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30 for 30: The U (2009)
Long on talent, short on character
If you watch this documentary as a die-hard Hurricane fan, you'll love this production. If you watch it as a neutral fan who simply enjoys great football, you will likely be disgusted. It goes in depth about how coach Howard Schnellenburger brought a struggling program from rags to riches. In the '70s, UM was a perennial loser and attendance was so bad, they were giving out tickets to a game at Miami-area Burger Kings when someone bought a Whopper. Schnellenburger began to recruit talented players from tough neighborhoods- areas other college coaches had never tried to enter.
They won the national title in 1983, beating favored Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, 31-30 in a game that is still regarded as a classic today. Schnellenburger left the team to join the ill-fated USFL as a part owner and was replaced by Jimmy Johnson. Miami would go on to even higher heights of success in terms of winning but the problems with player conduct on and off the field started to become an issue, both to the school's administrators and with the national media. Playing for the national championship in 1987 against Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Hurricanes caused a storm of controversy by deplaning in Phoenix wearing fatigues, talking about being ready for "war" and pretty much alienating everyone they met.
There are a lot of interviews with former Hurricane players and many of them seem to have the exact same boorish, taunting attitude they had over 20 years ago. The worst of their behavior is shown in the 1991 Cotton Bowl, where they obliterated Texas, 46-3. They also managed to accrue over 200 yards in penalties. This display revolted many viewers, the media, and even administrators at their university. In closing, the documentary is very good as there is plenty of game footage and lots of interviews with former Hurricane players and coaches. You might not like everything they have to say, though. 8 stars out of 10
Home Run Derby (1959)
Probably would be considered sedate by today's standards.....
If you watch ESPN classic, you may have seen this blast from the past, "Home Run Derby". I watched a couple of episodes and immediately became a fan. For someone like me who was too young to see Mantle and Ernie Banks in their primes and only a little of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron at the end of their careers, it was a real treat to see them in their heyday blasting pitches out of the park in a home run hitting contest. To keep the action moving along, anything other than a home run (including a called strike) was considered an out. The batter had three "outs" per inning and it was a 9-inning affair. The "home" batter was the returning champion from the previous week.
This contest had a home plate umpire (in mask and full uniform) who would call any pitch not swung at by the batter as a ball or strike. They even had umpires out along the foul lines. The winner of the contest received $2000 and the chance to return the following week and defend their title. The loser got $1000 and if either batter slugged three straight homers without an "out", they got an extra $500.
Mark Scott was emcee of the show; he introduced us each week to the contestants and would make small talk with them while the other competitor was at bat. Sometimes, the conversations would be a bit forced or trite but he had a lot of time to fill up in 9 innings. Overall, Scott did a good job keeping things going- especially when the baseballs started flying over the fence.
I agree with bmasters1 that the sportsmanship shown by the contestants was refreshing to watch. No posing or trash talking- they shook hands and showed respect for each other and were complimentary of their opponents. I wondered why this show was on only one season until I found out that Mark Scott sadly passed away at the young age of 45 and rather than replace him, the producers decided to cancel the show.
"Home Run Derby" is a little-known gem from the past that's worth a watch by all fans who like to see the long ball. 8 stars out of 10.
30 for 30 (2009)
Not your average sports documentary show...
Like ESPN's "Sports Century", the "30 for 30" stories get a lot of interviews from not just the athletes involved but coaches, media, family and friends to really get behind the scenes. I have enjoyed every episode I have watched but I have some personal favorites, like:
"The Band That Wouldn't Die"- being an old Baltimore Colt fan, this story of a band that kept together after the Colts' departure really hit home. They are now the Baltimore Ravens Marching Band.
"The Best That Never Was"- a poignant story of the unfulfilled promise of Marcus Dupree. Great interviews in this one with Sooners coaches Barry Switzer and Lu cious Selmon and Dupree himself.
"The Fab Five"- the story of the U. of Michigan's men's basketball team of the early 1990's that started five freshmen. Their story of reaching the national championship game in consecutive years and the later penalties (including vacating their Final Four appearances) is must-see viewing for any college basketball fan.
Other stories like "The U" and the one where Wayne Gretzky got traded to the LA Kings in 1988 were great, also. I give it 9 stars- it is simply a great show to watch!