Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Take the Quiz: Which Oscar-Nominated Sports Movies Are Based On True Stories?

For those too young to recall the events chronicled in "I, Tonya," which is nominated for three Academy Awards this year, raise your hand if you saw the movie and thought, "No way is this based on a true story!"

There have been several sports movies good enough for Oscar consideration over the years -- some based on true stories and others pure fiction. So... here's a quiz to see if you know the difference.

We’ll provide a brief description of 10 sports movies that have been honored at the Academy Awards -- five that are based on true stories and five that are total fiction. Can you guess which is which?

First, a few movies that we will not include here:

Rocky: Sylvester Stallone had always maintained that Rocky’s story was fiction – until recently admitting that it was “loosely based” on the career of real-life New Jersey boxer Chuck Wepner.

Heaven Can Wait: Los Angeles Rams QB Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is killed in a car accident, but when his guardian angel realizes that Pendleton was taken too soon, he returns to Earth in a different body. (This story is almost as unbelievable as a backup quarterback leading the Philadelphia Eagles to their first NFL title in 78 years.)

Field of Dreams: If the story of Shoeless Joe Jackson and other long-dead Hall of Fame baseball players coming back to life in an Iowa cornfield isn’t true, why do so many fans visit that field every summer?

So, yeah, it’s too easy to guess that stories involving reincarnation and ghosts are not based on true stories. Let’s see how you fare with these:

1) Million Dollar Baby: The 2004 Best Picture also earned Hilary Swank the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a tough female amateur boxer being mentored by grizzled trainer Clint Eastwood.

2) Chariots of Fire: The 1981 Best Picture honoree tells the story of two runners competing in the 1924 Olympics. As the movie poster says, “This is the story of two men who run … not to run … but to prove something to the world.”

3) Raging Bull: Martin Scorsese’s 1980 masterpiece about the turbulent life of a retired boxing champion. Many people think it was a crime that “Raging Bull” lost out to “Kramer vs. Kramer” for Best Picture, but the movie did earn a Best Actor Oscar for Robert DeNiro.

4) The Hustler: The story of young pool star “Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) taking on the champ, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), was nominated for Best Picture in 1961 – and it’s also credited with sparking a resurgence in the sport.

5) Jerry Maguire: Tom Cruise was nominated for Best Actor, playing the super-agent. Cuba Gooding Jr., who won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Cardinals receiver Rod Tidwell, had one of the best Oscaracceptance speeches of all-time.

6) The Blind Side: Sandra Bullock won Best Actress for this 2009 film about the white family in Tennessee that takes in an African-American high school football star from a broken home.

7) Hoosiers: In this 1986 classic, Gene Hackman plays coach Norman Dale, who leads a tiny Indiana high school to the state basketball championship in 1954.

8) Breaking Away: In this 1979 Best Picture nominee, a group of blue-collar teens from Bloomington, Indiana, enter the Little 500 bicycle race.

9) The Wrestler: Mickey Rourke was nominated for Best Actor for this 2008 portrayal of a down-and-out former professional wrestler battling health issues and internal demons.

10) The Hurricane: Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor in 1999, playing Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight contender who is wrongly convicted of murder.


How’d you do? Like “I, Tonya,” here are the five movies that were based on a true story: 2, 3, 6, 7, 10

Friday, February 2, 2018

How Bill Parcells and I Helped the Saints Win the Super Bowl

Saints coach Sean Payton, talking on Radio Row Friday morning, mentioned that he still speaks to Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells regularly. Which got me to reminiscing about the famous meeting these two coaches had prior to Super Bowl XLIV – right after I thought Parcells had busted me.

Here’s how it went down…

It’s Monday of Super Bowl week in 2010, and the Saints are getting ready to play the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida. As senior editor of, I was getting ready to moderate a live online chat with Parcells, then president of the Miami Dolphins. Before leaving the media center to meet Parcells at the Dolphins’ facility, one of our writers was telling me that he was having a hard time reaching Parcells. Since Payton was a longtime assistant Parcells, the writer wanted Tuna’s take on how the Saints coach might approach the big game.

