Are you ready for some football? A Monday Night Party? Sounds like an opportunity for dinner and a movie.
That's because “Monday Night Football,” relegated from broadcast network ABC to sister cable network ESPN in 2006, is starting the season with a classic American Football League rivalry game, between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, that is bound to be a better sleep aid than Ambien.
This opinion comes straight from the heart of a lifelong San Diego Chargers fan. Doubtlessly, I'll tune in for a while then change channels in protest of Chargers head coach Norv Turner's play-calling. Regardless the outcome, I have every confidence the better viewing choice will be the classic pro football skewer-fest “North Dallas Forty.”
Based on the novel by ex-Dallas Cowboy receiver Peter Gent, the 1979 film is a thinly veiled, warts-and-all depiction of the Tom Landry-era Star-heads. Directed by Ted Kotcheff, whose career somehow included both “First Blood” and “Weekend at Bernie's,” “North Dallas Forty” stars Nick Nolte, Mac Davis and the great character actor G.D. Spradlin — a Pauls Valley native who died in the summer of 2011.
Nolte plays ne'er-do-well wide receiver Phil Elliott, based on Gent, who died last October. Davis gives a spot-on caricature of former Cowboys great and actor/broadcaster “Dandy” Don Meredith while Spradlin plays the stoic, hat-wearing head coach B.A. Strother — a dead-ringer for Landry.
The North Dallas Bulls are depicted as a freewheeling, free-loving band of miscreants who won the gene lottery, enabling them to live out their dream of fame and fortune as long as they are of use to the robotic Strother. But like all products of mass consumption, the gridiron gladiators have an expiration date. When that date passes, they are thrown out with the empty beer cups and hot dog wrappers.
But before that happens, life is a succession of glory and debauchery with all that is bounded between. Kotcheff brings us a heaping helping of the agony and the ecstasy of being a pro football player. Both Elliott and Maxwell are at the edge of expiration as Al Hartman, who fans of the era will recognize as a young Roger Staubach, stands ready to take the reins.
The film is screamingly funny, chocked full of quotable lines, and eye-opening. Jason Witten's signing a waiver in order to play in the Dallas Cowboys opener last Wednesday with a lacerated spleen will ring valid as Strother and staff bully players into playing injured via needle, pill or fear of excommunication from the church of football.