What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 108: “National Lampoon’s Vacation”

  • Today’s Movie: National Lampoon’s Vacation
  • Year of Release: 1983
  • Stars: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca
  • Director: Harold Ramis

This movie is on my list of essential films.

NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is not being done as part of a blog-a-thon.  Instead, this is a monthly event hosted by MovieRob called Genre Grandeur.  The way it works is every month MovieRob chooses a film blogger to pick a topic and a movie to write about, then also picks a movie for MovieRob to review.  At the end of the month, MovieRob posts the reviews of all the participants.

For April of 2021, the honor of being the “guest picker” went to Rebecca of Almost Ginger. The topic is “Travel Movies.” What better “travel movie” could there be than one of the great National Lampoon comedies of all time?

The Story:

Vacation makes my list of essential films largely because it resonates with so many people of a certain age who remember the cross-country family road trip. The head of the family in this story is Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase). The plot revolves around Clark’s plan to buy a new road-cruiser station wagon to serve as the flagship for a trek from their home in Chicago to “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park,”the southern California amusement mecca known as “Walley World.”

The hilarity begins when Clark and his son Rusty (played by Anthony Michael Hall) head down to the Truckster dealership to pick up their new land yacht. They immediately realize this is not the vehicle Clark ordered; it’s obviously a monstrosity. The prototypical sleazy salesman Ed (played Eugene Levy) tells Clark the car he ordered never arrived and bullshits him into taking the “Family Truckster” instead. At first isn’t falling for the scam, but after his “trade-in” vehicle is “accidentally” crushed in a compacter, Clark takes the Family Truckster (which clocks in at #10 on the Dubsism list of famous movie vehicles and their sporting comparisons).

“If you think you hate it now, wait until you drive it!”

Upon bringing the “Family Truckster” home, Clark’s wife Ellen (played by Beverly D’Angelo) renews her wish that the family fly to California for their two-week vacation. But Clark remains steadfast to his plan to drive; the idea being the extra time will allow him to have some “bonding time” with his family. As such, the next day, they load the luggage on top of the new car, only to have it ripped from the rack as they stacked it too high to clear the garage door.

That initial mishap only proves to be an omen for what is to come. With the first day of the trip underway, Clark and Ellen are singing old folk songs and the “Walley World National Anthem” while Rusty and his sister Audrey (played by Dana Barron) drown them out with their headphones. The rest of Day One sees Clark accidentally tearing the license plate off the Truckster in a fumbling search for the fuel tank, taking a wrong exit off the freeway into a rough St. Louis neighborhood, where their hubcaps are stolen and the Truckster gets graffiti-tagged. The day ends with the entire family…including the driving Clark…sound asleep as the Truckster veers off the highway and nearly takes out an entire neighborhood.

After an awkward night in a motel, Day Two sees the Griswolds arrive in “tourist-trap” western-themed Dodge City, Kansas. But the real story of the second day on the road is the introduction of the “mystery blond” (played by Christie Brinkley). Driving a bright red Ferrari, she begins a flirty road-game with Clark. This ends with the arrival at the day’s destination; a farm outside of Coolidge, Kansas to visit Ellen’s cousin Catherine Johnston (played Miriam Flynn) and her “white-trash” husband Eddie (played by Randy Quaid).

During their visit, Eddie tries to put the bite on Clark for a loan as he is over $50,000 in debt, while Audrey learns about marijuana from Cousin Vicki (played by Jane Krakowski) and Rusty gets an introduction to pornography from Cousin Dale (played by John Navin). But the lasting plot development from this visit comes in the form of the Johnston’s cantankerous elderly Aunt Edna (played Imogene Coca). Eddie springs her and her vicious dog Dinky on the Griswolds with a request that they take her to her son Normy’s home in Phoenix.

Day Three sees the Griswolds getting back on the road with Aunt Edna and Dinky in tow. During a road-side picnic lunch, the “mystery blond” re-appears, as does her flirtation with Clark.