No problem, I told my writer. The chat was going to be me asking Parcells questions submitted by fans. I’ll just slip in your question, couched as a fan’s query, and you can use the answer in your story. Easy.

It was a rainy Monday when we arrived at the Dolphins facility. The Saints were on their way as well – they would be practicing later that afternoon on the Dolphins’ practice field. I’m with my friend and colleague, Gil Brandt, who helped set up the chat. We meet with Parcells and set up in the PR director’s office. The live chat begins.

After getting a couple of questions in, I’m ready to get my writer his quote. Even though it’s not technically a fan-submitted question, I decide to keep it semi-authentic by using the writer’s first name and hometown when asking the question:

“Steve from Atlanta wants to know, How will Sean Payton …” I don’t remember the exact question, but that’s irrelevant. I ask it and get ready to type in the answer. Parcells pauses, then turns to Gil sitting next to him.

“That guy’s been trying to call me all week,” Parcells says.

Oh, shit. “Steve from Atlanta” was all he needed to hear to know we were pulling a fast one. I’m busted… by Bill Parcells. I froze.

Parcells continued his aside to Gil: “Well, his team is coming over here now for practice, so I guess I’ll talk to him then.”

Ohhhh… He wasn’t talking about Steve from Atlanta calling him all week. He was talking about Payton. Not sure if my sigh of relief was visible to the others in the room, but it felt like I just got a death row pardon.

The rest of the chat went smoothly. Steve from Atlanta got his quote and wrote a great story, as usual. But here’s the other significant follow-up…

As we were leaving the facility, the Saints had just arrived. Parcells met in private with Payton after the team practice. And it was there that Parcells told Payton something that arguably gave the Saints a Super Bowl victory. Parcells told Payton he should be bold on special teams and think about doing something to steal a possession.

That was the spark that led Payton to call for an onside kick to start the second half of Super bowl XLIV. The Saints recovered and never looked back, capturing the franchise’s first and only NFL crown.

Parcells can officially take credit for winning two Super Bowls with the Giants, and he can take a little credit for the Saints’ win.

Me? Not so much. But who knows? The facts are these: Parcells was talking to me for half an hour, then he gave Sean Payton advice that helped the Saints win the Super Bowl.

Sounds like I can take a little credit, right?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Why the Philadelphia Eagles Will Win Super Bowl LII

When it comes to sports, fate can be a funny thing. In this day and age of analytics, where numbers tell the story and there is no shortage of information at one’s disposal to predict the outcome of a sporting event, is there any room left to fate?

Hell yes.

It’s really all a matter of fate, since fate can be interpreted in any direction. Super Bowl LII is the ultimate example.

After all, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are fairly evenly matched. They had identical 13-3 records during the regular season. They finished tied for second in the NFL in scoring offense (28.6 points per game). The Eagles were fourth in scoring defense (18.4 ppg) while the Patriots were a tick behind in fifth (18.5).

Statistically, the biggest difference is in defensive yards allowed. The Eagles ranked fourth overall, allowing 306.5 yards per game, while the Patriots ranked 29th (366.0). Philadelphia’s top-ranked run defense allowed just 79.2 yards per game, while New England came in at 20 (114.8).

We’ll concede that the mere presence of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at least balances out the Eagles’ edge on defense. Okay, maybe they more than balance the spreadsheet.

So let’s bring fate into the mix. Not only are the Eagles long overdue to win it all -- they haven’t been crowned NFL champions since 1960 – but the Patriots have captured the Lombardi Trophy five times in the last 16 years. That’s downright obscene.

But here’s the thing: It’s not just that the New England Patriots are due to lose. It’s that they have been creeping ever so close to getting that comeuppance. Give Brady and Belichick all the credit in the world, but there’s no denying this basic truth: Their opponents did plenty to help them win their last two Super Bowls.

The Seahawks gave them Super Bowl XLIX with a terrible call at the goal line, allowing Malcolm Butler to make a game-saving interception instead of letting Marshawn Lynch run for a game-winning score with 20 seconds left.

