Hollywood would be a Brees for a Saintly star

Occasional screenwriter NORMAN GILLER (whose film credits include the rarely seen 1974 classic Carry On Oo Err Missus) is dusting off his Halliwell’s before embarking on a new script, one with the potential of being among the best movies about sport ever made

It took Clint Eastwood 15 years to put a Hollywood slant on South Africa’s remarkable 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph ” Invictus, played to the background of Nelson Mandela’s battle to unite the apartheid-poisoned land. You can bet your bottom dollar that a movie of the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl success will hit the cinema much quicker.

In fact a screenplay is probably already being written, with Hurricane Katrina providing the Mandela-style dramatic backdrop. Wonder who will play George W Bush, the President Who Did Nothing? Hardly a hero in the Mandela mould.

This 21st Century is not quite one-tenth through, and already we have had what is ” in 90 years’ time ” certain to rate as one of the great sporting moments of the century. I do not claim to know the subtleties of American Football, but I was a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ into the early hours of Monday morning as the Saints went marching on to their incredible victory.

In fact, I cheered so loudly as quarter-back Drew Brees steered the Saints to their 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts that the old girl who lives above me banged on the ceiling. But not in celebration. This sort of behaviour is not the done thing in dozy, delightful Dorset.

But what the hell, I was watching one of those spine-tingling events that explains why sport will always grab an old hack like me and shake out the cynicism that says things were superior in the old days.

It does not get better than this, as will be testified by the all-time record American television audience of 106.5 million people, overtaking the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H as the most-watched programme in US TV history. Yes, even Hawkeye and Trapper would have to bow the knee to this.

And there I was in far-off Dorset feeling part of the historic occasion, along with ” was I seeing and hearing things? ” The Who, providing the half-time rock ‘n’ roll entertainment. Pinball Wizard has never had a more surreal setting.

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As a jazz fanatic, I was hoping to hear some good ol’ New Orleans jazz but I have to admit The Who ” the “Godfathers of Punk” (now more like the Grandfathers) ” gave an extra edge to the unforgettable event. I was half expecting them to smash up the place as a climax. If you missed the match live, you have my permission to kick yourself between the posts.

It would make a great Hollywood film, which brings me to a challenge made by my veteran journalist pal John Jenkins, who was a backbench powerhouse on the Daily and Sunday Express and Daily Telegraph in the good old, bad old days when Fleet Street was the Street of Ink (and Drink). John asked me to name my 10 favourite sporting movies of all time.

This cost me even more sleep than the late-watch Super Bowl, but at least I left the old girl upstairs in peace as I quietly and carefully collated my list. Be warned, it’s catching. I finally came up with the following Top Ten in year-made order (and I can give you three reserve lists if you wish):

1951: Jim Thorpe, All-American Burt Lancaster as the appallingly treated Native American Olympic star. It was released as Man of Bronze in the UK. As he received the first of his medals from the King of Sweden, the monarch said, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete ever.” Thorpe, aka Wa-Tho-Huk, replied: “Thanks, King.”

1956: Somebody Up There Likes Me a biopic starring the young, virtually unknown Paul Newman as hard-hitting Rocky Graziano, a hoodlum who became world middleweight champion.

1956: The Harder They Fall Budd Schulberg’s thinly disguised biography of the rise and fall of Primo Carnera; Humphrey Bogart’s final film.

1963: This Sporting Life Oscar-nominated Richard Harris, pictured right, as the explosively angry young man of rugby league.

1976: Rocky the first of the Sylvester Stallone appearances as Rocky Balboa, before the six-long series of films turned him into an almost-comic character.

1980: Raging Bull Oscar-winning performance by Robert DeNiro as self-destructive boxing brawler Jake LaMotta. Trivia: the brief but brutally realistic boxing scenes took six weeks to shoot, and DeNiro deliberately put on two stone during the making of the film to capture the young and old LaMotta.

1981: Chariots of Fire contrasting Never-on-Sunday Eric Liddell and Jewish Olympic 100 metres champion Harold Abrahams, an absorbing film despite lots of invented poetic-licence facts by screenwriter Colin “The British are coming” Welland.

1984: The Natural Robert Redford, left, starred as the Bernard Malamud-created veteran baseball player who seems to have almost divine skills until inexplicably shot by a young woman.

1988: Eight Men Out the story of the World Series sell-out by the “Chicago Black Sox”, including the moving moment outside the courtroom when a young baseball fan asks mega-hero Shoeless Joe Jackson: “Say it ain’t so, Joe …”.

1996: Jerry Maguire a gripping and often hilarious performance by Tom Cruise as a conscience-stricken sports agent … a rare breed indeed.

I think the film of the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl for the first time in their history has the potential to be as good as any of my Top Ten sporting movies. The title? How about Saints Alive?

Perhaps the old girl upstairs will get taken to the premiere, so that she knows why I was cheering in the middle of the night. These days ” for this old hack ” such late-night excitement is rare.

Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.

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