After spending the night in a dilapidated Colorado campground, they all set off for Arizona. But while packing the car, Clark forgets to untie Dinky’s leash from the Truckster’s rear bumper before hitting the highway. Clark doesn’t know what he’s done until he is stopped by a cop (played James Keach). Afterward, the “mystery blond” appears again while everyone in the Truckster is asleep. Attempting to keep up with the Ferrari, Clark nearly causes an accident, and as a result, the suitcase which contains all of Ellen’s credit cards is ejected from the Trucker’s luggage rack.

While crossing the Arizona desert and distracted by an argument with Ellen, Clark hurtles the Truckster off an embankment at the end of a closed road. With the car disabled, Clark idiotically wanders the desert in search of help, while unbeknownst to him, the family is rescued by Indians who saw the whole thing happen. Clark and the family are reunited at a local service station, where a crooked mechanic (played by Mickey Jones) basically robs Clark on the repair bill. When Clark makes a thinly-veiled threat to involve the police, the mechanic reveals he is also the local sheriff.

Despite this, they still reach the Grand Canyon resort village, where the next day Clark realizes that as a result of reporting Ellen’s credit cards lost, the bank has also frozen Clark’s accounts. When the clerk at the resort tells Clark his card has been declined, he tries to convince the stuffy hotel clerk to accept a check to pay for their rooms for the night. But the clerk refuses a personal check that can’t be backed with a major credit card. When the clerk is subsequently distracted, Clark leaves a $1,000 check in the cash register after he’s emptied it, and corrals the family back into the Truckster to make his getaway.

The trip across Arizona takes a morbid turn when they find that Aunt Edna “must have passed away somewhere around Flagstaff.” With really no other options, they continue on to Normy’s house in Phoenix…with Aunt Edna’s corpse wrapped in a tarp and strapped to the roof of the Truckster. But when they arrive in Phoenix, they discover he has left town. Clark and Ellen argue over what to do with Aunt Edna; eventually they leave her on a lawn chair in Normy’s backyard after a quick improvised prayer.

“What do you want me to do, Ellen? Slip her in the night deposit box at the funeral home?!”

Now the split among the Griswolds happens. Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey all want to abandon the trip and go back to Chicago. But Clark…who is clearly losing his grip on his sanity… is now completely obsessed with getting to Walley World. This is punctuated by Clark’s profanity filled meltdown.

As the family checks into a motel for the night, the arguing between Clark and Ellen intensifies to the point where he storms out of the room in favor of the motel’s bar. Upon arriving at the bar, he has a chance encounter with…you guessed it…the “mystery blond.” After some small talk, she entices him to go skinny-dipping with her in the motel’s swimming pool. But when Clarks jumps in, the frigid water prompts him into another profanity-filled exclamation which wakes up the entire motel. The moment gone, the “mystery blond” makes her exit, leaving Clark to return to Ellen. Clark gets his apology to Ellen accepted, but only on the condition that he goes back to the pool to skinny-dip with her.

The seventh day on the road finally sees the Griswolds make it to Walley World…only to discover that the park is closed for two weeks for repairs. This final indignity pushes Clark all the way over the edge. He buys a BB-gun which strongly resembles a semi-automatic pistol, which he uses to strong-arm security guard Russ Lasky (played by John Candy) to take them through the park.

As one might expect, a crazed man running amok with a gun kidnapping security guards will draw attention; in this case in the form of a SWAT team and owner Roy Walley (played by Eddie Bracken) who at first believes his park is under a terrorist attack. Naturally, the SWAT team takes the entire family into custody.

However, Clark returns to sanity and saves the day by making an impassioned plea to Roy Walley by evoking his memories of such a similar family vacation. Walley declines to press charges, and the film ends with the Griswolds enjoying the park as Walley’s guests.

The Hidden Sports Analogy:

With this month’s theme being “travel,” and after discussing what was easily one of the worst family vacations ever, it only seems fitting to chronicle what may be the most farcical traveling story in the history of the National Football League (NFL).

