Monday, October 22, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 22: Disposable Heroes

Well, I was planning on watching Undefeated tonight, but was unable to secure a copy of it.  Not sure if I'll be able to find it before the end of the month....but I'll try.

So I switched around my calendar for the week and am watching Thursday's flick today.  I'm sure I can figure things out from now until the rest of the month.

I went with a pretty interesting selection when I stumbled upon it during my list building.  It was made in the mid-80's and was at the time a very candid, inside look at a side of football many fans didn't see.

So does it stand up to the test of time?

Tonight's film - Disposable Heroes: The Other Side of Football

Disposable Heroes: The Other Side of Football (1985)
51 mins.
Rated: NR (but there's no swearing, just the occasional talk of some bad injuries)

"Roger Stillwell and Jim Otto are the chief focus of a powerful and shocking documentary on HBO that shows the grimmer flip side of football.  Less an angry documentary and more a candid and compassionate one, caringly and skillfully shaped into a pointed statement about the seldom-reported-on-tv downside of organized sports.  After the career is over and the cheers fade, what is left?"  (source:  bjsears)

Link to the film - I watched it online via youtube

There were some pretty interesting stats throw out early on in the doc.  All while seeing some of the best of the time (the Raiders) in their glory.

The average career in the NFL - 4 and a half years.

74% of NFL players don't have their college degree.

We meet Hall of Famer Jim Otto.  He played 16 seasons in the NFL, has had upwards of 30 concussions, 25 nose breaks, numerous other injuries and now at the age of 46, can barely get out of bed in the morning, sit or stand for long periods of time and is completely arthritic.

We also meet Roger Stillwell, drafted by the Bears in 1975, his career was over by the age of just 26.  Now at 32, he lives in constant pain.

These two retired players are the focal points of the doc.  We hear from them, their wives and family about life both during and after football.

There are other interviews from ex-players talking about how they are just interchangeable parts.  New players come in every year and the old ones are just moved out of the way.  For example, we meet Dave Dalby who took over for the retiring Jim Otto. Now, he's the old vet.

Some pretty amazing footage is shown of some tremendous collisions.  The hitting in the NFL was just as vicious then as it is now.

Still well talks about his gruesome injury.  An 11-man dogpile forced his leg up by his ear.  He could literally hear the tearing and cracking.  Emotional, he talks about how when everybody got up off of him the pain was gone.  He couldn't feel his leg any longer.  He was absolutely devastated.  He talks about missing the camaraderie, hanging around with the guys.'s all gone.  Once he was injured, he was lost.

A lot of players have a very difficult time adjusting to life after the game.  All the decisions (from the time you're in high school) are made for you.  When to practice, when to rest, when to eat, when to sleep, what to do here and there.  But after you're done in the NFL, there's nobody telling you what to do.  Not a lot of offers on the table.

Jim Otto goes in for spinal surgery.  He'll live the rest of his life in pain and discomfort.  Stillwell ices his back and knees 6 times a day, 7 days a week - and will do so for the rest of his life.

You can hear the concern in their wives' voices.  Both about their husbands as well as their kids (both have boys).  They worry about the same thing happening to them.

As for Jim and Roger, they say they would do it all over again - even knowing the life they have left to live after football.  To them it was worth it.

I was interested in the investigative style of this doc.  I don't know how much of this kind of programming was out there (in the sports world) back in the 80's.  I wouldn't be surprised if this was a first of its kind when it came to pro football.

The film was much more of a slow pace, taking time to get more then just the key soundbite.  While there was some good football footage, there was less than I thought there would be.  It was a lot more footage of these guys at home, at work or at the doctor's office.

I was a little surprised that there were just two people who were focused on.  I was hoping for a little more player representation.  There are some other guys who show up occasionally to blurt out a token soundbite or two (including OJ Simpson) and they do a good job of reinforcing the points made.  Without question though, this is the story of two people struggling with life after football.

Not a flashy doc by any means.  It has more of a "60 Minutes" feel to it (and even then it seems more bare bones than that).  What I enjoyed most about it is that it was done in the 80's.  These days, stories like this (with open door access) are commonplace.  Back in '85 this would have been ground-breaking.

3 out of 5

Here's the one and only review I could find on this film...

LA Times

Up next...Bobby Fischer Against The World

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