Last year, the Patriots amazingly came back from a 28-3 deficit to upend the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Sure, the comeback was magnificent. But it’s wrong not to pin that loss on Atlanta’s inability to kill the clock.

The Patriots are truly one of the best teams in NFL history, a dynasty of the 21st Century. It would be totally unfair to call them lucky… but isn’t it fair to say that they’ve had some good fortune in those last two Super Bowl wins?

Even this season, fortune smiled on them. Shouldn’t they have lost that Week 15 game in Pittsburgh? First, the Steelers had a game-winning Jesse James TD catch overturned. Then safety Duron Harmon picked off a rushed Ben Roethlisberger pass at the goal line to seal the win. Without that victory, Pittsburgh would have been the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the playoffs might have been different.

That’s as far as I’ll take it. The Jaguars didn’t choke in the AFC title game. The Patriots more than earned their fourth-quarter comeback win over Jacksonville.

Still, it was yet another case of New England tempting fate. How many lives does this cat have?

Simply put: The Eagles are overdue to win a championship, and the Patriots are due to come up short.

Eagles 23, Patriots 20

Monday, November 13, 2017

Here Are 3 Great NFL-Related Odd Couple Episodes

Happy Odd Couple Day!

That’s right, you know what we’re talking about:

“On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence… That request came from his wife.”

There have been many iterations of The Odd Couple, from stage to screen to television. The movie version with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau was a classic, but it’s hard to top the original TV series that aired on ABC from 1970-75, starring Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar.

As the show gained popularity, it featured some notable guest appearances. And having one of the main characters be a successful sportswriter made it easy to incorporate big names from the sports world into storylines.

There was the episode where they tried to set up Oscar’s secretary, Myrna (Penny Marshall). One of the potential suitors is a European placekicker played by former Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian. Appropriately, the only English word he speaks is “Kick!”

In “That Was No Lady,” Felix falls for a woman he thinks is single. Turns out she’s married to a jealous pro linebacker played by Alex Karras. This was three years after Karras retired from the NFL and one year before his memorable turn as Mongo in “Blazing Saddles.” (Karras, of course, went on to play a not-so-tough guy as the dad in ‘80s sitcom “Webster.”)

Howard Cosell appeared twice in the series. In the final season, Oscar hired real-life comedian Jack Carter to write him some good Cosell insults (thus the episode title, “Your Mother Wears Army Boots”). But it was Cosell’s first appearance, in 1972, that was among the best Odd Couple episodes ever.

In fact, three episodes with NFL cameos are among the best in the series. Here they are:

“Big Mouth” (air date, Sept. 22, 1972) – The first of two appearances by “Monday Night Football” play-by-play man Howard Cosell. This one establishes the feud between Cosell and Oscar, and it also features a cameo – at least in highlight form – from Roger Staubach.

The episode includes two visits to the “Monday Night Football” booth. The first time, Felix suggests to Cosell that there are some things he can do to fix his nasal twang, to which Cosell fires back: “That nasal twang is the single most identifiable voice in broadcasting!”

The second visit comes during a Cowboys-Giants game, and Cosell aims to embarrass Oscar by handing him the mike to call a play. When Oscar freezes, Felix grabs the mike and pretends to be Oscar, proceeding to make one of the greatest play-by-play calls in football history:

“Staubach takes the snap from center. He fakes a handoff to Duane Thomas elegantly and fades back to pass. He’s looking for a receiver. He can’t find one. He’s scrambling… He’s scrambling with the dexterity of a lizard. … And now he looks to run with it himself. And he’s stopped cold at the line of scrimmage. No gain on the play! … No gain, but a lesson for us all. And what is that lesson? It is the lesson that is the message of all sports. Try, try again. For all men, no matter what their race, creed or color (looking at an African-American in the booth), no matter who they are, more than money is the love of fair play… And speaking of fair play, this is Oscar Madison signing off and reminding you that a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

Cosell then takes back the mike and says, “Ladies and gentleman, I’ll recap the three plays you just missed right after this announcement.”

