Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The football movie the NFL doesn’t want you to see

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the Super Bowl happening on Sunday, we’ve lined up a week of movies about football and its fans.


North Dallas Forty (1979)

The NFL’s all-time least favorite film, 1979’s North Dallas Forty—adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Peter Gent—exposes pro football as a profession that chews up star players and then spits them out when they’re no longer useful on Sundays. Ted Kotcheff’s drama peers into a locker room populated by painkiller-numbed narcissists, animalistic brutes, and callous coaches following orders from greedy owners. In this cutthroat environment, North Dallas Bulls receiver Phillip Elliott (Nick Nolte) finds himself exhausted by the bestial fury of offensive lineman Joe Bob (Bo Svenson) and the sex-and-booze revelry of star quarterback Seth (Mac Davis). Yet his fatigue—and the body pain that keeps him up at night, and drives him to pop pills, swig Bud, and endure needle shots—isn’t enough to stop him from suiting up on gameday, looking for the “high” he receives when scoring a TD.

Faced with a demotion to the bench after six years as a star starter, Phil finds himself at a crossroads that North Dallas Forty dramatizes with a jadedness that extends to its portrait of player partying and practicing. As teammates mock the religious speeches of coaches, and the coaches in turn have others go after those unruly players on the practice field, Phil finds himself torn between the sensible condemnation of his girlfriend, who believes the sport exploits its employees, and the desire for one last moment of gridiron glory, consequences to his body and soul be damned. With a keenly critical eye, Kotcheff’s film details how football pros are at once used by a system that cares only about wins and losses, and how players themselves—hungry for fame and power—sell themselves short in the long run for a chance at short-term success. Bolstered by a world-weary Nolte performance that captures both the allure and horror of the pro sports machine, it’s a scathing indictment of an inhumane athletic culture in which no one—save for those in the corporate suites—ever makes it out in one piece.

Availability: North Dallas Forty is available on DVD and to stream through Amazon Instant Video or Google Play.