Reconsidering Last Chance U: Why The Fist Fight Between Buddy Stephens And The Referee Is Everything That Is Good And Right About America

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Netflix will be releasing Season 3 of its documentary Last Chance U one week from today. In honor of that, I am re-visiting my favorite moment from the first two brilliant seasons.  

For those who do not know, the first two seasons of Last Chance U chronicled the 2015 and 2016 seasons of East Mississippi Community College. EMCC is coached by Buddy Stephens, a rotund man with a goatee, wraparound blade sunglasses, a short temper, and a volatile demeanor. He is prone to berating players and going on profanity-laced tirades. He’s one of the few college coaches I’d be honored to have join my youth football team’s coaching staff. 

The show has many great moments, but my favorite comes early in the first season. The moment is very innocuous - EMCC is blowing out an opponent 31-7 fourth quarter. But out of nowhere, greatness ensues. Coach Stephens begins to yell at a sideline official about something, which leads to a shoving match and the throwing of both punches and clipboards:

It is, to anyone with a sense of duty and country, a wonderful moment. In an era where far too many people treat sports like a hobby, we have two true American Patriots coming to blows over some meaningless dispute at the end of a game that is no longer in doubt. These are two men who are clearly committed to winning and every other value we as Americans should cherish.

And how are they treated for this honorable act? The official gets ejected from the game. And then EMCC, instead of giving Coach Stephens a plaque or bronze bust like he deserves, suspends him for two games. It’s a remarkable display of cowardice and treason by EMCC that no one in the media said boo about. 

But this event embodies a much bigger problem: the lost, noble art of fist fighting in this country. Fist fighting is the oldest and most effective means of dispute resolution. It is the original jury verdict. It is the original mediation. And it doesn’t involve a bunch of lawyers getting paid a bunch of money. It’s quick, efficient, and effective. The fight between Coach Stephens and the official was over in less than a minute, and it didn’t cost anyone a penny. Court cases drag on for years. 

Our country would undoubtedly be a much better place if we required our elected officials to settle disagreements by fighting one another. Can you imagine how much more efficiently the government would run if members of Congress were required to resolve disagreements by fighting one another? Instead of running off to the nearest cable news program to cry on-air about how mean their opponent is, they would be required to meet up in front of the Lincoln Memorial at dawn to settle their score like true Patriots, and to the victor goes the spoils. It could be an incredible source of revenue for a country in desperate need of a balanced budget. Just think of the ticket and merchandise sales for seeing a fist fight between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.

Or what if there was no such thing as “dissents” in Supreme Court opinions? Dissent should consist of the dissenting justices confronting the majority in their chambers and duking it out. The prevailing group writes the opinion, and the losers must sign on. Just like God and Charles Darwin intended. 

That’s a long way of saying this country would be in a hell of a lot better shape if, instead of Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, we had Buddy Stephens and that unnamed official as the majority and minority leaders of the US Senate, settling every policy debate with their fists rather than empty words. 

 

Reconsidering Rudy: Why Rudy Was A Gigantic Douche And Jamie O’Hara Was Right

I hate Rudy. I’ve probably watched the movie two dozen times in my life because I don’t really watch non-football movies, and I get angrier and angrier with every viewing. 

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I could write an entire book about the problems with Rudy - the shameless fetishization of Notre Dame, portraying Rudy’s teacher as the “bad guy” for not letting him crash a bus trip to Notre Dame for serious students, making the Notre Dame student seem heartless when she kicks Rudy out of the helmet painting club (LOL) for lying about being a student, and painting Dan Devine as a villain for actually doing his job (trying to win) and not wanting to play some walk-on loser who sucks. The list goes on and on. But today, I want to address the most disturbing aspect of Rudy’s personality.   

Anyone who played football in high school almost certainly played with someone like Rudy. And we all hated him. He’s the guy who shouts while lifting weights. He shows up to early-morning summer workouts and claims it’s “his favorite part of the day.” He asks the coach if the team can run more gassers at the end of practice. He stays out on the practice field for an extra hour hitting the blocking sled. He tries to be a “coach on the field” and yells at his teammates for not “playing through the whistle.” He makes a dramatic show of hitting himself in the helmet in frustration when he misses a tackle, which is pretty much every play. He always has the defensive playbook under his arm and reads it at lunch. He makes awkward attempts to be friends with the coaches. But above all, he absolutely sucks as a football player and has no hope of ever contributing on the field. 

