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Nine movies that gave sports fans their due before ‘80 for Brady’

Celtic fans . . . or are they? Movie magic at the Boston Garden during filming of the movie "Celtic Pride," as thousands of "extras" are actually cardboard photographs of people filling the seats of the Old Boston Garden to form the background for some of the scenes.TLUMACKI, JOHN GLOBE STAFF PHOTO

When Tom Brady left New England to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of his biggest supporters couldn’t contain her displeasure.

“I was angry with him,” 95-year-old Patriots fan Elaine St. Martin recently told “CBS Sunday Morning.” “I wanted to kill him!”

Unlike the legions of fans who shared the sentiment, however, St. Martin could tell Brady just how she felt to his handsome, dimple-chinned face. She’s one of the five ladies from North Attleboro who inspired “80 for Brady,” in theaters Feb. 3, the gauzy new comedy about a group of seniors who travel to Houston to see their beloved quarterback lead his team into Super Bowl LI in February 2017.


In real life the five women, all widows, bonded over their shared love for the Patriots. Led by St. Martin and Betty Pensavalle, the story of their fanaticism became Hollywood property after Betty’s grandson, a talent agent, pitched it to Brady’s production company. In the film, the armchair cheerleaders are portrayed by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field.

While we have countless films inspired by the inherent drama of the sporting world, the number of movies about sports fans is about the same as the number of baseball players who take the field at Fenway. Here are nine movies about the vicarious thrill of victory and the secondhand agony of defeat.

Celtic Pride (1996)

Mike O’Hara, a “gym teacher from Charlestown, Massachusetts with a spastic colon,” and his dimwitted buddy Jimmy Flaherty are fanatical Celtics fans. To ensure a Game 7 victory for the hometown team, they plot to kidnap the superstar of the Utah Jazz, Lewis Scott (Damon Wayans). Investing 90 minutes in this broad, dopey comedy co-written by Judd Apatow and Colin Quinn, real Celtics lifers will get a kick out of cameos by Bob Cousy and Bill Walton, and the bar scene in which the two schlubs (played by Daniel Stern and Dan Aykroyd) swoon when they’re introduced to Larry Bird.


Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other services

Damon Wayans in the movie "Celtic Pride."HANDOUT PHOTO

Big Fan (2009)

“Paul from Staten Island” lives for his favorite sports-talk radio show and his beloved New York Giants. Thirty-five and still living with his mother, he can’t afford tickets, so he and his buddy Sal travel to the Meadowlands for home games to watch on their battery-powered TV in the parking lot. In a mix-up, poor Paul (Patton Oswalt) is badly beaten up by the Giants’ star linebacker, but he refuses to press charges. This dark little indie drama drew plenty of fans when it premiered at Sundance.

Available to rent on YouTube

Patton Oswalt (left) and Kevin Corrigan in a scene from "Big Fan." (AP Photo/First Independent Pictures)

The Fan (1996)

Sports fans are often portrayed as pathetic losers with nothing better going on in their lives. In this one, the great Robert De Niro plays not just a loser — he’s a psychopathic knife salesman who takes baseball (and his own Little League glory days) entirely too seriously. When he becomes acquainted with the San Francisco Giants’ newest star, Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), he asks how Bobby pulled himself out of his latest slump. “I stopped caring,” Bobby replies. For the fan, this is unforgivable.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other services

Robert De Niro (left) as Gil Renard and Wesley Snipes as Bobby Rayburn in “The Fan.” Columbia/Tristar - © 1996 Columbia TriStar

Damn Yankees (1958)

Based on the long-running Broadway musical, the film version follows a middle-aged fan of the hapless Washington Senators who offers to sell his soul to the devil if his team can just beat the dynasty in the Bronx for once. (Pre-2004 Red Sox fans can certainly relate.) “God, I love this job!” crows Mr. Applegate, the devil in disguise; he’s played by Ray Walston, who later gave us the priceless Mr. Hand in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Old Joe’s youth is restored, and Young Joe (played by the heartthrob Tab Hunter) leads the Senators to the brink of the pennant.


Available to stream on Tubi

A scene from “Damn Yankees.”© 1958 - Warner Bros

Fever Pitch (2005)

Fans of this film probably know that the Farrelly brothers had to rethink their ending when the unthinkable occurred — the Red Sox actually won the World Series. In character, Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore took part in the celebration after the ‘04 Sox completed their sweep of the Cardinals. Nick Hornby’s book and its 1997 British film adaptation were both about fans of Arsenal’s Premier League soccer franchise, but we’re partial to this version if only for all the player (and broadcaster) cameos. We’d love to ask Fallon’s Ben Wrightman — who ranks the Red Sox above “breathing” in life — what he thinks about Xander joining Don Orsillo in San Diego.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other services

Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore in "Fever Pitch." (Photo by Darren Michaels) Twentieth Century Fox

Offside (2006)

When Iran beat Australia to qualify for the World Cup in 1997, thousands of fans filled the team’s stadium in Tehran to welcome the players home. Five thousand of those fans were women, which was an anomaly: Historically, Iran has forbidden women from attending sporting events. That got filmmaker Jafar Panahi thinking. A few years later, his own daughter snuck into the stadium to watch her team play. “Offside” is Panahi’s fictional tale of a group of young women who try various methods to attend Iran’s next World Cup qualifying match.


Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other services

A scene from "Offside."

Invincible (2006)

This being Philadelphia, they took lots of liberties with the improbable story of Vince Papale, a schoolteacher and part-time bartender who made the Eagles’ roster after impressing coach Dick Vermeil at a tryout. Mark Wahlberg plays Papale, who would spend three years with the Eagles playing wide receiver and special teams. The film’s big fumble recovery didn’t quite happen that way in real life, but Papale did beat Wahlberg’s hometown team in a 1977 exhibition game with a diving catch in the end zone, out-dueling Patriots Hall of Famer Raymond Clayborn.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other services

Mark Wahlberg (right) in "Invincible" as Vince Papale, a down-on-his-luck guy turned player for the Eagles. (Ron Phillips/Disney Enterprises)Ron Phillips

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Mars Blackmon’s over-the-top passion for the New York Knicks goes a long way toward explaining the character’s immaturity in Spike Lee’s debut feature film. One of three suitors for the free-spirited Nola Darling, Mars (played by Lee) has a pointed retort for the snobby boyfriend who calls the other two “low-class.” “What do you know?” Mars snaps back. “You’re a Celtics fan.”

Available to stream on Netflix

Tracy Camilla Johns (left) as Nola Darling and Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon in a scene from “She’s Gotta Have It.”©Island Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Maybe This Year (2019)

This movie, the only documentary on the list, was going to be called “Maybe Next Year,” after the pitiful battle cry of unfulfilled sports fans everywhere. Then the director, Kyle Thrash, got lucky. While filming his fellow Philadelphia Eagles diehards during the 2017 season, the team put together a 13-3 season, then marched through the playoffs, culminating in a 41-33 win over the favored Patriots. “A true Philadelphia fan learns to boo before he learns to speak,” explains the voice of NFL Films in one clip. And when a wide-open Tom Brady drops that trick pass from Danny Amendola, an Eagles fan turns to the camera and whoops, “*%$ you, Tom Brady!”


Available to stream on Hulu or rent on Amazon Prime Video

A scene from “Maybe This Year.”© Over-Under Philly LLC

Email James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.