SPORTS MOVIES

Best sports movies: College football managed to survive 'Horse Feathers' takedown

Leave it to the Marx Brothers to tell the future about college football in 1932's
Leave it to the Marx Brothers to tell the future about college football in 1932’s “Horse Feathers.” (Paramount Pictures via public domain)

Editor’s note: The Gazette sports staff has compiled lists of its top 15 favorite sports movies. Each day, a different staffer will share some insight into one of their favorites. Some of them are classics, watched and re-watched time and time again. But for a few, maybe we’ll be able to convince some of you to check it out for the very first time.

You don’t turn valuable Iowa farmland into a ballpark, especially for ghosts. Is “Field of Dreams” heaven? No, it’s Iowa, and my vision of this state doesn’t include ballplayers or anyone else emerging from the afterlife to play catch.

I like a little realism in my movies, so my No. 1 sports film is about college football and its systematic corruption, a hard look at its dubious “amateur” status.

I refer, of course, to the Marx Brothers’ “Horse Feathers” of 1932.

Haven’t heard of it? Get woke! When Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff of Huxley College (Groucho Marx) becomes president of Huxley College, he notes the school is “neglecting football for education.” A dialogue sample:

Wagstaff: Where would this college be without football? Have we got a stadium?

Huxley’s professors: Yes.

Wagstaff: Well, we can’t support both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.

Professors: But where will the students sleep?

Wagstaff: Where they always sleep. In the classroom.

Wagstaff goes to a saloon to hire two football ringers, but instead gets Chico and Harpo Marx’s characters, Baravelli and Pinky. Baravelli delivers bootleg liquor. Pinky is a dogcatcher. What they woefuly lack in brawn, they make up for with anarchy and chaos.

The movie ends with a game between Huxley and rival Darwin. Baravelli and Pinky play pinochle in the huddle. Banana peels are used to give the slip to Darwin defenders.

Baravelli uses play calls that are favorites of coaches like Nick Saban and Bill Belichick to this day. Such as “Uno, due, tre, vendi. This-a-time we go left endi.” And “Hi diddle diddle, the cat and fiddle. This time I think we go through the middle.”

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While paying the game little attention on the sideline, Wagstaff stops flirting with a woman long enough to tackle a Darwin player who had been headed for the end zone. “That’ll teach him to pass a lady without tipping his hat,” he says, while wearing a frock coat and smoking his omnipresent cigar.

Spoiler alert: Pinky scores the winning touchdown after he drives a horse-drawn garbage can on wheels to the end zone with the other Marx brothers along for the ride.

It’s a wonder college football wasn’t shut down on the spot once this expose was released. Curiously, most people just had a good laugh after seeing it and went about their lives instead of calling sports talk radio shows or parking themselves at Internet message-board sites.

My Top 15 sports movies

1. Horse Feathers

2. The Hustler

3. Slap Shot

4. Friday Night Lights

5. White Men Can’t Jump

6. A League of Their Own

7. Rocky

8. Bull Durham

9. Breaking Away

10. The Wrestler

11. Raging Bull

12. The Bad News Bears

13. North Dallas Forty

14. Tin Cup

15. The Hunger Games

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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