Most football fans of sufficient age remember the snowy night in March of 1984 when the Baltimore Colts loaded the entire team’s headquarters onto 14 moving vans and made a 600-mille trek westward to their new home in Indianapolis. But what most people aren’t aware of is the comedy of errors which led to the laughable scene of an entire football team skulking out of town under cover of darkness like a deadbeat evading bill collectors.

Today’s tale begins during the Second World War when the franchise which is known today as the Indianapolis Colts actually began it’s existence in the National Football League. The current-day Colts franchise began their association with the National Football League when a dissolving semi-professional football association known as the Ohio League began to see some of it’s assets being absorbed into the NFL.

Due to the war, the NFL found itself facing severe shortages of players…so much so it was merging franchises (a phenomenon explored in the installment in this series dedicated to the disaster spoof “Airplane!). As such, anybody who had a team and players was welcomed aboard, financial insolvency issues be damned.

That’s how this franchise jumped to NFL in 1944 when they fled Ohio to become the Boston Yanks. But being in Boston did not bring in the bucks the team needed to stay afloat, the result being a move to New York City in 1949. The franchise spent three years in the “Big Apple,” playing in 1949 as the Bulldogs, but spent the last two under the original name “Yanks.” In 1950 the name was changed to the New York Yanks. However, despite finishing the 1951 season with a 9-2 record, the Yanks were still mired in debt and the team was put up for sale.

A Texas textile tycoon named Giles Miller bought the Yanks for $300,000 and moved them to “Lone Star” state to become the Dallas Texans (not to be confused with the American Football League franchise of the same name which would later become today’s Kansas City Chiefs). Miller thought bringing the NFL to football-obsessed Texas would be a veritable license to print money. As such, Miller pumped a small fortune into the team, investing in a flashy logo to be the flagship of a marketing campaign, renting the prestigious Cotton Bowl for the team’s home games, and designing uniforms with a distinctive blue and white color scheme which is still in use to this day.

The problem was Miller was just a few years ahead of his time. in 1952, professional football played a distant second behind the college game in terms of prestige and fan interest, and it didn’t help that the Texans were terrible. They tried to drum up interest by signing a local football star named Jack Adkisson (who would go on to become a pro wrestling legend under the name Fritz von Erich).

Not even the future king of Texas wrestling could grapple with the Texans’ financial woes.

But nothing worked; the fans didn’t show up. The Texans would finish the 1952 season with a 1-11 record,and were quickly headed for bankruptcy. Miller established what would prove to become in the future a standard ploy for owners of struggling franchises; he courted investors and begged the city of Dallas for financial help. But nobody was willing to sink money into the Texans, and it only took until the seventh game in 1952 for Miller to “return” the franchise to the NFL like he was returning a toaster at the customer service desk at Kmart. As a result, the Texas spent the end of the 1952 being “homeless.” 4 of their last 5 games were played on the road; the one “home game” was played at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio.

This game against the Chicago Bears also marked the lone win in the history of the Texans.

Before the 1953 season, the NFL found itself in a quandry. Nobody was willing to take the Texans off their hands “as-is.” So the league did a legal and accounting “shell game” where the Texans franchise was “folded” and a established new one in it’s place. This ploy worked; the franchise formerly known as the Texans was sold to a Baltimore-based group headed by Carroll Rosenbloom.

The “shell game” played by the NFL is important because despite the fact that the NFL labeled the franchise purchased by Rosenbloom (which he would name the “Colts”) as an “expansion” team, and the “new” franchise did not claim the history of the Boston Yanks/New York Bulldogs/New York Yanks/Dallas Texans, the roster of the newly-formed 1953 Baltimore Colts was predominately filled with 1952 Dallas Texans. Not to mention, nearly all the accoutrements in the Baltimore Colts’ facilities on Day One was resplendent with a “Property of Dallas Texans” label.

