35 years ago, Universal Pictures took a huge risk.
They took an Oscar-winning director, an iconic movie star, and what was to date the most profane, vile, and incredibly hilarious sports-related script to date and sent it out into the world.
Director George Roy Hill and Paul Newman had enjoyed great success in their previous endeavors, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting”, which won Hill an Academy Award for Best Director. But this was diferent.
When Nancy Dowd had her brother Ned carry a tape recorded with him during a season of minor-league hockey, she took the recordings and turned them into a script that was brutally honest.
Up until then, every sports movie depicted athletes as godlike specimens of perfection. In fact, only 7 years prior to the movie, the book “Ball Four” broke through the barrier of illusion that every professional athlete was the ideal role model both on and off the field of play.
In both “Ball Four” and “Slap Shot”, professional athletes were depicted as humans rather than supermen. Decades after the fact, it’s hard to remember just how controversial these were. In fact, “Ball Four” author Jim Bouton was ostracized by the New York Yankees until 1998, when he appeared at Yankees Old-Timers’ Day.
But back to Slap Shot…many of the scenes in the movie seemed outrageous at the time. However, in light of current events, it seems Nancy Dowd was far more prescient than I’m sure even she thought she was.
This week, we saw New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton get suspended for a year, Saints GM Mickey Loomis for 8 games, and former defensve coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely for placing bounties on opposing players. Right out of the movie, when Charlestown Chiefs coach Reg Dunlop, played by Newman, placed a $100 bounty on Syracuse player/coach Tim McCracken.
Earlier this week, we saw the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils engage in a line brawl at puck drop, just as the movie had the Federal League Championship game begin.
Then, of course, there was a Blackhawks/Canucks game, which might as well have Jim Carr behind the mic.
If you watch the scene where Reg Dunlop finally meets Chiefs’ owner Anita McCambridge, played by Kathryn Walker, you could see it (if you’re so inclined) as a testament to corporate owners placing profits over people. At last check, there was never an “Occupy Charlestown” scene left on the cutting-room floor, but when Reg tells her, “we’re human beings” Dowd’s sentiment is pretty clear.
Even before the final game, when Dunlop talks about how violence is killing the game of hockey, how fighting turned the team into nothing more than a side show…I think it’s safe to say that sentiment remains unchanged after 35 years.
But even with all that prescience shown by Dowd, even with the other symbolism in the movie – the opening credits over the American flag while “The Star Spangle Banner” plays, as it fo say, “We now present to you…America”, there’s one very simple fact that remains unchanged after 35 years…
This is one hilarious movie. Any hockey fan has seen it at least once, and most of us have seen it multiple times. It’s probably sitting on a shelf neat your television right now…my own estimate is that I’ve bought at least 5 copies over the years on either VHS or DVD. And you can bet that the day it’s available on Blu-Ray it’ll take up residence in Casa Nova.
I’ve heard tell of “Slap Shot 2″ and even “Slap Shot 3″, but I refuse to believe they exist, and I will continue to refuse to acknowledge their existence.
Filed Under: NHL
About the Author: Spent my formative years breathing in the rarified air of the second balcony at Chicago Stadium. Refined my flair for colorful euphemisms in the blue seats at Madison Square Garden. Now a curmudgeon in the 300 level in the United Center. My musings can also be found at Hockeenight.com...and yes, I muse.