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Crystal Downing

Playing the Postmodern Field

I am married to a man who gets choked up when he sees highlights of the Denver Broncos first Super Bowl victory. I am also friends with a woman who calls all team sports "Stupid Ball." Since I tend to side with my girlfriend, I was not expecting much when my husband and I joined another couple to see Any Given Sunday. Not only is it a football film, but it is a football film directed by Oliver Stone, who enjoys exposing the dark underbelly of American culture. Indeed, Any Given Sunday showed more under the bellies of players in the locker room than I cared to see, and wore me out with its incessant vulgarity and profanity. I'd much rather sit at home reading T. S. Eliot. Then, suddenly, I realized I was watching T. S. Eliot. In a football movie.

Any Given Sunday is a tour de force dramatization of Eliot's classic essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1917), still required reading in literature classes across the country. Though I do not suggest Stone has been reading T. S. Eliot lately, I am going to argue that Any Given Sunday not only illustrates Eliot's thesis but also provides an allegory for the contemporary tension between supporters and detractors of the "postmodern turn."

The film focuses upon Tony (Al Pacino), the aging coach of a professional football team, who has sacrificed marriage and family to his passion for the game. When his first and second string quarterbacks are injured in the same quarter, Tony must put in the third-string Willie (Jamie Foxx), who disregards his coach's advice about time-proven strategies, playing, instead, according to the inspiration of the moment. Willie antagonizes the entire team as he makes his maverick moves, often getting into fights with his fellow players; however, for the first time in several years, the team is winning, attendance is up, and money is pouring in. While it is obvious which character represents "tradition" and which one "individual talent," the film disseminates the tension among multiple voices ...

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