That matters because a major component of Rosenbloom’s bringing success to the Colts was the fact that wiping the historical slate clean meant this was no longer Boston’s, New York’s, or Dallas’ team…it was Baltimore’s. Since Carroll Rosenbloom was born and raised in Baltimore, he understood the culture of what was at the time a tough, blue-collar seaport city. Once in the “Charm City,” Colts’ players lived among the fans and worked alongside them in the off-season (NFL players didn’t make the huge money then as they do now). That led to a bond forming between the team and the fans. The Baltimore Colts became more than a football team; they became an institution in the city.

Throughout the 1950’s, that environment allowed the Colts to grow into one of the best teams in the NFL. Led by Hall-of-Famers like quarterback Johnny Unitas, running back Lenny Moore, and defensive linemen Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan, the Colts took that combination of talent and the aforementioned working class spirit of Baltimore all the way to the NFL Championship Game in 1958.

It was is colloquially known as the “Greatest Game Ever Played.” Broadcast live on NBC, this was a old-fashioned bare-knuckle-brawl between the “blue-collar” Baltimore Colts and the “Broadway” New York Giants. Played in New York’s Yankee Stadium, this was the first NFL Championship Game which ended in a 17-17 tie and had to be decided in “sudden death” overtime.

In the extra time, the hometown Giants won the coin toss and got the ball first, but the Colts’ defense forced them to punt. The following eight minutes and fifteen seconds are when the legend of the Baltimore Colts was born. In that time, Johnny Unitas led the Colts on a game-winning drive which covered 80 yards on 13 plays capped by what became known as the “Run To Daylight;” a one-yard plunge into the end zone by fullback Alan Ameche.

Alan Ameche on the “Run To Daylight”

For those of you in the “classic film fan” segment of the Dubsism audience, there’s a reason why that name might sound familiar. Winning the 1954 Heisman Trophy in his senior year at the University of Wisconsin made Alan a star in his own right…just like his cousin, actor Don Ameche.

While Don Ameche was a star like his cousin Alan, I doubt they would be “Trading Places.”

That’s not the only connection between the Baltimore Colts and the bright lights of Hollywood. Being a native son of Baltimore, Colts’ Carroll Rosenbloom amassed his fortune with the Blue Ridge Clothing Company. By 1959, his company had grown to include almost a dozen shirt and overalls companies and had over 7,000 employees. This led to Rosenbloom being known “America’s Overalls King.”

But in spite of his “blue-collar” roots, Rosenbloom fancied himself being part of the glamour of Hollywood…and he fit the part as well. An athletic, dashing figure, Rosenbloom cut a larger-than-life presence…he always reminded me of Lorne Greene, and I think Rosenbloom would have been right at home as the patriarch of a TV western family. 

To that end, he was was one of the largest share holders in Seven Arts Productions Limited, which backed the Broadway musical “Funny Girl,” and the films “Lolita,” “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and “The Night of the Iguana.”

But one day in 1972, a tectonic shift happened in the NFL. the Los Angles Rams were put up for sale and were purchased by a Chicago-born businessman named Robert Irsay.

Rosenbloom and Irsay couldn’t have been more different. Rosenbloom had all the polish one would would expect from a guy with an Ivy League education; he was an alum of the University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Irsay was a bombastic heavy drinker whose two-fisted, pugnacious nature seemed to stereotypically fit a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Second World War.

Rosenbloom and Irsay

Despite those differences, they had one common bond; each had something the other one wanted. Rosenbloom wanted to be a Hollywood “mover and shaker,” but he was rooted to the East coast. Irsay had little more than disdain for the glitz of “Tinseltown.” So, right after Irsay bought the Rams, he and Rosenbloom swapped franchises. Irsay got the Colts and Baltimore…the tough, blue-collar seaport city much more befitting hiss persona. In return, Rosenbloom got “the team of the stars.”