Here’s the full episode (skip to the 22-minute mark to see Felix’s play-by-play)

“Felix’s First Commercial” (Nov. 3, 1972) – Felix gets to direct a commercial, but only if Oscar can get his friend, NFL star Deacon Jones, to be in it. And Deacon will only do it if Oscar can be in the commercial with him.

(Full disclosure: I once interviewed Jones for, I think around 2002 or so. When I got him on the phone, I prefaced the interview by telling him that I was a big Odd Couple fan and his appearance on the show was one of my favorites. “Goddamit!” said Deacon. “I’m in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the most feared pass rushers in football history, and all anyone wants to talk to me about is when I was on the Odd Couple and the Brady Bunch.” I think he was half-kidding, not sure. My instinct was to say I didn’t really want to talk about his appearance on the Brady Bunch, but instead I skipped the whole thing and went straight into football questions.)

“Take My Furniture, Please” (March 9, 1973) – Felix sets out to redecorate the apartment. The whole episode is so great that Bubba Smith’s cameo is almost an afterthought. Smith, playing himself, is in Oscar’s office for an interview when Felix shows up seeking Oscar’s approval on samples of their new drapes. As a precursor to his future comedic work in the “Police Academy” movies, Smith is great as football-star-turned-interior-decorator -- “I’ve tackled that color before,” he says.

When asked about his formal dining area, Smith deadpans, “I just did mine in blue and white, trimmed in gold. Looks great and the chicks love it.”

Here’s the full episode (go to the 9-minute mark to see Bubba’s part)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sad State of Web Editing

It was a Friday morning, and I was putting the finishing touches on a manuscript about NBA star Kevin Durant. This was for a youth publication -- 9,000 or so well-crafted words geared toward high school-aged kids.

It was for a series of books being written about the Golden State Warriors’ triumphant 2016-17 season, in which they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA Championship. Durant’s story was of particular interest. He was already an established superstar last summer when he signed a free-agent contract to join the Warriors, who had already been to two straight NBA Finals without him, winning it all in 2015.

Durant received plenty of criticism for signing with Golden State, but he played through it, helped his new team recapture the title, and was named MVP of the Finals.

Anyway, I was just browsing the web in search of some information for one last sidebar when I came across the following headline:

Kevin Durant recants Golden State Warriors’ season, title run in new video

Wait, what?

The longest chapter in my manuscript is all about “that championship season.” All that work I put into detailing the events that led to winning the title … Durant is disavowing it?

How was this not front-page news?

Of course, a quick perusal of the article confirmed what I really thought: The person who wrote that headline doesn’t know what “recant” means.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Recant: to withdraw or repudiate (a statement or belief) formally and publicly

The Warriors’ season and title run doesn’t qualify as a statement or belief, so the headline wouldn’t make sense even if there were some weird, negative angle. No, it was simply a story about this video in which Durant was looking back on last season.




Yes, that’s what the headline was supposed to be: Kevin Durant recounts Golden State Warriors’ season, title run in new video.

Should we give the editor the benefit of the doubt? Maybe he or she meant to write “recounts” but misspelled it. Autocorrect -- not having any context -- changed it to “recants.” Of course, then it’s just a terrible editing job.

I know what you’re thinking… It’s way too easy to pick on digital media outlets for their shabby writing and editing skills. But there are two aspects of this egregious error that really stick out:

For starters, this likely wasn’t just a careless typo or bad grammar. It wasn’t a millennial who thinks text shorthand – like thru instead of through -- is okay for headlines. No, this was a vocabulary-related offense. It was just ironic that the wrongly used word completely reversed the intended meaning of the headline.

On top of that, it should be noted that this story was originally published on a major media site that actually employs writers and editors. Because my intent is not to shame any particular source, there’s no need to call them out here. But make no mistake, the headline was not written by a blogger in a basement.