In a just world, there would be no Rudys. High school coaches would have the ability and the willingness to run these asswipes off before they have a chance to poison practices with their overeagerness and “hustling.” But we do not live in a just world. We live in a world where this kind of behavior is not only tolerated, but celebrated. And the most shining example of that is Rudy.

There are countless examples of this in the movie, including the scene where Rudy begs the offensive tackle to “hit me” and claims he should be treated like the defense end for “the Purdue.” But one scene in particular stands out. It is the last practice of the season, and as best I can tell, the third string offense is scrimmaging against the scout team defense. In other words, who really gives a shit? It’s a time to just go through the motions and get done with practice. Instead, Rudy decides to be Billy Badass and goes blowing through the line at full speed and tackles running back Jamie O’Hara, portrayed by Vince Vaughn. If Hollywood had any sense of fairness, O’Hara would have kicked Rudy’s ass on the spot, and Notre Dame’s head coach, Ara Parseghian, would have thrown Rudy off the team for good. 

That doesn’t happen. Instead, we have Parseghian self-righteously lecturing O’Hara about his own lack of hustle and Rudy’s “heart” and then demoting O’Hara to the “prep team” for doing the right thing. 

 What kind of dumbass puts someone who is 6’5 at running back?

What kind of dumbass puts someone who is 6’5 at running back?

It’s a scene that makes me shake with rage every time I see it. As a result of Paraseghian’s lack of a championship attitude and sending a message to Rudy’s teammates that we should praise useless players who “hustle,” Dan Devine is forced to deal with a near mutiny the next year when he correctly concludes that Rudy shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an actual game. 

The scene has had some practical value for me. I show Rudy to my youth football team every year and explain to them that if any of them act like that, they will be forced to wade through the copperhead-infested creek in the woods near the field. If Ara Parseghian had done the same, Notre Dame might have more than one national championship since the ‘70s. 

 

 

Reconsidering Jonathan Moxon: How Varsity Blues Gave America its First Millennial

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1999 was a unique point in American history. It is that tiny sliver of time that post-dates the advent of the internet, yet pre-dates 9/11, The Great Recession, the smart phone, and the rise of social media. The American high school experience would be radically different in 2009 than it was in 1999. And, if the Great American Novel were a movie, it would be Varsity Blues, which perfectly captures the Zeitgeist of the late ‘90s. This week marks the nineteen-year anniversary of the movie’s release.

The premise of Varsity Blues is simple. In West Canaan, Texas – a fictional town that embodies pre-Great Recession middle America – legendary high school football coach Bud Kilmer is embarking on his quest for a 23rd district title and 3rd state title. The supposed protagonist is Jonathan Moxon, the “smart” back-up to two-time all-state quarterback and Florida State commitment Lance Harbor. To the untrained eye, the movie is the tale of an idealistic football player (Moxon) who sees through West Caanan’s misplaced priorities and backwards thinking and rallies his teammates to revolt against Kilmer – whom the filmmakers would have you believe is an old-fashioned and abusive coach. Yet, the conflict between Moxon and Kilmer is about so much more than just those two characters.

In Kilmer and Moxon, we see the values of two completely different types of Americans. If we assume that Varsity Blues depicts the 1999 football season, that would mean Jonathan Moxon was born in 1981 or 1982, and therefore was one of the first members of the Millennial Generation. But putting the technical birthdate definition aside, there can be no doubt that Jonathan Moxon was the first on-screen character to embody all of the Millennial traits – weak, self-entitled, unwilling to listen, blaming others for his actions, disrespectful to authority, etc. Kilmer, on the other hand, was part of a now-disappearing generation that valued hard work, respect, and a bunch of other vague but noble-sounding terms. You sympathized with one character or the other; there was no middle ground.

 My lasting criticism of the movie is that it incorrectly portrays Moxon as the “hero” and Kilmer as the “villain.” In so doing, Varsity Blues sent a message to an impressionable generation of moviegoers that they should strive to be disrespectful, conniving, disloyal, ungrateful, and subversive little turds. It therefore should come as no surprise that when this generation started to hit the workforce a decade later, we were flooded with think pieces on how to “deal” with this awful group of people. This essay explains why we have Varsity Blues to thank for that, because it created the Millennial Generation. 

