ESPN is at it again. The Worldwide Leader's excellent ongoing series of doc*mentaries continues tonight with "The Dotted Line," director Morgan Spurlock's examination of sports agents. "Dotted" (8 p.m.) comes on the heels of "The Fab Five," "Catching Hell," and "Renée," which, unofficially, are films #31, #32, and #33 of the award-winning "30 for 30" series.
More doc*mentaries from ESPN Films are certainly a good thing. "Catching Hell" was terrific, and I expect nothing less from Spurlock tonight (watch the preview here), but I'm particularly amped for next week's "Unguarded," the story of Chris Herren. His recently released autobiography "Basketball Junkie" tells the tale of how drug and alcohol addiction ruined his pure basketball talents. "Unguarded" Director Jonathan Hock was responsible for "Through the Fire," the ESPN doc about Brooklyn's Sebastian "Bassy" Telfair. Herren's story plus Hock's directing prowess makes me believe "Unguarded" will be a slam-dunk.
Following "Unguarded" are "The Real Rocky," about the inspiration for Stallone's Balboa; "Charismatic," about the champion horse and his jockey; and "Roll Tide/War Eagle," about the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. And then what? What other subjects are worthy of the ESPN Films treatment? Good question. The keys for these doc*mentaries seem to be to tell a story about a familiar topic — boxing, horseracing, or college football, for example — but from an unexpected angle, and to bridge generational gaps among sports fans. There's a reason all the commercials start with "What if I told you…" just as there's a reason why any 21- to 29-year-old Bro will tell you how much they loved "The U," despite the fact he was still in elementary school when the events down in Miami were unfolding.
Here, then, are our nominations for future subjects for ESPN films doc*mentaries. Sound Off with your own wish list in the comments.
The story of Tim Donaghy’s gambling scandal and his allegations against fellow officials rocked the NBA. Neither David Stern nor accused official Dick Bavetta nor anyone else from the league would ever agree to talk on the record about this subject. But with the NBA players on strike, now would be the perfect time to get them in a room, show them some game tapes, and get their unvarnished opinions.
Rickey Being Rickey
Million dollar talent... 10-cent head. The man hit a career .279 and stole 100+ bases three times, won an MVP, and was the greatest lead-off hitter ever. He also walked into a clubhouse full of reporters one day and asked what all the fuss was, to which someone explained that Tom Robson, the hitting coach, had been fired. Rickey's response: "Who's he?" There are countless hilarious Rickey Henderson stories, so this would be a great opportunity for fans to revel in his pure ability and laugh at his pure stupidity.
Lines still form around the block when Nike releases a new style of Air Jordans. The Marty McFly-inspired Air Mags went for over 75 grand on eBay last month. It’s clear that decades after His Airness ushered in a new obsession with athletic footwear that the world still loves its sneakers. But is it too much? Sneaker heads like Jordy Gellar and the late DJ AM are all well and good, but back in 1990, sneaker obsession was at an even more intense level. As documented by Sports Illustrated in 1990, high-priced sneakers were the inspiration for at least one murder in Baltimore and countless other thefts and other sneaker-related crimes. "We told him not to wear the shoes to school," the murder victim's grandmother told SI. "We said somebody might like them, and he said, 'Granny, before I let anyone take those shoes, they'll have to kill me.' " This doc could also examine the lighter side of the subject with interviews with famous sneaker collectors and designers at Nike and other shoe companies. My dream director for the project would be DJ, ESPN personality, and sneakerhead Bobbito Garcia.
Described as “The War” by promoter Described as “The War” by promoter Bob Arum, this bout between “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns in April 1985 would be named Ring Magazine’s fight of the year, even though it lasted just 3 rounds. Watch the fight above: It’s a complete brawl from start to finish. Twenty-five years later, it would be fascinating to hear the fighters break down each round and also discuss the state of boxing today.
XFL: What Were They Thinking?
The XFL was developed in 2001 by WWF frontman Vince McMahon as a league that could mix the ever-increasing interest in professional wrestling with a market for off-season football. It was marketed to fans to have fewer rules and harder hits. Some of the league's wild gimmicks included no coin toss (two players would run full speed for a ball placed at the 50 and wrestle to gain control of it), no “halo” runs on punt returns, and in-stadium trash-talking announcers. The league failed miserably. Vince McMahon can be viewed as a guy with a vision that ultimately didn’t pan out, but I’d love to hear from the NBC Sports execs that agreed to this. What were they thinking?
Against the Spread
Towards the end of the 1994 season, campus bookmaker Benny Silman of New York teamed up with point guard Stevin "Hedake" Smith to conduct a point-shaving scheme. Smith, ASU’s fifth all-time leading scorer, was $10,000 in debt to Silman after gambling losses, and Silman concocted a plan of bribing Smith to fix games. Silman informed Smith of the spread before each game and received $20,000 for each successful dive. The story was later made into a TV movie, "Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie," but a documentary could probably dive even deeper into the true story.
The Ultimate Turkey Bowl: The Nation’s Oldest High School Football Rivalry
Since 1875, New London High School and Norwich Free Academy have squared off in the nation’s oldest Thanksgiving morning football game rivalry. Just fifteen miles apart in southeastern Connecticut, the game draws thousands of fans every year. It is a rivalry in all forms: In 2005 Norwich hosted the game shortly after a huge snowstorm, and when New London arrived their sideline was still covered with snow. Beyond examining this particular rivalry, I’d be excited to see how ESPN depicted the importance of Thanksgiving games across the country.
In 2001, 14-year-old South African swimmer Natalie du Toit was involved in a car accident that resulted in her leg getting amputated. Du Toit would not only go on to win five gold medals at the 2004 Paralympics, but actually finishing 16th (just over one minute behind the winner) in the women’s 10k race at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Like Father Like Son
782 combined career homeruns, 16 combined All-Star Game appearances, and each won an All-Star Game MVP award. Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. are arguably the best father and son duo ever to suit up. Would love to here their take on their relationship, the game of baseball, nagging injuries, and overcoming the problems of their troubled relationship while Junior was in his teens — and suicidal.
In a November 1992 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jet Dennis Byrd collided with a teammate, resulting in the break of C-5 vertebra. Given little chance to walk again, Byrd went on to fully recover and walked out to midfield for the home opener the next season. He currently travels the country telling his life story. This was the first football game I ever went to. I was just 5 years old. I distinctly remember two things: how quiet the stadium was, and my dad saying how happy he was that we were late coming back from half-time because we missed the play live.
The U, Part 2: The Nevin Shapiro Years
Strip clubs, paying players, prostitution, ponzi schemes… all normal occurrences at The U. Digging into the Nevin Shapiro scandal would be the best way to bookend the 30 for 30 series.
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