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Who is the second-best sports movie actor of all-time?

Who comes after Costner?

Kevin Costner “Bull Durham” 1988 by John Irving is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Who is the second-best sports movie actor of all-time?


Estimated Reading Time: 11 Minutes

One of the best all-time sports stories focuses on second place.

In 1988, Larry Bird was looking to win his third straight Three-Point Contest and when he entered the All-Star locker room, he looked around and said:

“Who’s coming in second?”

He then went on to win the contest while wearing his warmup jacket. It was an absolutely ruthless performance.

And while Bird’s question of who would be the runner-up was derisive and meant to inflict psychological damage, it’s still a valid question in most sports debates.

Obviously, it’s fun to talk about who the GOAT is, but when there’s such a clear-cut #1, like mid-80’s Larry Bird was at long range shooting, then the fun shifts to arguing over who’s #2.

One debate that requires little attention for the top spot is the best sports movie actor.

It’s Costner, and then…

Kevin Costner has starred in the following movies involving sports:

  • “Bull Durham”
  • “Field of Dreams”
  • “For the Love of the Game”
  • “Tin Cup”
  • “American Flyers”
  • “The Upside of Anger”
  • “Draft Day”
  • “McFarland, USA”
  • “Molly’s Game”

Now some of these movies/performances are better than others, but this resume is unassailable.

Which now begs the question, when it comes to sports movie actors, “Who’s coming in second?”

The Turf Weighs In

The team at the Turf had a lot of solid suggestions when discussing the second-best sports movie actor, with the following 20 being mentioned (along with a few sports movie credits):

  • Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”, “Victory”)
  • Wesley Snipes (“White Men Can’t Jump”, “Major League”, “Undisputed”)
  • Omar Epps (“The Program”, “Major League 2”, “Love and Basketball”)
  • Denzel Washington (“He Got Game”, “Remember the Titans”, “The Hurricane”)
  • Christian Bale (“The Fighter”, “Ford vs. Ferrari”)
  • DB Sweeney (“Eight Men Out”, “The Cutting Edge”, “Hardball”)
  • Woody Harrelson (“White Men Can’t Jump”, “Semi-Pro”, “Kingpin”)
  • Tom Cruise (“Jerry Maguire”, “All the Right Moves”, “Days of Thunder”)
  • Dennis Quaid (“Any Given Sunday”, “The Rookie”, “Breaking Away”)
  • Gene Hackman (“Hoosiers”, “The Replacements”, “Split Decisions”)
  • Keanu Reeves (“Hardball”, “The Replacements”, “Point Break”)
  • Russell Crowe (“Cinderella Man”, “Mystery, Alaska”)
  • Jamie Foxx (“Any Given Sunday”, “The Great White Hype”, “Ali”)
  • Burt Reynolds (“The Longest Yard”, “Mystery, Alaska”)
  • Matt Damon (“Rounders”, “Invictus”, “School Ties”)
  • Will Smith (“Ali”, “Concussion”, “The Legend of Bagger Vance”)
  • Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter”, “Invincible”, “Pain & Gain”)
  • Paul Newman (“The Hustler”, “Cars”, “Somebody Up There Likes Me”)
  • Robert De Niro (“Bang the Drum Slowly”, “Raging Bull”, “The Fan”)
  • James Caan (“Brian’s Song”, “Rollerball”)

No one mentioned the actor who might be the clear-cut choice for #2 though.

The credits do not include movies on the level of “Hoosiers” or “Field of Dreams”, nor roles like Paul Crewe or Jerry Maguire.

However, if the judgement is based on how often sports play a pivotal role in this actor’s movies and the quantity of different sports featured in these movies, then the choice is obvious.

It’s Vince Vaughn.

Before this decision is questioned, it’s important to go through Vaughn’s career and examine how many sports movie moments he’s had, and all the sports that have been in his movies.

FOOTBALL – “Rudy” / “Wedding Crashers” / “The Break-Up” / “Zoolander”

“Rudy” is the best overall sports movie Vince Vaughn has been in. He’s only in it for a few scenes, but they are all pivotal:

  • When Rudy tells the stud lineman who mauled him in practice that he’s not going to let up because it won’t help the team improve, Vaughn delivers the classic, “He’s just a showboat man, that’s all he’s about.”
  • Vaughn’s O’Hara character half-asses practice and then loses it on Rudy when he continues to give maximum effort. The head coach then demotes O’Hara to the prep team and lets him know he’s gutless.
  • Redemption is spelled O-H-A-R-A when Vaughn’s character orchestrates a final minute trick play which allows Rudy a chance to finally get on the field.

The football scene in “Wedding Crashers” is probably the most famous scene from the movie and needs little introduction. Here it is for your enjoyment, nonetheless. Also, HOT ROUTE!

While Vaughn might have a more famous sports video game scene (it’s coming), his best is when he plays Madden with his ex-girlfriend’s date before they leave in “The Break-Up”. In terms of properly conveying the psychosis and obsession that Madden players have, nothing else comes close.

