ESPN Films: It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports (2015)

Directed by Errol Morris
Building on the success of their documentary film series, 30 for 30, ESPN recently decided to call on a good friend and acclaimed documentarian to do a series of short films on the passion and craziness of sports. Errol Morris had previously directed a series of commercials for ESPN, called It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports, that centered on the eccentricities of passionate sports fans. With this new series of short documentaries, Morris takes it one step further unfolding the strange obsessions and hobbies of some of the sports world’s most fascinating fans.

The Streaker

Streaking has become somewhat of a norm in the sports world anymore. With any major event comes the threat of some buffoon running onto the field and taking all his clothes off for attention. Then there is Mark Roberts, a British man who has streaked at 22 major sporting events. For Mark, the sensation is about the adrenaline rush. It all started 22 years ago when Mark, in a drunken stupor, was coerced into streaking the next day at an Aussie rules football match. A man of his word, Mark did the deed and found a new passion for becoming a part of the sports world. Morris’ doc reminded me so much of a previous 30 for 30 Short, “The Great Imposter”, but it amazed me how much humanity Roberts is given in such a short film about a streaker. With no first question planned, Morris allows Roberts to communicate his story on his own terms, divulging great detail and great passion along the way. I’m amazed this man isn’t instantly recognizable by event security worldwide, but there is something euphoric about the way Roberts revels in his ability to entertain the crowd and the rush he so clearly gets from streaking.

*** – Good


 

The Heist

College is a time to do things you’re not supposed to and have a bit of fun, but sometimes students can take things a little too far, reaching further towards the dangerous and unlawful than the standard harmless prank. One such instance was when a group of Duke basketball fans stole the retired jersey of Michael Jordan from rival North Carolina’s gym rafters. Such a prank required planning, teamwork, and a bit of passionate hatred for their rival. In this short, Morris allows one of the students, who are all still unknown, to retell the caper, which was genius, dangerous, and highly illegal. The irrational urge to perform such a prank against their rivals can only be chalked up to youthful ignorance and a dedication to team that can only be seen in the sporting world. While the prank was not quite fulfilled with the impactful unveiling of the stolen jersey on Duke’s campus, it still ranks as one of better, and more bonehead, pranks. I wonder, however, if anything will ever be able to touch Yale’s placard prank on rival Harvard in 2004.

**1/2 – Average


 

The Subterranean Stadium

The Subterranean Stadium is the perfect example of what makes sports, 30 for 30, and Errol Morris so great. For so many reasons, this short film encapsulates what it means to be a sports fan and for that reason it is far and away the best of this series. In the town of Charlotte, New York, just outside of Rochester, lives the CEFL, the Charlotte Electric Football League. The league consists of a handful of buddies who grew up together in high school and some close relatives. What makes the story so remarkable is not the league itself, it’s not the fact that these men play an outdated, forgotten game, The Subterranean Stadium is all about the people. Endlessly fascinating, each member of the league seems to have something remarkable about them. One is a former convict who survived Tsing Tsing and Attica. One is a former hippie, whose life passed him by and now he cherishes being able to take last place each year in the league and call these men friends. The league’s commissioner has never been the same since serving in Vietnam and being affected by Agent Orange. And his wife, who has put up with the league for 30 years in her basement is more of a hoot than the whole lot together! Stories like this one are what make sports special, they’re what make friends and family special. The Subterranean Stadium is home to a community within a community, a sanctuary.

**** – Masterpiece


 

Most Valuable Whatever

Perhaps the weakest of the series, Most Valuable Whatever is probably also the strangest. It chronicles spots “memorabilia” collectors, whose most cherished pieces are more bizarre than they are impressive. The toilet from the Maple Leaf Gardens locker room and Ty Cobb’s dentures are not exactly what I would call “must-haves” or “conversation pieces”, but for these fans, they were. Morris allows the collectors to express their passion for their pieces with the enthusiasm you might imagine is required to cherish such…things. For the most part, these people are either starving for attention, or simply too obsessed with their trinkets for me, or Morris, to get to the heart of what makes them tick. Perhaps they are just too off the wall for me to connect with, but my bobbleheads and baseball cards seem strange enough a collection for my sports memorabilia for me to make the reach to a toilet. Sometimes I guess people really will buy anything.

**1/2 – Average


 

Chrome

A man and his horse is often the story of a lonestar cowboy in the Old West, but for California Chrome and Steve Coburn, they have created a 21st century version of the classic tale. Coburn, who had been around horses his whole life but not in the racing game, joined up with friend Perry Martin to buy a racing horse that everybody said would amount to nothing on the track. They were right, but that mare begot them the wonderful California Chrome, who competed for the Triple Crown in 2014, falling just short at the Belmont after winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Coburn and Martin’s story is one that highlights the level of chance involved in sports, but it is also the exception and not the rule. But once again, what makes the film entertaining is Morris’ ability to tap into the human aspect of the story, showing Coburn as a loving and heartfelt owner to California Chrome. His ability to connect with the animal, and fully appreciate what the two of them were able to do together makes Coburn and Chrome a team worth cheering for.

*** – Good


 

Being Mr. Met

The art of the mascot is a fickle one. The Philly Phanatic has been at it for years, and recently the Houston Astros Orbit has been making quite the impression on the colorful antics of the fan favorite, energetic, and family friendly sports mascot. Another such famous mascot is Mr. Met, who was brought back in 1994, was portrayed by AJ Mass. After 4 successful years as Mr. Met, however, the Mets organization, citing it was a seasonal position, let him go after he asked for Health Insurance. Mass claims to have forged a new identity for the loveable fan favorite mascot, something he feels very proud of, but also something he feels the Mets robbed him of. Morris sits down with Mass and explores what it means to be a mascot, on and off the field. We get to see the creative freedom Mass had, as well as fun stories like the one with Rachel Robinson and President Clinton. But once again Morris strikes balance by making it about the man behind the baseball head instead of just the surface of the mascot. Shedding light on the behind the scenes of a mascot is worth the price of admission with this one.

*** – Very Good

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s