Welcome to the Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame!
This is the place where we celebrate our favourite athletes from the world of Movies and Television, but only those who do not exist in the “real world”. Now, you may be wondering; just how does one qualify for this Hall? The answer is by meeting the following two criteria:
1. Be a Fictitious Athlete:
Seems simple right? Appear as an athletic character in movies or TV, and it should be a basic equation. However, there is a lot more grey area that you would initially think. Take the case of the Jamaican Bobsled Team that stole headlines in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Their exploits made international headlines and were the subject of the film, “Cool Runnings” shot five years later. The film, which was cute and fun, was a loose interpretation of what happened, and the actual bobsledders’ names (Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White, and Nelson Stokes) and backstory were replaced with the more colourfully named (Derice Bannock, Junior Bevil, Yul Brynner and Sanka Coffee). As there was most certainly no “Sanka Coffee” competing at the Olympics, we have a series of candidates that many people are not aware are “Fictitious”
On the flip side, we have the 1988 film, Bloodsport, which featured Jean Claude Van Damme who starred as Frank Dux, who competed in the Kumite; an underground full contact Martial Arts tournament. Although there really is a Frank Dux, the account of the Kumite has been widely disputed to the point where many have stated that the film had little base in fact. Assuming that the film mostly fabricated Dux’ run in the Martial Arts tournament, the fact remains that there really was a Frank Dux, and thus this film does not qualify for the FAHOF (this being the acronym that we will use often).
It should be needless to say that this includes biopics. There have been very many good sports related films about actual athletic figures, but for our purposes they do not qualify. We will probably work out something in the future to honor such films as “Brian’s Song” and “The Hurricane”, which are excellent films, but not conducive to what the FAHOF is designed to be.
2. Appear AFTER 1970
This may seem unfair, but the more research that we did into this project, the more this cut off year made sense. Firstly, the amount of sports related films after 1970 are significantly greater than those shot before that year. In addition, many of the sports films prior to what we consider a landmark year, were biopics, and thus do not qualify for the FAHOF.
Actually, it would seem that this is the year (or realistically the decade) that changed how we perceived the world of Sports. It was around this time that athletes morphed into celebrities, and it was a path that would never be the same.
It was not like that this had not happened before, as a prime example took place in the 1950’s. Joe DiMaggio (The star slugger for the New York Yankees) was betrothed to the ultimate Hollywood starlet, Marilyn Monroe, and one of the first true “Power Couples” had emerged. Although other athletes had been with actress before, there had never been a higher profile coupling than this, and though DiMaggio was arguably the biggest star in Baseball, his union with Monroe transcended his place in the social spectrum.
DiMaggio may have had a high profile marriage, but he was clearly the exception in the sporting spectrum in that regard. His teammates were not involved in even low profile relationships, nor were they expected to. Most of the athletes in that era made modest salaries and were accessible to the regular fan. Around the early 1970’s, that began to change.
The best example of this was Curt Flood, who challenged Major League Baseball and essentially created Free Agency in Baseball. Flood’s actions did not make him a rich man, but proved to be the catalyst for an influx in players’ salaries. Consider that the average salary of an MLB player in 1970 was $29,000 and by the decade’s end it was $144,000. At the start of the 70’s, a professional Baseball Player might be on your block, but by 1980, he was looking towards a gated community. In 1992, the average salary hit $1,000,000 and that upward projection shows no sign of changing.
This was not exclusive to Baseball, as the salaries and exposure of all sports increased to the point where we were creating stars of universal proportion. In 1969, we will argue that one moment changed the entire landscape, and propelled athletes to stars.
That event was Super Bowl III, where the AFL’s New York Jets were heavy underdogs against the Johnny Unitas led, Baltimore Colts. Today, the Super Bowl is the most watched event in the sporting universe, but it is often forgotten that it was not always this way.
The first two Super Bowls did not even have a full house, as it was expected that the NFL representative would easily dispatch of the AFL representative; which was exactly what happened as the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs (in Super Bowl I) and the Oakland Raiders (in Super Bowl II) in lopsided games. There was no reason to think that the Super Bowl III match between the Baltimore Colts (NFL) and the New York Jets (AFL) was going to be any different. However, the Jets Quarterback had a different idea.
That man was Joe Namath, who represented the new generation with his swagger (before that was a word) and guaranteed that the Jets would win. Very few believed the brash QB, but they were given a reason to tune in. Not only did Namath back up his claim, but the Jets’ victory made the Super Bowl a must watch event and set the wheels in motion for the NFL to skyrocket in popularity. It also did something else; it made an NFL Quarterback a transcendent celebrity, and a “Star”.
This is what television could do. Let’s take a look at the most famous Home Run of the 1950’s, when Bobby Thomson hit what was dubbed “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” when he took Ralph Branca deep and capped the incredible two month comeback that allowed the New York Giants to overtake the Brooklyn Dodgers and win the National League. The call of “The Giants win the Pennant” became a part of Baseball lore (and was used brilliantly in a M*A*S*H episode). This made Bobby Thomson, who was already a very good player; part of Baseball history forever, but it did not make him a star. Why? Because, very few of us saw it happen.