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Our first real insight into who Moxon is comes a few minutes into the movie, during the pep rally scene. While Kilmer delivers a rousing speech to the crowd and introduces Lance Harbor, where is Moxon? Standing with his teammates to show his support? Of course not. He’s standing off the side with his girlfriend, sulking about the attention Harbor is getting, and making a disgusting and unfunny joke at Kilmer’s expense. So the movie establishes very quickly that Moxon is not a team player.

The next noteworthy scene involving Moxon comes during that night’s game against Bingville, where we see his dishonesty for the first time. With his team trying to put the game away in the 4th quarter, we once again see Moxon sitting away from his teammates and using a playbook to cover up the fact that he’s reading a novel during the game. I also would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to talk about the book Moxon is reading, “The Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. Along with “The Catcher in the Rye,” this is the book that every pseudo-intellectual, high school Millennial for the next two decades will lie and claim as their favorite. “It works on so many levels” they’ll tell you, without ever identifying what those other levels might be. 

Also, while it doesn’t technically involve Moxon, a scene from the party after the Bingville game ominously foreshadows the Millennial generation’s lack of respect for the past. During that party, we are introduced to a former West Canaan football player from the class of 1980. By any objective measure, this is a man who deserves our respect. Despite having graduated from the school almost two decades before, he still attends games, wears his letter jacket, and “never miss[es]” the post-game parties. 

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And how is this pillar of the community repaid for loyally supporting the team? With Tweeder violently striking him in the genitals with a whiffle ball bat while other students laugh hysterically and videotape him writhing in agony on the ground. There’s no doubt that if this occurred in 2018, that footage would be up on YouTube within the hour. All in all, it’s an absolutely appalling scene that the filmmakers pass off as comedy.

From there, we as the audience are treated to a never-ending string of selfish and otherwise awful behavior by Moxon: 

1.  He intentionally breaks his father’s nose with a football during a backyard barbecue. 

2.  He demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the coaching staff and his teammates when he, as the second-string quarterback, disrupts a practice to install his own offense. Yet, during the next game, it is revealed he’s spent so much time dreaming up plays on his own that he doesn’t even know the team’s basics offensive plays. 

3.  He refers to himself in the third person during a radio interview. 

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Moxon’s low point, however, is when he decides to torpedo Kilmer’s perfect season by organizing an all-night drinking party and trip to a strip club for the team’s best players the day before a game. This could have been done immediately after the game, or on a Saturday, or after the season was over. The possibilities are endless. But Moxon, in his imminent wisdom, chose to do it at the time that would inflict the maximum amount of damage on the team. And it worked, as the team went out and laid an egg against a bad Elwood team the next night. It leads to the famous “I don’t want your life” scene, which could command an entire essay on its own. 

The remainder of the film is more of the same. Moxon and Billy Bob get heavily intoxicated and use firearms on a youth football field to destroy public property, yet blame Kilmer for their conduct. Moxon pouts like a baby when Kilmer threatens to imperil his scholarship to Brown and considers quitting on his teammates. Moxon attempts to substitute his own judgment for that of medical professionals when he stops the trainer from administering a potentially career-saving injection to Wendell’s knee. Moxon quits during the middle of the team’s most important game of the year and then organizes a coup to topple a Texas high school coaching legend. (This essay only barely touches on the movie’s shameful treatment of Bud Kilmer, which I’ll address in more detail at a later time.) Moxon evidently quits on his teammates after defeating Gilroy, because even though the victory meant West Canaan moved on to the playoffs, Moxon states in the closing voiceover that he “never played football again.” So Moxon basically got everything he wanted, and it still wasn’t enough. If there’s anything more “Millennial” than that, I’m unaware of it.

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Almost twenty years later, we continue to fret about why Millennials act they way they do. We ask why they are disrespectful towards their parents and other authority figures, are self-absorbed, do not care about the greater good, are not team players, blame others for their problems, and refuse to listen to criticism. Thousands of articles, speeches, books, and studies have all been devoted to exploring these issues. Being a generational consultant has become an actual profession. 

And who do we have to thank for that? The filmmakers who announced to an entire generation that this toxic behavior was not only acceptable, but was, in Moxon’s words, “heroic.” In short, Varsity Blues introduced America to its first Millennial, and we as a society have been paying the price ever since.