80 for Brady tells the story of four old women who love Tom Brady. I am a young man who is, at best, apathetic toward the newly retired quarterback, the New England Patriots, and football as a whole. Somehow, though, this movie captured what I like about sports better than any movie I've ever seen. In 80 for Brady, the actual sport of football is secondary. The movie is mostly about the rituals around sports and the way they give the game meaning for the people who watch it.
Despite not caring about sports, sports have played a fairly important role in my life at various times. I went to a tiny charter school from kindergarten through high school graduation. The entirety of my high school was smaller than a freshman class at most public schools, and that meant that I ended up getting pushed to play basketball for all four years and cross country one year, despite having no natural aptitude at either sport. Even if you're awful, it helps to have the extra bodies if you need them.
I never got good at either. I rode the bench all four years of basketball and was a terrible cross country runner. But basketball gave structure to my high school years. My closest friends were the guys that I played basketball with, and my favorite high school memories usually involve going to away games and stopping to eat together as a team on the way back. McDonald’s and Wendy's aren't special, but stopping, late at night, to eat cheeseburgers and fries with my best friends was a defining experience for me. Our practice schedule changed from year to year, but for the seasons that our practices were at 7 pm, my friends and I would go to McDonald’s most days after school, and eat McDoubles and do homework until we were due back at the gym.
80 For Brady similarly emphasizes the food and friends around sports. The first scene of the movie has the elderly foursome, Lou (Lily Tomlin), Trish (Jane Fonda), Maura (Rita Moreno), and Betty (Sally Field) rounding up snacks before a game, and gathering in the living room in the same positions they were in, years before, when the Pats won a critical game. That means Jane Fonda has to stand on a ladder with a lightbulb in her hand, and Rita Moreno has to spill a bowl of chips. It's a silly representation of superstition in sports fandom, but a fairly accurate representation of how the activity itself is often incidental. It's about spending time with your friends as much as it's about rooting for your team.
A few years later, I got a job at my hometown's local paper where I worked as a news and sports reporter. That typically meant that I was heading to a chili cookoff or a townhall or a fundraiser by day and driving across the county to sit in the stands at a sporting event by night. During that time, I mostly covered high school sports, but I also attended the occasional college game or high school state championship. For those matches, I was in the big state university stadiums where broadcasts are routinely televised from or at a state racetrack watching runners compete. Those big games are carnivals as much as they are sporting events. People go to enjoy the exciting atmosphere, the food, seeing their friends, and, also, the sport.
80 for Brady captures that. As the four friends travel to the Super Bowl, they get there a day early and spend 24 hours in Houston in the leadup to the game. Sally Field competes in a Guy Fieri-led hot wings eating competition. Jane Fonda hooks up with a retired player. Rita Moreno gets dealt in at a high-stakes poker game while high on edibles. It becomes a hangout movie, centered around sports, not a sports movie, really.
Tailgating, getting drinks at a sports bar, watching the game on Thanksgiving — these activities are all just about hanging out. We enjoy them because they provide a way to spend time with the people we care about. The game is, usually, secondary.
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