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The 20 Best Football Movies and Books of All Time

Not to be read or watched on Sundays, of course.

TriStar Pictures

In America, football isn’t just played between white lines. It’s seeped its way into our very culture. Entire weekends are devoted to, or structured around, game time. Sports news and social media constantly update team and league headlines. Retired players are on Dancing With the Stars and sit opposite Kelly Ripa. They sell us Subway Sandwiches.

And the silver screen and New York Times‘s best seller’s list haven’t escaped, either. The great football movie isn’t always necessarily a great movie; the gridiron epic isn’t always a literary classic. But some are — and all of them combine American life with American football to remind us that sometimes, the sport isn’t just a game.

The 10 Best Football Films

Draft Day Didn’t Make the Cut


Any Given Sunday
Oliver Stone
From acclaimed director Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July) comes this intense football drama about the fictional Miami Sharks professional franchise. The film dramatizes every aspect of pro football, from the players, their agents, the coaches, owners and families. It’s violent, it’s sexy, and it’s over the top. And with an impressive cast spearheaded by Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx plus one of the best sports speeches of all time, it’s a great way to get pumped up for the season. $10
remember the titans gear patrol

Remember the Titans
Boaz Yakin
In rural Virginia in the early 1970s, a recently desegregated high school combines its town’s black and white football programs. The result is an emotive, yet endearing, football drama starring Denzel Washington. $8

The Best That Never Was
Jon Hock
Marcus Dupree “was the most gifted player that I’ve ever coached,” says former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer in the trailer for this ESPN 30 for 30 documentary. The rest of the story is how arguably the most talented collegiate running back simply disappeared from football, and why. $6

David Anspaugh
Before he was Samwise Gamgee, Sean Astin was known for his role as Rudy Ruettiger — a determined, undersized Illinoisan with dreams of playing football for Notre Dame despite physical, economical and intellectual challenges. For Fighting Irish fans, or just those who love an underdog, this is a must-see film. $13

We Are Marshall
After the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed many players and coaches of Marshall University’s football program, the team and town were forced to heal and rebuild from scratch. Matthew McConaughey — during his comedic phase (Tropic Thunder, Failure to Launch, Fool’s Gold) — starred in the film adaptation, playing the team’s new head coach with aplomb. $10

Ericson Core
Based on a true story, Invincible follows Vince Papale as he rises from Philadelphia obscurity to earn a place on the Philadelphia Eagles. The film takes place in the ’70s — a time before HIT workouts, intense dieting and hyperbaric chambers — when such a meteoric rise was still possible. It also stars Greg Kinnear in a memorable performance as coach Dick Vermeil. $5

All the Right Moves
Michael Chapman
Set in a small steel mill town in Pennsylvania — no, this isn’t Flashdance — Tom Cruise plays a high school football player who’s determined to achieve a college scholarship. The town’s people are against him. His head coach (it seems) is against him. And even though it seems like mission impossible, Cruise finds a way. $5

Michael Tollin
Ed Harris plays an intense football coach in a town that’s determined to win the state championship. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays Radio, a mentally challenged student. (Both are based on real men.) Against all logic, the two develop a bond, and Harris allows Radio to become part of the football team’s family; but not everybody in the town are enamored with this. $10

Jerry Maguire
Cameron Crowe
“Show me the money!”, “Help me, help you,” “You complete me” — this film is rife with famous (overly sappy) quotes. And even though the heart of the story revolves around a love story, it also provides a behind-the-scenes vantage point into the relationship between NFL players and their agents. There are numerous professional cameos as well. And again, Tom Cruise injects his undeniably appealing Cruise-ness. $5

Go Tigers!
Kenneth A. Carlson
In Massillon, Ohio, football is life. Kids get held back in middle school so they they can be bigger and stronger in high school. Men are buried in football-decorated caskets. And kids who don’t play football are pariahs. This 2001 documentary, and Sundance Film Festival selection, follows the players, coaches and their families during a season. $12

The 10 Best Football Reads

Words that Hit Hard


The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game
Michael Lewis
In 2009, the film adaptation of this book won all sorts of acclaim. But that story of Michael Oher — an impoverished African American who was adopted by the affluent white Tuohy family and then goes on to be drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens — was dumbed down for cinema. For example, Oher didn’t need to be taught the rules of football — he knew how to play. For a more accurate portrayal for Oher’s life, read the book. $10

Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It
Matthew Berry
Fantasy football players will know The Talented Mr. Roto well — Berry is one of ESPN’s biggest fantasy football commentators. His writing background shines in good-humored chapters about life spent predicting stats for a game based on a game. $13

Friday Night Lights
H.G. Bissinger
Football is everything in Odessa, Texas. Depending on how the high school team performs, one season can fly by in the bat of the eye — or seem to drag on like an endless purgatory. In this book, Bissinger follows Odessa’s Permian Panthers for one season, and tells how a bunch of 18 year olds (and younger) can affect a community — and how football can affect their futures. $10

Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback
George Plimpton
Maybe not the novel you want to read to become the next Joe Montana, this auto-biographical book recounts journalist George Plimpton’s experiences as a backup quarterback (albeit briefly) for the Detroit Lions. It’s light-hearted, honest and wonderfully well-written. $9

The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays
Ron Jaworski, David Plaut and Greg Cosell
Ever want to break down a game play-by-play, dissecting it until you know what every player and coach is thinking? That’s what ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski does in this book. With the help of Plaut and Cosell, they break down not one, but seven of the most memorable NFL games in the past several decades. $14

The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football
Jeff Benedict
College football is a double-edged sword. On one side, it’s an inspiring, enjoyable competition and a chance for great athletes to make their way to the NFL; on the other, it’s a business that exploits student-athletes to make billions. This book is a prime cut of investigative journalism, covering the sport, and all its controversy, from all angles. $10

A Few Seconds of Panic
Stefan Fatsis
Fatsis is the Daniel Day-Lewis of writers — he lets his subject completely dictate his life. For A Few Seconds of Panic, Fatsis trained with the Denver Broncos for three months and was treated (or hazed) like all other rookies. The position he was competing for? Placekicker. $14

When Pride Still Mattered
David Maraniss
As a player, Lombardi won two Super Bowls. As the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he won five. Lombardi is a god in the football world, and this is his must-read biography. $11

Finding the Winning Edge
Bill Walsh, Brian Billick and James A. Peterson
If you’re going to take football advice from someone, it might as well be from two men with rings on their fingers. Walsh and Billick explain team organization, systems and philosophies from the coach’s perspective. $406

Bringing the Heat
Mark Bowden
Bowden, The New York Times best selling author of Black Hawk Down, goes behind the scenes of the 1992 Philadelphia Eagles for an entire season. His book takes aim at the ugly side of coach Buddy Ryan’s team and its brutal tactics while also revealing the beautiful intensity of the game. $16
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