athletes that were more dominant on the field of play in their respective fictional sports movies, but none have been as culturally iconic or necessary as Rocky Balboa. Rocky (the film) was the inspiration for a countless number sports films that followed the underdog formula that Stallone and Co. crafted in 1976. Rocky Balboa (the boxer) remains the most perfect embodiment of that formula, and that has been the case over the course of a 40 year journey we’ve been lucky enough to watch from afar.

I could talk about all of the subtle things that make Rocky Balboa the GOAT Movie Athlete, or I could just hit ya with some points of the most obvious points of Rocky’s resume and save us all a little time.

– Two-time Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
– Split two fights with Apollo Creed, whom many within the Rocky universe have suggested was the greatest boxer of All-Time.
– Had to deal with Paulie Pennino as a brother-in-law.
– Climbed the tallest mountain in Russia.
– Conquered a seemingly indestructible Soviet juice-head in Moscow on Christmas Eve just months after that very same foe literally killed Rocky’s best friend, Apollo Creed, in the 2nd Round of a boxing match that was supposed to be an exhibition!
– Ended the Cold War after defeating Ivan Drago.
– Nearly defeated the then-current Heavyweight Champion Mason “The Line” Dixon despite being 60 years old at the time.
– Created a nice second-life for himself as a successful restaurant owner and as the trainer of Adonis Creed.

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Dalton Baggett – Johnny Utah

This is an easy one. The GOAT movie athlete is Johnny Utah from Point Break. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” You yell at your computer and/or phone screen. “Okay. I get it. This is where you tell me that ‘locals rule,’ and that Yuppie insects like me shouldn’t be surfing the break, right?” I reply with my best Keanu Reeves impression.

Listen. Johnny Utah was a star quarterback for Ohio State. He probably would’ve gone on to be way better than Tom Brady could ever dream of in his wildest Ugg-filled dreams. Or at the very least a replacement quarterback that comes in when the starters all go on strike. Unfortunately, a nasty knee injury ended these dreams and he joined the FBI.

Do you know what he did in the FBI? He learned to surf like a professional in about four days and infiltrates an elite group of surfer/skydiver/bank robbers called the Ex-Presidents (I love this movie more than anyone in my family).

I’m fairly certain that there are zero transferrable skills from football to surfing. Do you know what that says to me? It says Johnny Utah is a freak athlete with natural skill in just about everything. Did you see him kick that dog about 30 feet? He probably had a career in the NFL as a punter waiting for him too.

Johnny Utah is the GOAT movie athlete. Vaya Con Dias.

P.S. My runner up for this category is Merrill Hess from Signs because he literally saves the planet with his baseball bat, but then I wasn’t really sure we were counting baseball players as athletes so he didn’t get the top spot. Also, Johnny Utah is just a much better movie name than Merrill Hess.

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Lenny Burnham – Torrance Shipman

Bring It On’s Torrance Shipman is hard-working, a leader and dedicated to cheerleading. Despite having every advantage, she believes in a level playing field and tries to set things right. Her admirable qualities are a huge part of what make her such a great protagonist, but it’s her inner turmoil that really set her over the edge for me.

Through Torrance, Bring It On shows how a sport can completely drain a person and leave them with almost nothing to show for it. In some ways, she loves cheerleading but the movie makes it clear how much it’s taken out of her. Her mother points out how she isn’t putting effort into school or other interests. She compares her final year of competitive cheerleading to being condemned to Hades. At one point, Missy Pantone tells her, “It’s only cheerleading.” Torrance’s character-defining response is, “I am only cheerleading.”

The movie is not just about her doing her best to bring the Toros to victory. It’s also about her making her first real friend and forming a romantic connection with someone who she can bond with over something besides cheerleading. Slowly throughout the film, she’s able to see a life for herself outside of cheer.

In the movie’s fantastic ending, the East Compton Clovers beat the Toros. Torrance congratulates the Clovers’ captain Isis and tells her straightforwardly that they were better than the Toros. A big part of this moment is finally giving Isis and the Clovers their due. But, it also signifies the satisfying conclusion to Torrance’s personal journey. She started off obsessively, anxiously dedicating her life to cheerleading. By the end of the movie, she’s able to concede that someone else is better than her and be at peace with it. It’s a satisfying ending for a uniquely complex character.

The Natural

TJ Macias – Roy Hobbs

The story of Roy Hobbs semi mirrors the outline of real-life pitcher Madison Bumgarner. The men have similar hues by way of the arm and the bat, even though one is real and warm while the other is fictional and considered elderly in the baseball world. Both were pitchers who rake.

In the beginning of The Natural, one would assume that Hobbs’ dream is long dead after the 19-year old pitcher is shot by a suicidal wack-a-doodle the night before he was to try out for the Chicago Cubs. 16 years later, Hobbs defies the rules of baseball and at 35, signs on with the New York Knights from out of nowhere.

Like in most cliché baseball movies, everyone starts to take notice to Hobbs after he knocks the cover off of the baseball when pitch hitting for a troubled teammate. After that moment, he becomes the nucleus of the Knights and almost singlehandedly turns the team around.

Since every main character in a sports film has to hit a low point before he’s really able to fly, Hobbs goes into a slump after the truth of his past is revealed, until an ex in white shows up at one of his games. After peering slightly at her when she stands up in the middle of the crowd sitting on the bleachers, Hobbs ends up hitting the game-winning home run. This pushes the Knights up into first place, but one game shy of clinching the pennant.

A lot of other crap happens after that, including a drugging, crying, Kim Basinger attempting to act, bribing, some kid born out of wedlock, and the definitive “baseball crashing into overhead lights all dramatically and shit” moment.

Clichés aside, Hobbs is most definitely the G.O.A.T of movie athletes due to his age and the incredible 16 year gap in his career. That just doesn’t happen with a pitcher – their velocity tends to drop with age and their ERA becomes as high as Mozart’s IQ if they’re not using their arm on a daily basis. That 16 year break wasn’t just rest on his arm, you know. At 35, Hobbs would have been a veteran reliever at best, having long since been removed from the starting line up. But Hobbs managed to defy the odds here and stayed sharp in the game even after he was shot. And, much like Bumgarner, the old bastard could hit the guts out of a baseball.

Take that, American League DH – you puny little weaklings.

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