The story of Rosenbloom’s ownership of the Rams is an interesting one in it’s own right; in fact, it results in some strong corollaries to an Esther Williams movie. But for Irsay and the Colts, this is where the aforementioned “comedy of errors” begins.

In 1971, the Baltimore Colts won Super Bowl V, marking their second NFL Championship. The next year began the ownership of the Colts by Robert Irsay, and things steadily declined. While the Colts remained a play-off worthy team through the 1970s, the trend line in terms of the success and financial well-being of the franchise was clearly heading the wrong way.

Rock-bottom for the Baltimore Colts came in 1983 when the franchise was so pathetic that not only were they the worst ream in the league, they were so bad that the #1 overall pick in that year’s draft flat-out refused to play for them.

The Colts selected quarterback John Elway from Stanford University with the first pick in the NFL Draft. But the future Hall of Famer refused to report to them, and he had some leverage. He had also been drafted by baseball’s New York Yankees as a pitcher, and he told the Colts that he would play baseball rather than join them.

Now in all fairness, I think Irsay and the Colts got a “bum rap” on this matter. They traded the rights to Elway to the Denver Broncos for for a package including what would turn out to be a 7-time All-Pro guard in Chris Hinton, a serviceable quarterback in Mark Herrmann who was an All-American at Purdue University, and the Broncos #1 pick in the 1984 draft, which turned out to be the #19 overall pick.

That move helped the Colts go from 0-8-1 in the strike-shortened1982 season to 7-9 in 1983. While that was a major improvement, the team’s public relations situation was becoming a shit-show of the first order. Despite the profitable trade, the Elway situation made the Colts the butt of a never-ending series of jokes. On top of that, the Colts had drafted another quarterback in 1982 who was proving to be a liability all on his own.

Art Schilchter was drafted by Baltimore in 1982 after his college days at Ohio State University. Being the fourth overall pick, all those in the know thought he was going to be a “franchise” quarterback; the kind of guy you can build a winning team around. As we’ve seen up to this point, the Colts sorely needed that.

The problem was they didn’t know that besides being a “big-time” quarterback, Schlichter was also a major-league gambler. It took him no time at all to blow through his $350,000 signing bonus. When the NFL Player’s Union went on strike in mid-season 1982, Schlichter had nothing but time on his hands, so his gambling problem spiraled out of control. By the end of the strike, he racked up almost three-quarters of a million dollars in gambling debt.

Art Schlichter starting in an entirely different kind of lineup.

With the NFL in the midst of a labor stoppage, Schlichter had no income and was unable to cover his gambling losses with his Mob-connected bookies. So, in order to keep from them breaking his knees, Schlichter went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and ratted out everybody for illegal gambling (for all the details on what a worm Art Schlichter was, he’s got an episode in this series dedicated to him).

Once that happened, it didn’t take long for the story to get out in the media. Nothing creates a scandal in the sports world quite like gambling can. As a result, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Schlichter indefinitely. Not only did the give the Baltimore Colts yet another “black eye,” the timing couldn’t have been any worse.

By the 1980’s, Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium (the home of the Colts and baseball’s Baltimore Orioles) was in serious need of renovation, but sprucing up such a facility isn’t cheap. The Colts trying to put the arm on various governmental bodies for upgrades to Memorial Stadium began with Carroll Rosenbloom as far back as 1969. That was the year the city of Baltimore raised the rent for the Colts’ use of the city-owned facility. Rosenbloom responded with a request for the city to build a new stadium, which of course was denied.

It was during this time the relationship between Rosenbloom and the Baltimore media went from “pat-on-the-back” friendly to low-key hostility. When the Colts’ lease on Memorial Stadium was set to expire after the 1972 season, Rosenbloom threatened to build his own facility on land out side of the city. The Baltimore media portrayed him as a “greedy owner” who was going to take the team away from the city. That narrative became an even easier sell when it became known that Rosenbloom’s wife Georgia hated living in Baltimore and wanted to move to Los Angeles.

