ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: Strike Team (2017)

Directed by Willie Ebersol

The 30 for 30 shorts series is one of the best ways for ESPN to get some of the more peculiar and interesting sports stories out there to the viewing public, those stories which are big enough to be noteworthy, but small enough they don’t need the full length 30 for 30 treatment. Certainly there have been some shorts that left me wanting more, and some feature installments that left me wondering why they didn’t just keep it a short. With their latest, Strike Team, ESPN has allowed director Willie Ebersol to explore something very minimally sports related, which is often the case with the best of the series. There isn’t a single athlete highlighted in the film, rather it is the law enforcement, U.S. Marshals, who take center stage in one of the stranger, more awesome stories told within the format.

Back in the 1980s, the Washington Redskins were a hot ticket in the nation’s capital. The crime on the streets were just as hot. So when U.S. Marshals cooked up an elaborate sting to take down over 100 wanted fugitives in the area, of course the draw of free Redskins tickets was the perfect con. Yes, you read that right, U.S. Marshals conned numerous fugitives into thinking they were winning free tickets when instead they were winning a pair of handcuffs and a cell in jail. Ebersol goes full on 80s crime show to tell this zany story which seems too good to be true. Featuring stylistic graphics from the era and even theme music, Strike Team has fun with a story of a silly sports draw.

At 25 minutes long, Strike Team is one of the longer shorts in the series, but it never feels it, a signature sign of a well made film. The concept, the setup, the players, and the execution are all covered with enough style and care to make the film entertaining, informative, and not too much of a joke to downplay just how important the work of these Marshals was to getting fugitives off the street and into custody. Even if it was fun to watch it all unfold. Fun as it may have looked, I can’t imagine how stressful and dangerous such a large operation was to both plan and execute. All the more props to these Marshals, many of whom went on to long, distinguished careers in bureau. ESPN has slowed their release of these shorts. I say keep them coming so long as they are as focused and entertaining as Strike Team.

*** – Very Good

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