Three or so months into our vast isolation, we have had plenty of time to kill, plenty of hours to occupy, and so of course one of the things you do when you crave sports and you watch a lot of movies is you go to your old stand-by — the classic sports movie.
Here’s the thing, too: one of the rare gifts of your better sports movies is that they generally leave well enough alone. There are exceptions, sure. “Major League,” which to me is a Gil Hodges-as-a-player nominee for the sports-movie pantheon — borderline, I can accept arguments on either side — had two sequels — the last of which, almost unbelievably, featured the king of the jumped shark himself, Ted McGinley.
“The Mighty Ducks” had two sequels, too, although unless you are a member of the Estevez/Sheen family, it is highly unlikely that “The Mighty Ducks” qualifies for anything other than an insomnia antidote.
Maybe we are just better off leaving these things alone. But maybe we are not. And as we are all serial killers of time right now, it does allow the mind to wander, or at least wonder what might have happened to the principals of our favorite sports movies if we’d at least been given an epilogue, if not a full-blown sequel …
Near the end of this 1987 gem, someone asks Norman Dale if he plans on coming back next year, which of course would mean an opportunity to repeat as Indiana state champions in 1953. But Coach Dale is no fool: without Jimmy Chitwood, the Huskers have as much chance of going back-to-back as the ’98 Marlins did after trading half the team.
No, Dale gladly accepts an offer from Butler coach Tony Hinkle to follow Chitwood to Butler and serve as a long-time assistant coach. He marries Myra Fleener, sees Jimmy become an All-American and later coaches Bradley for five years. The happiest ending, however, goes to Shooter Flatch, who not only kicks drinking for good but is given Dale’s job, coaches at Hickory for 21 years and wins 412 games and two more state titles. When he dies in 1978, Bob Knight says, “Flatch forgot more basketball than most of the coaches I’ve met ever knew.”
Crash Davis decides to take the manager’s job for the Visalia Oaks of the Class-A California League, and on Opening Day 1988 he and Annie exchange vows at the Visalia City Hall on West Acequia Avenue downtown. That kicks off a dream season for Crash, who leads the Oaks to a 99-43 record, winning the league by 11 ½ games, and the Oaks sweep the Riverside Red Wave in the league playoffs.
Tom Kelly is so impressed by what he sees that he summons Davis to be the third-base coach of the 1989 Twins, but when the Twins stumble and finish last in 1990, Kelly is bumped up to the front office and Davis is given the reigns of the hopeless Twinkies. But the Twins respond to Kelly, Jack Morris calls him “the best skipper I ever played for,” and the Twins go worst-to-first in ’91 — sparked by the mid-July pickup of Nuke Laloosh, the one-time phenom who was most recently languishing with the St. Paul Saints of the independent leagues. Laloosh solidifies the Twins’ bullpen and they go on to beat the A’s and the Braves for the championship.
Reggie Dunlop can’t save the future of the Charlestown Chiefs but moved by seeing how much he can inspire his players he is invited to interview for the position of 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach, and while his competitor for the job, Herb Brooks, talks fancifully of beating the mighty Red Army in Lake Placid, Dunlop wins the job by saying, “We aren’t good enough to beat ’em, but when the game’s over they’ll know we fought ’em.”
Predictably, the U.S. team, comprised mostly of nice college kids from Boston and Minnesota — including three previously unknown natives of Eveleth, Minn., the Hanson brothers, who’d been granted their amateur status back — is overmatched. When the Americans play the Russians in Lake Placid, they lose 13-0, but collect an Olympic-record 470 penalty minutes in the game and afterward are lauded by President Carter for “restoring our national pride.”
Rod Tidwell is just the start for Jerry, who builds a thriving agency and a magnificent life for himself. After relocating to Connecticut, he becomes regular golf partners with Jeff Wilpon, who eventually offers him to become GM of the Mets. He clinches the job one night at the 19th hole when, on the seventh pitcher of Yuengling, Maguire tells Wilpon, “Hear me out: Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz here, Jarred Kelenic there …”
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