What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Calls of Cornwall: The Daphne du Maurier Blog-a-Thon, which is being hosted by Pale Writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been allowed to take part in several of her events, including this one and a blog-a–thon coming later this summer featuring the works of Alan Ladd. The casual film fan and certainly the average sports fan who is a follower of this blog is likely not terribly familiar with the works of Daphne du Maurier; we’re here to help change that. You can see all the contributions to this blog-a-thon here:
“The Birds” is not the only melding of DuMaurier and Alfred Hitchcock (who is #10 on my list of favorite directors), but to me it’s the most allegorical; that’s why it’s getting an installment in this series. The story starts with young socialite Melanie Daniels (played by Tippi Hedren), and defense attorney Mitch Brenner (played by Rod Taylor) meeting in a San Francisco pet shop. Mitch wants to purchase a pair of lovebirds as a gift for his sister’s birthday, but the shop has none. Thinking he recognizes Melanie and wanting to strike up a conversation with her, Mitch pretends to mistake her for a saleswoman. At first, she’s a bit pissed off by his chicanery, but she is still romantically intrigued by Mitch.
Elsewhere, Melanie purchases a pair of lovebirds and drives to Mitch’s house in Bodega Bay to deliver them. To enhance the surprise, she rents a motorboat so she can approach his house from the bay rather than the road. She manages to get the birds inside the without Mitch’s knowledge, but he spots them while she is making her escape back across the bay. Mitch then discovers Melanie’s boat and he drives around the bay to meet her. In the meantime, in a bit of foreshadowing, Melanie is attacked by a seagull, after which Mitch patches up her injury and invites her to dinner.
The foreshadowing continues as the next day when a gull kills itself by flying into the front door of a house. After that, the onslaught begins in earnest as the guests at the birthday party for Mitch’s sister are attacked by seagulls. That night, sparrows invade Mitch’s house by coming in through the chimney.
The stakes get raised the next morning when Mitch’s mother visits a neighboring farmer to discuss the unusual behavior of her chickens. She stumbles upon the farmer’s eyeless dead body having been pecked to death in yet another bird attack. She returns home in horror and has Melanie drive to the local school out of concern for her daughter. Melanie discovers that crows have engulfed a jungle gym in the school’s playground. In response to the commotion caused when the decision is made to evacuate the school, the crows attack and injure several children
After that, Melanie meets Mitch at a restaurant where several people also describe aggressive birds. An ornithologist there to be the typical pointy-headed naysayer; he dismisses tales of the townsfolk saying that birds lack the intelligence to mount coordinated attacks. But as the viewer already knows, the so-called “expert” is completely wrong, and in no time birds begin to attack people outside the restaurant. They also dive-bomb a gas station attendant, knocking him unconscious while he is fueling a car with fuel. The gasoline spills onto the street and is ignited by a man with a cigar. The resulting explosion draws a cloud of gulls which menaces those attempting to put out the gasoline fire. Melanie takes refuge in a phone booth, but the gulls kamikaze into the glass until it shatters. Mitch comes to her rescue and they take shelter back in the restaurant.
Later that night while hiding in Mitch’s house, another massive bird attack breaks through the roof and Melanie is gravely injured. Knowing she needs urgent medical attention, Mitch readies Melanie’s car for their escape while more birds surround the house. They know eventually they will have to run the gauntlet of birds when they hear a radio report that the military is considering taking action to stop the attacks.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Be it Bodega Bay, California in 1963 or Chicago on Lake Michigan in 1988, in either case the genesis of these menaces came from the water. Just like the initial seagull attack on Melanie while she was in the boat foreshadowed what was about to happen, the first wisps of fog that rose from the lake that floated over the top of Soldier Field were just the start of what would become a memorable onslaught.
Earlier, I said “The Birds” is an exceptionally allegorical film; feel free to have all the “Film as Lit” fun you want with this movie…there’s no shortage of material. Likewise, the “Fog Bowl” was one of the most bizarre instances in my half-century of Philadelphia Eagle fandom. Don’t forget, December 31st, 1988 is a full three decades before these birds finally won a championship in my lifetime. Before that night in Minneapolis in 2018, Philadelphia’s play-off appearances carried an extra helping of urgency.
Adding to the angst of Eagles fans is this game marked Philadelphia’s first return to the play-offs in seven years and Ron Jaworski’s three-interception dashing of dreams in Super Bowl XV is at the time still fresh in my memory. Throw in some personal drama between the coaches and the stage was set for something which promised to bring everything football fans could want.
In 1985, the Chicago Bears had assembled one of the greatest defensive teams the NFL had ever seen. This team was characterized by their swagger and toughness, but it also had some strife in the coaching staff. The relationship between head coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan oscillated between subtle disdain and outright hostility. While it culminated in triumph with the Bears victory in Super Bowl XX, it would also mark the end of an era as Buddy Ryan left Chicago to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
But by 1988, it was becoming clear that Buddy Ryan was the source of the Bears “swagger and toughness” as it was clearly on the decline in Chicago. But that which was on the wane in Chicago was rising in Philadelphia. The Bears and the Eagles had all the hallmarks of teams heading in different directions, and to top it all off, there was a healthy “war of words” going on between Ryan and Ditka in the run-up to this game.
In all honesty, Daphne Du Maurier herself could not have written a better script; all the elements were in place and Ryan’s “Mike who?” comment at the press conference introducing him as the Eagles new head coach dripped as much foreshadowing as did the initial seagull attack on Melanie.
As for the game itself, the day began as a crystal-clear morning; by game time it was 25° F, which is pretty damn good for Chicago on the eve of January. The Bears jumped out to an early lead, but as the second quarter began, the first wisps of fog crested the rim of Soldier Field. By halftime, the fog had total control of the sky as did DuMaurier’s birds.
Announcers in the press box couldn’t see the field. Fans in the stands could barely see the players on the sidelines. Those of us watching on television felt like we were getting live coverage from the inside of a light bulb; all you could do was take in the dulcid tones of CBS Sports’ Verne Lundquist describing in great detail the sheer nothingness on full display. The officials were reticent to suspend a play-off game;; they refused to do so as long as they could see both goalposts.
Eventually,the Chicago Bears would win 20-12; leaving the hearts of Philadelphia Eagles fans as shattered as a Bodega Bay phone booth in what was the most surreal thing in sports I had ever seen…that is until Game Five of the 1994 NBA Finals.
Thanks to YouTube, you can see this entire game, but you can skip to the 1:16:00 mark to see when the fog starts rolling in.
The Moral of The Story:
Foreshadowing matters, but it only exists in the shadow of hindsight.
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Firstly, I love how you always manage to find some utterly fascinating sports event to tie in with a movie. I have no idea how you do it, but I am so glad you do! This post had been riveted from start to finish! I can now see in my mind’s eye how that game must have played out. As you say, people were as slow to respond to what was happening as in du Maurier’s story. But as you so rightly say, Dub, you never know how crucial something was until it’s already come and gone. Thanks so much for participating in my Blogathon!