Mark Clark: The saddest scenes from sports movies

Mark Clark: The saddest scenes from sports movies

Brian’s Song moment tops them all

Over the years, I have watched many sports movies that contained sad scenes. I am sure you have watched many of the same movies that I have watched. I doubt there has been a year that has gone by without at least one new sports movie showing up on the big, or little, screen.

Do you remember the scene in the movie We Are Marshall where Matthew McConaughy leads the team to the cemetery to visit the graves of six of the Thundering Herd football players who died in a tragic plane crash? The speech McConaughy delivered while portraying Marshall football coach Jack Lengyel is about as emotional as you can get. But, that does not top my list of sad scenes.

I cannot imagine a single person who has lost someone dear to them can watch the scene about the death of the mother of a heart attack in the movie Radio and not feel a sense of loss and of helplessness. The whole movie is an emotional  roller coaster ride from the beginning to the end and that scene is the lowest point – its saddest point. But, that scene is not the saddest I have viewed.

While I am not a big fan of Robert DeNiro’s work in the movies The Deer Hunter and The Godfather II, I am impressed by his portrayal of the fighter Jake LaMotta in the movie Raging Bull. LaMotta had more demons in his life than can be imagined. He was endlessly violent and paranoid. The scene when he is pounding the wall of his cell in despair after being arrested for introducing underage girls to customers at his bar is an emotional moment that is hard to forget. But, it is not the saddest scene on my list.

Want to watch tears flow? Then all you have to do is watch the death scene in the movie The Champ. Instead of having a child beg his alcoholic, washed up boxer of a father not to die, why didn’t they just stop the movie and pour onion juice into the eyes of the people in the audience? For years, I thought Ricky Schroder would never outlive the role of a crying kid. But, as sad as that was, it is not the saddest I have seen.

It is extremely hard to watch Russell Crowe as a proud Jim Braddock taking his hat off to beg for money in the movie Cinderella Man. Man, Crowe made the tears flow in this movie as a down-on-his-luck former boxer turns to begging and moving foodstuff on the docks to keep his family fed. Crowe was at his best when he apologizes to his former manager for begging. Could you shed more tears if someone shot your dog? Even so, it too is not at the top of my saddest scenes list.

Do you remember the scene in the hotel in the movie Warrior when Paddy Conlon, a recovering alcoholic and father of MMA fighter Brendon Conlon, portrayed by Nick Nolte has his world crumble when his son tosses coins in his face? Nolte hardly said a word during the scene, but his eyes exhibited the pain he felt at that moment. Still, this is not the saddest scene on my list.

Mickey Rourke gave an undeniably tremendous performance in the movie The Wrestler that was worthy of an Oscar for Best Actor. Audience members were tearing up before the end of the movie as Rourke, playing the part of Randy “The Ram” Robinson showed the sadness of a life spent valuing the wrong things. The scene on the Boardwalk when he says, “I’m an old, broken down piece of meat. And I’m alone” rips your heart out. But, once more, this is not the saddest scene I have watched in a sports movie.

In the movie Remember The Titans, the hospital scene with the exchange between Gerry Bertier, who was paralyzed in an automobile accident, and his former enemy Julius Campbell is a real tear jerker. Campbell struggles to hold things together for his friend, but he cannot hide the fear he has for his friend. If you thought you would leave the theater with dry eyes, that scene ended all hope. But, it is not the saddest scene on my list.

All of the previous scenes were in big screen productions with big name stars. The next one was a television movie in 1971 and the two guys playing the leads were still relatively unknowns – James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. Had this movie been produced later in their careers, it would have been a major motion picture and probably challenged for several Oscars. It is the last scene in the movie that made hundreds of thousands of men rediscover their tear ducts with the words, “I love Brian Piccolo . . . and I want you to love him, too.” This made for television movie, Brian’s Song, was the tale of Chicago Bears teammates Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who in spite of racial lines became friends. While battling those who felt their race should keep them apart from each other, there was a bigger foe the two had to fight as cancer strikes Piccolo in his early career.

I could have floated out of my living room when Williams, as Gale Sayers accepting the George Halas Most Courageous Player award tells the committee it selected the wrong man. I do not care how many times I have seen the movie, the tears just seem to flow. Now, that is the saddest scene in sports movies ever in my opinion.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.