When it comes to sports, the nerd community is not of one mind. Some regard certain varieties of hardcore-obsessive sports fandom - Bill James-style baseball "sabermetrics," for instance - as specialty branches of nerdism in themselves. Others, citing the miseries of gym class, the traditional high school predator-prey relationship between jocks and nerds, and a simple mistrust of the sort of social conformity implied by rooting for a sports team, would see anything but eye-rolling contempt for sports as a disqualification from full nerd status.
Suppose, though, that you have no interest in The Big Game itself, but are still traditionalist enough - or, maybe, ironist enough - to want to mark the occasion with something pigskin-appropriate? When the Puppy Bowl just won't cut it, here are some football-themed amusements that are still entirely nerd-acceptable:
12. Billy Cole's Last Scoring Drive
With the exception of Halle Berry in an attention-getting early role as a stripper, not much sticks in the memory about The Last Boy Scout, a slightly nasty early-'90s Bruce Willis/Damon Wayans action movie from Tony Scott. Not much, that is, except for the horrific opening scene, in which juiced-up, desperate "L.A. Stallion" Billy Cole, threatened by gambling interests, chooses an unusual tactic to ensure that he reaches the end zone. Oddly, no one seems to throw a flag.
The suspicion that, in real life, football's ratings wouldn't suffer if mayhem like this broke out from time to time is regrettable but not dismissible. The role of determined receiver Billy Cole was played, by the way, by martial arts star Billy Blanks, of Tae Bo workout video fame.
11. The Bane Game
Not long ago, on a sports-talk radio show, I heard a host ask his listeners who they'd be rooting for in an upcoming playoff game in which both teams were loathed rivals in the radio station's market. One response: "I'm hoping for a Bane Game."
The listener was referring, of course, to the game between the Gotham City Rogues and the Rapid City Monuments in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises, cancelled in no uncertain terms by the masked party-pooper Bane. It's an epic version, perhaps, of the sort of deadly anarchy that The Last Boy Scout depicts on a small scale, and in either form it can give a weird satisfaction to the non-fan.
According to The Onion, however, Rogue spirit was indomitable in the team's first training camp after the catastrophe.
10. Flash Gordon's footbrawl:
You may recall that in the original 1936 Flash Gordon serial, the title character was a polo player. Indeed, with a rogue planet hurtling toward Earth, Our Hero ditches on the sport and catches a flight for home, causing his father Professor Gordon to admiringly note his selflessness: "He gave up his polo game just in time to catch the Transcontinental plane, hoping to be with us here before the end..." You mean he actually gave up a polo game with the destruction of the world imminent? What a guy.
Anyway, the makers of the 1980 feature version of Flash Gordon evidently thought that polo was too swanky for their Flash, and made him, instead, an NFL player: "Flash Gordon. Quarterback. New York Jets."
Confronted with a blitz from Emperor Ming's goons early on the picture, Flash (Sam J. Jones) takes them on while carrying, and lobbing, a green egg of just the right size and oblong-ish shape, so that before long the sinister Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) realizes that his foe in his element, and begins to coach his minions: "You fools, he's playing some barbaric game!" About this time the lovely Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) just naturally assumes the role of cheerleader: "Go, Flash,go!" Who says there were no good movie roles for women in those days?
It's possible, though, that the most trenchant line goes to Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow). As he watches Flash get the better of the goons - with some sly help from Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen (Brian Blessed) - Ming leans over to his henchman and asks "Klytus, are your men on the right pills? Maybe you should execute their trainer." No doubt GMs always welcome this sort of input from team owners.
9. Eerie #79:
"See Page 43...For Chilling All-Star Football Action!"
The title of all-time greatest sports-themed horror comic story would almost certainly have to go to "Foul Play," the gory Al Feldstein/Jack Davis baseball fable of 1953 from EC's The Haunt of Fear that so upset Dr. Wertham and his fellow funnybook fretters. But the horror comics got around to football as well, with the November 1976 issue of the Warren favorite Eerie.
If you turned to page 43, you'd find "Sam's Son and Delilah," written by Bruce Jones and illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Al Milgrom, in which poor deaf Bubber Radley (just possibly the name was inspired by Boo Radley of To Kill a Mockingbird) is made to play football by his boorish father Sam, instead of being allowed to pursue his passion for fine art, as his gentle mother Delilah would prefer. Misfortune ensues.
This somewhat laborious yarn does not represent the finest hour of the estimable Jones, who later edited and mostly wrote the wonderful, short-lived Twisted Tales for Pacific Comics. But along with the good punning title, the story does have a nice sports-phobic conflict that has undeniable nerd appeal, and in any case issue #79 is hard to resist simply on the basis of its death's-head-on-the-gridiron cover by Ken Kelly, with the legend "He was death on cleats!"
8. MAD's Rhyming Guide to Pro Football
MAD's prolific bard Frank Jacobs penned this verse cycle explaining the game from top to bottom, with sections on defense, offense, the coaches, the broadcasters and more.
Here, for example, is "The Linebacker":
This crouching beast of grunts and growls
Commits the most disgusting fouls;
In truth, he merely vents his wrath
Like any Stone Age psychopath;
He's fed raw meat, and coaches think
He may be Darwin's Missing Link;
He should be caged, not running loose;
Let's hope that he can't reproduce.
Or, from the other side of the ball, "The Quarterback":
Observe the big-shot Quarterback
Now screwing up his team's attack;
He should be using all his wits
To plan his play and stop the blitz;
But now he's such a business whiz,
His mind is on those bars of his;
I guess now he's too big a name
To care about a silly game.
It ran in issue #148 (January 1972), with terrific illustrations by Jack Davis, and was reprinted and anthologized thereafter. I reread it until I knew many of the poems by heart, and while I loved it for its snark, I picked up much of what little I know about football from it. I doubt I can be only nerd of which this is true.
7. "Fight Fiercely, Harvard"
While we're on the subject of Boomer-era rhyming snark, let's not forget this Ivy League fight song by the great Tom Lehrer. It was the composer's earliest recorded effort, written in 1945, because, as he would later explain "...the football fight songs one hears...have a tendency to be somewhat uncouth, and even violent," thus "it would be refreshing, to say the least, to find one that was a bit more genteel."
The tune appeared on Lehrer's 1953 debut album Songs by Tom Lehrer, and again on his 1960 live album Tom Lehrer Revisited. The Harvard University Band still plays the song at games, and has recorded it. "Hurl that spheroid down the field/And fight, fight, fight..."