Vaughn has a brief cameo in “Zoolander” as Derek’s brother. One scene is the family watching a football game after a long day in the coal mines. It’s when Derek says he thinks he has the black lung and their father eviscerates him.

HOCKEY – “Swingers” / “The Dilemma”

The more famous video game scene is in “Swingers” where Vaughn’s Blackhawks are beating his friend’s Kings team. As there has been some confusion recently in the media it’s important to clarify the game being played is NHL 94 and not NHLPA 93. This is made clear when they discuss fighting being removed from the game.

“The Dilemma” is not great, but there’s a scene where Vaughn uses the speech from “Miracle” to motivate Kevin James’ character to hit one of those long-distance shots during intermission.

BASKETBALL – “Delivery Man” / “A Cool, Dry Place”

In “Delivery Man”, Vaughn has hundreds of children due to his donations to a sperm bank. One of them plays for the New York Knicks.

Also, there’s a scene where he takes one of his other sons to play in his local basketball game. The son is not good at roundball.

Vaughn plays a high school basketball coach in a love triangle in “A Cool, Dry Place”. This movie is likely the furtherst from a sports movie that will be discussed here.

BOXING/UFC – “Made” / “Brawl in Cell Block 99” / “Four Christmases”

“Made” is considered the spiritual sequel to “Swingers” and it begins with Vaughn and Jon Favreau’s characters boxing each other. The next scene is a debate between the two on how a 5-5-1 boxing record is not a winning record nor is it a losing record. Also, Vaughn’s real-life father plays a high school football coach in the movie.

Vaughn plays an ex-boxer in “Brawl in Cell Block 99” and this movie is BRUTAL. It’s also not that much about sports aside from Vaughn likely using some of his in-ring skills to just beat the ever-loving shit out of multiple people.

Anyways, “Four Christmases” features a scene where Vaughn’s trip to visit his family divulges into a battle meant for the Octagon with his UFC-obsessed brothers, played by Favreau and Tim McGraw (whose dad was a Major League Baseball player!).

BASEBALL – “The Break-Up” / “Arkansas”

The opening scene of the movie shows how Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston’s characters meet while at a Cubs game. Vaughn uses the art of buying another man’s girlfriend a hot dog to win her heart.

Vaughn also plays a drug dealer in the South who is a big St. Louis Cardinals fan in the recent movie “Arkansas”. In the movie Vaughn listens to Cardinals games on the radio, even stopping conversations to make sure he knows what’s going on.

He also really stretches his range as an actor by wearing a Cardinals hat in the movie despite being a Cubs fan. This is something Ben Affleck could not do in “Gone Girl“, and Jack Nicholson refused in “The Departed”.

GOLF – “Starsky & Hutch”

The golf scene in “Starsky & Hutch” is fairly uncomfortable considering how Vaughn treats Snoop Dogg (his caddy). However, where Vaughn is the villain of the movie that’s also the point.

Also, Snoop makes a weed reference and you get to see Jason Bateman with a mustache.

GYMNASTICS – “Old School”

The term Renaissance Man might not be fully appropriate here, but it’s not far off. The other sports featured in Vaughn’s movies could all be considered expected. But Vaughn pulling off the still rings, with a cigarette in his mouth and yelling, “Still holding!”, is one of the best and most shocking parts of the movie.

GLADIATORY BATTLES – “Anchorman”

Gladiators are widely considered the first athletes and the epic battle in “Anchorman” feels similar to something that occurred in the Coliseum.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION – “Dodgeball”

“Dodgeball” is the only starring role Vaughn has in a sports movie, and it’s one of the sillier sports movies ever made. It’s about a game typically played between Coloring and Lunch, and includes a Lance Armstrong cameo that is…regrettable.

It also introduced “ESPN 8: The Ocho” and “It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ‘em!”

Peter Lafleur is also the most athletically successful character Vaughn has ever played.

QUIDDITCH – “The Internship”

Fictional sports are still sports.

It’s unclear if playing Quidditch is really part of a Google internship competition, but it’s definitely plausible.

PRO WRESTLING – “Fighting with My Family”

There’s no need to go down the “It’s still real to me, dammit!” route here. Whatever your opinion is of pro wrestling, it’s still an athletic contest.

The scene below shows Vaughn waiting in a tunnel watching Paige, the wrestler he’s mentored, achieve her dreams.

It’s very similar to when Fortune, the groundskeeper, watches Rudy make his big play. #fullcircle #whatawriter

And the silver medal goes to…

After laying out the legacy of sports in 18 of Vince Vaughn’s movies/roles, his #2 spot on the sports movie actor list is secure.

Sure, there are better sports movies.

Yes, there are better sports characters.

But it can’t be argued how synonymous sports are with Vince Vaughn’s performances, and how often those sports moments are the best parts of his movies.

And if this choice seemed unbelievable at the beginning, it’s now time to…

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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