That said, you can easily find the source by dropping that headline into your browser. And therein lies another problem. If you Google that headline you’ll find the original source – plus a dozen other blogs and/or newsfeeds that picked it up. Some are clearly feeds that automatically pick up the original headline, but a few are blogs created by humans who lazily re-ran the original headline and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs. And it’s not simply a matter of us grumpy old journalism school grads making too big a deal out of grammar and spelling (and vocabulary, for crying out loud).

Last week, I was talking to a buddy of mine who is an NFL reporter for a major sports website. His work is read by millions. Recently, his boss asked him to add a new person to the distribution list when he emails stories to the desk. It was the new editorial intern, he was told, and there’s a chance the intern might be the one editing your story.

Good for the intern, I guess. At most major sports sites, the editorial intern might get to edit wire stories or game recaps. But the only set of eyes on the NFL insider’s news stories?

I repeat, It’s a sad state of affairs.

And that is a statement I will not recant.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Gil Brandt for the Hall of Fame

Well, that was depressing... On the one hand, I'm glad that when Peter King invited his readers to submit their 250-word essays on why their candidate should be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two people saw fit to write essays about the great Gil Brandt.

The MMQB published the best essays here, and one of the Brandt essays made the cut. Sadly, and shamefully, it wasn't mine.

Yup, I took the time to submit an essay. Brandt may never make it to the Hall -- as an inductee, at least -- but he deserves to be recognized for his tremendous achievements and contributions. Not only to the Dallas Cowboys but to the National Football League as a whole.

So anyway, nothing against Henry Martinez of Ennis, Texas (I'm glad he and I share our affinity for Gil), but I'm just a little bummed MMQB didn't run my essay.

So, of course, I'm happy to share it with you here...

The case for Gil Brandt

Die-hard Dallas Cowboys fans know and appreciate Gil Brandt for his role as the architect of what became known as America’s Team. But Brandt did more than just scout and draft the likes of Roger Staubach and Bob Hayes and Randy White. As a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame under the “Contributor” category, Brandt fits that description better than anyone.

Owners and GMs “contribute” to the game in fairly specific ways, but Brandt blazed a path that did not exist before he joined the Cowboys in 1960. The scouting methods and strategies that he implemented have become commonplace throughout the NFL.

Whether it was paying closer attention to the small schools and historically black colleges, recognizing that track stars and basketball players might succeed playing football, projecting the ability of a player to switch positions, or being the first NFL organization to incorporate the use of computers into its scouting process, Brandt was ahead of his time.

Brandt was an important part of the triumvirate, along with Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, that made the Cowboys what they were. Landry and Schramm are both in the Hall. Brandt’s relevancy cannot be denied. Even after his days with the Cowboys, the NFL has employed him to identify the college prospects they invite to New York for the draft every year.

Can the history of the NFL be written without Gil Brandt? Probably, but it would be very different, in many ways.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This week's ultimate fantasy sleeper

How's this for a ballsy pick in daily fantasy football: Seahawks backup RB Robert Turbin gets the start!

Why not? In my weekly "Value Picks" article for, I undertake the following exercise: Build a roster each week that includes the most expensive QB, RB, WR and TE ... and then try to fill in the rest of my roster with underpriced guys so I'm still under the salary cap.

Of course, that means my lineup includes Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and either Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning every single week. I can live with that.

Depending on the daily site being used, there are different combinations of rosters. I prefer sites like, since they have spots for two quarterbacks. So after you splurge on the highest-priced guy, you can still find a nice value pick to select.

Anyway, after doing pretty well last week by picking Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (who had 10 carries for 3 yards the previous week), I decided to really push the envelope in Week 3 -- taking a chance that Seattle will give backup RB Robert Turbin a good chunk of action this week against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here's the line of thinking: Marshawn Lynch was a true beast last week, carrying the ball 28 times against the physical 49ers defense in a divisional grudge match on national TV. Next week, the Seahawks travel to Houston for a marquee matchup -- Super Bowl preview? -- against the Texans.

So a home game against the worst team in the NFL is a perfect opportunity to give Lynch a breather and let Turbin -- who had six carries for 30 yards himself last week -- have a chance to shine.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Sure, it's a little risky, but I love the potential here.

For all my value picks this week, check out my article.