What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of a blog-a-thon celebrating The Great War, or as we Americans call it…World War I. This is an event hosted by a classic film well worth your time known as Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. The title is no lie, and that love shows in her writing. Check it out today, along with the rest of the blogs recommended in the Dubsism Blog Roll.
As a “Blogger’s Cut,” this post was previously published on Dubsism, but new content has been added just for this blog-a-thon.
While this movie is somewhat dated, a bit fictionalized, and has more than one moment which red-lines the “Corny-o-Meter,” it’s still one of my favorites, precisely because of the hidden message I will discuss in a bit.
The story is based on the life and war service of Alvin York, who went from humble beginnings to being one of the biggest American military heroes ever. The movie begins with his bucolic existence in 1916 Tennessee. At first, York is little more then a rabble-rousing, hard-drinking rube who has a talent for marksmanship. The turning point comes when York finds religion when he is struck by lightning while drunk and seemingly on his way to kill a man who cheated him in a deal for some farmland.
After this epiphany, America’s involvement in World War I begins and York is drafted. At first, he claims to be a conscientious objector since he believes the Bible forbids killing. But his skill handling a rifle combined with a speech on good and evil from his commanding officer leads to York’s becoming a sergeant and a squad leader. In the film’s defining action sequence, York and his men are under murderous fire until he flanks a German position and captures a large number of enemy soldiers; an action which saved the lives of many of his men.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
When York first enters the Army, he is treated badly for having been a conscientious objector. At the time, such a stance was seen as un-patriotic, and York was seen as a potential troublemaker or worse because of it. But when he met a leader who understood how to recognize and tap into the potential in people, great things happened.
The hidden sports analogy here is in Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Many people forget that Wilson had a less-than-amicable end to his playing days at North Carolina State, and even after he had a huge year after his transfer to Wisconsin, his size combined with his expressed interest in also pursuing a career in baseball led many to dismiss his prospects as an NFL quarterback. Even the team that took him didn’t do so until the third round, and even then, the Seahawks were willing to start the season with a career back-up named Matt Flynn.
But once Wilson got on the field, the difference was as striking as Sergeant York’s storming of the German trench. By the end of the next season, Wilson led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title and established himself as an MVP-caliber player.
The Blogger’s Cut Bonus Analogy:
Tom Brady doesn’t win the MVP every year. Max Scherzer doesn’t win the Cy Young every year. The reason why is the same as to why they cut off Walter Brennan at three Academy Awards. Brennan took home an Oscar each for Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938), and The Westerner (1940). That’s pretty impressive for an actor considering Brennan is certainly no “leading man” type, but only Katherine Hepburn has won more total Academy Awards for an on-screen category than Brennan.
Moreover, one can make an argument that Brennan could have won a fourth Oscar in 1941 for “Sergeant York.” Bring on all the Donald Crisp, Sydney Greenstreet, or pro-whomever arguments you like, it’s really hard to picture a supporting character in almost any movie whose role is as important to the plot as Brennan’s “Pastor Pile” is in this film.
Think about it. If you’ve seen “Sergeant York,” you know that Gary Cooper’s “Alvin York” is the epitome of a “dynamic character;” York undergoes a tectonic transformation in his core principles, and every time he has a crisis of conscience along that travail, Brennan’s “Pastor Pile” is there to advise. In other words, the plot of this film doesn’t hold up without the “Pastor Pile” role.
The problem is that be it sports or cinema, all awards are all about popularity and politics. That means in 1941, there was no way the elites of Hollywood were going to give a fourth Oscar to a goofy-looking guy with a funny voice when at the time, Hollywood royalty like Spencer Tracy or Bette Davis only had two.
The Moral of the Story:
Greatness often exists in places you wouldn’t think to look for it. Even when it is found, it doesn’t always get rewarded.
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