But then fate intervened on July 13th, 1972. In a deal brokered by future Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ owner Hugh Culverhouse, Robert Irsay purchased the Los Angeles Rams, and essentially traded franchises with Rosenbloom.

We’ve already explored the decline of the Colts’ franchise under Irsay’s ownership. But the relationship between the Colts and the city of Baltimore suffered as well. The change in ownership did not change the fact Memorial Stadium was in decline. But through Irsay’s difficult personality, discussions between Colts and the city of Baltimore went nowhere and the relationship between the two became downright glacial.

By 1980, Irsay was bypassing the city and going straight to the state. Irsay asked Maryland governor Governor Harry Hughes for $25 million to make improvements to Memorial Stadium. But the state legislature crafted a deal which would require both the Colts and co-tenants the Baltimore Orioles to sign long-term leases, which the Orioles refused to do.

Seemingly out of options, Irsay began courting other cities to see what the market might bear for getting an NFL franchise. Naturally this made Irsay public enemy #1 in Baltimore. With other cities making offers, Irsay gave the city one last chance in 1984, again saying he wouldn’t move the team if improvements were made to Memorial Stadium. And again, these negotiations went nowhere.

This led to the infamous “This is my goddamn team!” press conference. At this point, the suitors for the Colts were down to two cities, Phoenix and Indianapolis. The intrigue went up as it became know that Leonard Tose, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, was looking to sell his team. Now the story was taking on national interest, and the stage was set for Irsay’s “Clark Griswold meltdown” moment.

The press conference was held at the Baltimore airport after Irsay was returning to town after another round of being wooed by the suitor cities trying to get the Colts. As he approached the podium covered with microphones, Irsay was already in a foul mood…and was visibly drunk. In no time at all, the media’s question’s twirled Irsay into a profanity filled tirade…which despite his denials made it seem the Colts were as good as gone.

That brings us to a date which live in infamy in Baltimore; March 28th, 1984. With the Colts departure seeming imminent, the previous day the Maryland state legislature passing a law which would allow the city of Baltimore to seize the Colts from Irsay through eminent domain. To avoid losing his team. Irsay hatched a plan to spirit the Colts out of Maryland under cover of darkness that night. The problem was getting the necessary number of empty moving vans on short notice.

I’ve never been able to confirm this, but the prevailing theory is that Irsay had a tentative deal to move the Colts to Phoenix, and with that being at the very least a rumor taken to have a great deal of truth is what prompted the action by the Maryland legislature. But what is undeniably true is Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut III had a relationship with Johnny Smith, the chief executive officer for the Mayflower moving company…in fact, they were next door neighbors.

So, Irsay calls Hudnut…who calls his next-door neighbor…who orchestrated the scouring of the eastern seaboard for the 14 moving vans needed for the Colts’ midnight escape from Maryland. This was such a full-on “jailbreak”-type run from the law that Irsay ordered all the trucks to take separate routes out of Maryland in case the state police attempted to stop them.

Irsay’s meltdown at the airport press-conference rivals Clark Griswold’s profane tirade at the idea of calling off the trip. Art Schlichter makes a solid “Cousin Eddie,” complete with debts he can’t pay. John Elway just needed a red Ferrari to be the “blond” Irsay wanted and couldn’t have. While the Colts were not met at their destination by a SWAT team, Mayor Hudnut did his best “Roy Walley” impression by rolling out the “red carpet” for his city’s new football team…which for my money after their epic westward trek should be called the Indianapolis Griswolds.

The Moral of The Story:

Never underestimate the power of relationships.

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

One comment on “Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 108: “National Lampoon’s Vacation”

  1. SportsChump
    May 3, 2021

    In this day and age, I wonder if an NFL owner could still pull off that sort of thing.

    One would think unlikely… but ya’ never know.

    And another lost forgotten line from Vacation, when they get off the highway and pull into the black neighborhood, Rusty asks his father “Was that the Commodores?”

    I had totally forgotten about that line until watching the movie again recently.


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