Today, the New England Patriots will play the Philadelphia Eagles. Somewhere in the ballpark of 115,000,000 worldwide will watch the game. And I know many of you loyal TSL readers probably couldn’t care less.
And yet, you will still get invited or maybe even attend a friend’s viewing party. You’ll eat chicken wings (or cauliflower wings, if your hosts have awareness) and try to stay interested in overproduced (sometimes brilliant) commercials and a pre-recorded Justin Timberlake concert.
I understand that sports aren’t for everyone but I’m here to tell you that is no way to live. To the untrained eye, football seems like a barbaric blood-sport with an endless stream of starts and stops, complex rules and silly penalties. While those are all valid criticism, every sporting event is also a story: an unscripted melodramatic documentary unfolding in real time after months, if not years, in the making.
As a lifelong fan of both sports and movies, I believe every sporting event can be as riveting an afternoon in a movie theater with the right context. So never fear! Here I have the Non-Sports Fan Movie Fan’s Guide to The Big Game.
The Pursuit of Unprecedented Excellence vs. The Ultimate Underdog
The New England Patriots have been the class of the NFL for the past decade and a half. This is their tenth appearance in the big game, having already won five. Since 2000, they have basically been the boss at the end of the video game for every other team in the league.
The Philadelphia Eagles have never won one. Their last championship was in 1960. For the past five decades, they have made “close but no cigar” an art form by losing in four semifinal games in a seven-year span and losing by three to the Patriots in XXXIX.
The Eagles have the best defense in the league. They have smothered opponents into submission. The Patriots are the flawless technicians. Behind the best coach and quarterback in the league, they have outlasted and outsmarted opponents all year, despite being against the robes late into many of their games.
Star Player Down
In a plot development, you couldn’t have scripted any more dramatically, Philadelphia’s young star quarterback, Carson Wentz, was knocked out for the season at the beginning of December. They have had to turn to his journeyman back up to lead them to the unlikeliest of victories.
The Characters You Will Need to Know
Even the most ardent sports agnostic knows who Tom Brady he is. Tall. Dark hair. Blue eyes. Chiseled jaw. An air about him that comes off as either confidence or arrogance, depending on your disposition. Brady has been perfect so long, he makes extraordinary feats feel common, culminating last year when he led his team back from a TWENTY-FIVE POINT deficit to victory.
Movie Avatar: Bryan Mills, Taken. “What I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” That’s basically what Brady has been saying and doing for the past fifteen years. Only, instead of Eastern European human traffickers, it’s been desperate NFL defenses.
The other half of the undefeatable New England dynasty. Coach Belichick is the mastermind who manages to outthink and out-strategize every counterpart put before him. There is nothing terribly complex or exciting about the method to his madness. Instead, he sits back, studies your game plan, waits for you to show your hand or make a mistake, then punishes you dearly for it.
Movie Avatar: A way less cordial, Gandalf. While Gandalf was a kind personable mentor, Belichick is a frigid humorless poker face who stonewalls reporters on a weekly basis. Still, Gandalf hanging back and watching Sauron fall into his trap by sending forces to the Pelennor Fields is frighteningly similar to the way Belichick gets opponents to make crucial mistakes. Just three years ago, he got a team to throw an interception at the one-yard line with a minute left!
Yes, movie fans, there is a player known simply as “Gronk.” Sure, his birth name is Rob Gronkowski, but you will hear him referred to by his monosyllabic moniker. Gronk is an impossible combination of size, speed and strength. As New England’s star tight end, he is able to block the biggest guy on the field or run over the fastest. There’s a small chance he might not play due to a concussion sustained in the last game, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Movie Avatar: Do you remember the part at the end of The Avengers where Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk, the bullets bounced off his chest, and he smashes Loki like a whack-a-mole? Yeah, pretty much that.
At 5’11 and 190 lbs (the proportions of a normal human being), Amendola will be one of the smallest players on the field on Sunday. Still, the shifty fun-sized wide receiver is a favorite target of Tom Brady. Despite his diminutive stature, he has knack for making acrobatic catches and slipping through the small pockets of opposing defenses.
Movie Avatar: Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy. Lifelong Eagles fan Bradley Cooper may hate us for this one, but the small, cocky, trash-talking rodent who always finds a way to beat his opponents while getting under their skin is pretty fitting here.
The aforementioned journeyman quarterback pulled off the bench to save the hopes and dreams of a championship-starved city. Foles had a brief run of success in Philadelphia five years ago before dwindling stints as an unsuccessful starter and backup in Saint Louis and Kansas City respectively. Just two years ago, Foles went on a soul-searching camping trip to decide whether or not he wanted to retire. He elected to give it one more go and here he is starting in the big game. I’m telling you, you can’t write movies this good.
Movie Avatar: Roy Hobbs from The Natural. Sure, Foles hasn’t had to deal with a terminal injury sustained from a gunshot wound, but the stars have aligned to give a workhouse the shot at glory he never thought he’d have.
Known as much for his off the field activism this past year as his gameplay, Jenkins has been a Jack of all trades for the Eagles defense. Prepare to hear his name called A LOT on Sunday as he drops back in pass coverage, moves up for run-stop and blitzes often. He does literally everything for the defense and does it well.
Movie Avatar: Okay, so not a movie, but that episode of Looney Tunes where Bugs Bunny played every position on the baseball field and struck out all three batters from the opposing team with one pitch should give you a frame of reference for his contributions.
While Edelman may be one of the smaller players on the field Sunday, expect Cox, at 6’4 and 300 lbs, to be one of the biggest. He is the star player on Philadelphia’s defensive line, the best in the league and the anchor of their team. On any given play, expect to see Cox take multiple 300 pound Patriot offensive linemen and throw them around the way you would a couch cushion.
Movie Avatar: The Battering Ram Cannon from The Last Jedi. SPOILER ALERT: While technically a piece of machinery and not an actual character, imagine an angry Kylo Ren manning the controls of the sheer reluctant ferocity that is Cox’s physicality. If Philadelphia fans have their way, Tom Brady will have been wishing he could have sent a holographic stand-in for Cox’s pursuit.
While Long likely won’t be on the field for that many plays Sunday, he is definitely a name you want to remember. Used primarily as a pass-rusher on third down, Long has donated his entire salary from 2017 to multiple causes, including underprivileged schools in Charlottesville, Virginia. In an era when professional athletes are tagged with the stigma of greedy prima donas, it is refreshing to see someone basically playing for free and helping people along the way.
Movie Avatar: George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life? Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath? It feels unfair to even assign a character to the actual hero Long is turning himself into. Regardless of who or what you root for Sunday, appreciate the good deed.
Unless your friends have decided to mute the TV, you’ll hear the cantankerous banter of two older men over the action of the game. That would be Al Michaels, of “Do you believe in miracles?” fame, and Cris Collinsworth. In the scheme of things, Michaels and Collinsworth are pretty good. But still, one of the worst things about watching a four-hour broadcast where most plays only last four or five seconds is the amount of dead space filled by hollow conversation. So brace yourselves for a lot of meaningless human interest chit chat and laughing at things that don’t seem remotely funny.
Movie Avatar: Statler & Waldorf from The Muppets. No further explanation needed, am I right?
Today, Sunday, February 4, 2018
Kickoff: Roughly 3:30 PST
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Root for New England if… you’re a fan of surgical perfectionists and want to see an unprecedented dynasty cement their legacy as the greatest team ever.
Root for Philadelphia if… you’re a sucker for underdogs and want to see the Bad News Bears of the NFL, right down to the vulgar uncouth fan base, win their first Super Bowl.
Tom Dever writes for The Script Lab.