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 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon being hosted Silver Screen Classics. You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here.
Written by Herman Melville in 1851, “Moby Dick” is the tale of the whaling ship Pequod and its’ crew led by Captain Ahab (played by Gregory Peck). What this is really all about is a tale of revenge and obsession. Ahab is a guy who lost most of his left leg when it was bitten off by the “great white whale” called Moby Dick.. This has left Ahab single-mindedly intent on finding and destroying Moby Dick, and he will stop at nothing to do so.
Among others, the crew consists of an experienced merchant sailor named Ishmael (played by Richard Basehart), a heavily tattooed Polynesian harpooner named Queequeg (played by Friedrich von Ledebur), a serious, sincere Quaker in the chief mate Starbuck (played by Leo Genn), second mate Stubb (played by Harry Andrews) who is forever smoking his pipe, and third mate Flask (played by Seamus Kelly) who is a bit of a bully.
There’s plenty of foreshadowing, as a nearby church contains Father Mapple (played by Orson Welles) who gives a sermon based on the story of Jonah and how after his earnest prayer he was saved from the great whale. Then, a man known only as “Elijah” (played by Royal Dano) appears on the dock to offer a prophecy that “the day you smell land where there is no land, that day Ahab will meet his death, and after he will return and beckon others save one to follow him.”
After the Pequod gets underway, Captain Ahab appears on the quarter-deck and delivers a rousing speech during which he promises a one-ounce gold coin to the crewman who first sights Moby Dick, and the coin is nailed to a mast as a reminder. If that didn’t make it clear that the only thing Ahab cares about is the “great white whale,” that becomes increasingly obvious as the film progresses.
In a scene where Ishmael is given the opportunity to be the lookout from the top of the main mast, he doesn’t take long for him to spot a large group of whales. The ship catches and kills five whales, which delights the crew who gets paid as a share of the profits from the value of the whale oil.
However, when Captain Ahab hears from a passing ship that the “great white whale” has been sighted, he immediately he orders a stop to the harvest work and gives orders to sail after Moby Dick is traveling. Naturally, this doesn’t go over well with the crew; this is taking money out of their pocket.
Chief mate Starbuck resists Ahab. He argues repeatedly that the ship’s purpose is hunting whales for their oil, not to seek out and kill Moby Dick in revenge, as revenge is only for the Lord to take. Starbuck even goes so far as to show to the crew a book in which it is clearly written that if a Captain diverts resources to a private matter and neglects the commercial purpose of the enterprise, the other officers are justified in removing the Captain from his duties. But the crew refuses to go along with Starbuck.
The fate of the crew is now inextricably linked to Ahab’s obsession. This is clear when a man falls off the mast and Ahab immediately pronounces him dead and will not resurface. Despite the dismay of the crew, Ahab insists on resuming course without delay.
In another act of foreshadowing, Queequeg commissions the ship’s carpenter to build a coffin with special carvings and made to be waterproof.
Meanwhile, the Pequod meets the Rachel, another whaling ship which has recently spotted Moby Dick. As a result of the ship’s encounter with the “great white whale,” one of its’ whaling boats is feared lost; the Rachel’s captain’s youngest son had been aboard it. But when the Rachel’s captain begs Ahab to aid in the search for the missing boat, Ahab is resolute in his refusal. To Ahab, all that matters is the Pequod is very near the Moby Dick, and now uses the reason that he will kill the whale that killed the captain’s son to justify his vengeance.
Now the die is cast. After surviving a vicious storm which even while in it’s midst Ahab refuses to relent in his pursuit, the Pequod finally encounters Moby Dick and the final battle begins.
Ahab harpoons the whale, but his harpoon’s rope breaks. Moby Dick then rams the Pequod, heavily damaging the ship. As Ahab harpoons the whale again, he is entangled in the harpoon rope which then gets caught amongst the other ropes hanging from harpoons still protruding from Moby Dick as remnants of previous battles.
Moby Dick now has Ahab stuck fast to him; the Captain stabs and stabs with all his might trying in vain to kill the whale. But Moby Dick thrashes about, trashing the Pequod’s whaling boats and dragging Ahab beneath the waves to his death. When Moby Dick resurfaces, the crew see the dead Ahab lashed to Moby Dick, fulfilling the prophecy of Elijah.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Ahab had his quest for the great white whale. It became his all-consuming obsession, and all sorts of bad stuff came because of it. But Ahab may as well have been a believer in transcendental meditation compared to the obsessive nature of a National Football League general manager in getting a “franchise quarterback.”
There’s a great example of this a few episodes back in the series Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies. Bill Polian is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he landed two “great white whale” franchise quarterbacks. In 1986, he landed Hall of Famer Jim Kelly upon the dissolution of the start-up United States Football League (USFL). Twelve years later with the Indianapolis Colts, he took soon-to-be Hall of Famer Peyton Manning over super-bust Ryan Leaf.
Those two decisions really paint the picture of the difference between Bill Polian and former San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard.
That may or may not be fair, but nobody remembers the guy who netted the cargo hold full of sushi-grade yellow-fin tuna; they only remember the who landed the “great white whale.” Bobby Beathard hauled in more than his fair of yellow-jacketed Hall of Famers, starting with his days building the foundation of those Joe Gibbs-era Washington Redskins of the 1980s. Those teams won three Super Bowls with a boat-load of Hall-of-Famers such as the aforementioned Joe Gibbs, Russ Grimm, Darrell Green, Art Monk, and John Riggins.
But coaches and players get judged on championships; the legacies of general managers are based on the players they acquire. Granted, Beathard did put a ton of talent on his teams, but he never got his “franchise quarterback.” Just look at the quarterbacks he drafted.
Miami Dolphins (as Director of Player Personnel 1972-1977)
Washington Redskins (as General Manager 1978-1988)
San Diego Chargers (as General Manager (1990-2000)
Again, to be fair, a lot of those guys weren’t premium-grade draft picks, but almost every one of those guys ended up on the field because there were plenty of times a team for which Beathard oversaw player personnel decisions flat-out needed a quarterback. Continuing to be fair, some of those times were due to injuries, but a lot of them came from failing to recognize degradation in his starters’ performance until it was too late. That’s how Stan Humphries stayed under center in San Diego as long as he did, that’s how Jim Everett made it on the field as a Charger…and that’s how Craig Whelihan ever existed in the NFL.
Bill Polian landed not one, but two “great white whales.” That’s why he was known as “the great builder.” While Beathard became a Hall of Famer in his own right, the fact he drafted Ryan Leaf is the “Waterloo” for which he will always be remembered.
It’s almost like Bobby Beathard went looking for quarterbacks at scouting combines by driving a giant Winnebago called the “Pequod.”
The Moral of The Story:
There’s a big difference between having a goal and having an obsession.
P.S. I would be completely remiss if I mentioned Jim Everett and didn’t show the greatest moment in sports television EVER…
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