Divine Holmes is a public history student with an internship with NFL Films.

10 Football Films I Watched Before My Internship at NFL Films 

I preface all of this by admitting that before this internship I knew nothing about football. Of course, I went to a few games in high school and even one at Ball State. I never really knew what was going on, the rules, the sacks, fumbles and penalties all alluded me. I knew what teams to cheer for or the ones I was taught to cheer for. The Chicago Bears (from my hometown), New England Patriots (my mom was a big Tom Brady fan) and Green Bay Packers (just for fun because I liked the color green). However, I never did a deep dive on the sport nor the teams.

My fascination with football as a marker of American culture in media started in the summer of 2022 when I enrolled in a history of sports films course. I have an interest in film history and archives. I mostly took the class to fulfill my history credits rather than out of true interest. By the end of summer semester, I was pleasantly surprised.

Fast forward two semesters and many internship applications later, I stumbled across openings at NFL Films for spring 2023. The National Football League (NFL) was created in the 1920s, so their archives go far back. As a public history student this interested me. NFL Films is essentially the media section of the NFL. It’s a working production studio, that shoots, organizes, and archives all the league’s tv shows, documentaries, and important images.

With my love of film and new internship, I knew I had to prepare and actually learn things about football. To make it fun, I watched every football movie I could find. Here are my top 10 football films:


 1. Brian’s Song (1971)

This harrowing film is a dramatization of the real-life story and friendship between Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. Both footballers played for the 1969 Chicago Bears, and the duo were also the first interracial roommates in the NFL’s history. The history of Black pro-footballers in the league is a complex one, as there were few Black players in the early inception of the league. After 1933, there was a “gentleman’s agreement” which banned Black players. This ban would be done away with slowly in the late 1940’s, but racial commingling was still a rarity in the sport until this. Although their personalities and temperaments contrasted, the two of them have a love for football that brings them together.


2. NFL Presents… A Football Life (2011-2023)

A product of NFL Films, the only on this list, and currently available on YouTube. Each episode is a deep dive on an individual player in the NFL’s football history leading up to the NFL. Older seasoned players, some even inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame, get to reflect on their football careers. It’s a good example of the work of NFL Films as well as a good example of the images, videos and other media that I will be researching in my internship. I will be working directly with the producers of shows like this so it’s a good idea to watch and study the material.

3. Invincible (2006)

The 2007 film starring Mark Wahlberg is based on the real life pro-footballer Vince Papale, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976-1979. This time in Philadelphia is known for mass riots, lay-offs and the general de-industrialization of the area. An underdog story like this gave hope to the downtrodden working class and earned the heart of many. As far as the football goes it’s a good look into scouting, the pressures of coaching and the differences in street football vs. pro-football.


4. Rudy (1993)

Rudy was always told he was too small to play, too stupid to enroll and too poor to pay for school. But, he defied all odds and worked his way up into playing for the infamous University of Notre Dame football team. Based on the true events of the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, it was also the first film Notre Dame allowed to be shot on their campus in 50 years. Truly an inspiring story of overcoming obstacles no matter what, and is seen as one of the most inspiring films of all time.


5. Coach Prime (2023)

Coach Prime is a TV-series on Amazon Prime about football star and two-time Super Bowl Champion now turned coach, Deion “Prime Time” Sanders. Sanders coaches for Jackson State University in Mississippi, a Historically Black University (HBCU) which is very big deal due to the history of Black pro players as well as the general underfunding of HBCUs in America.

Sanders, in the show, is really working to prepare these young men for what’s after college whether that be a pro career in the NFL or something else. He brings in many of his contacts within the NFL such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hines Wards, and Terrell Buckley. The series goes into the lives of a few players on the team, their struggles and aspirations while also depicting the wider water crisis in Jacksonville, Mississippi. It’s an interesting look into college football as a pipeline into the NFL for a lot of players.


6. We are Marshall (2006)

“It wouldn’t be a game anymore, it would be a weekly reminder of what we’ve lost.”

Based on real-life events, 75 members of the Marshall University thundering herd football team all perished in a tragic plane crash in 1970. The film accounts the aftermath, the town recovering from these tragic events while also trying to breathe new life and hope into their football team and grief-stricken town. The film, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Marky among other phenomenal actors, is a harrowing film about a team and a town trying to repair themselves after tragedy. In terms of football, it’s very educational in strategy and gameplay; the new players trying to figure out how they fit into this new team while also trying to find the best way to utilize its new inexperienced players.


7. Gridiron Gang (1992)

“I wasn’t always a f-up. I wasn’t always in a gang.”

The only documentary on the list, a team of delinquents casted from society come together under the tough love guidance of two coaches (Sean Porter and Malcom Moore). Camp Kilpatrick, a center for juvenile offenders in California’s San Fernando Valley, is home to over 100 inmates. Most are gang members. It’s a really bittersweet documentary, most of these boys have never had anyone to care about them turning to violence and gangs as a way of life and this football team gave them somewhat of a release, a goal, a team, a family. This film speaks to the wider dynamics of football, bringing different people together, bonding them in sweat and blood.


8. Varsity Blues (1999)

“Let’s be heroes.”

This cult classic high school football film is set in the fictional West Canaan, Texas, a town empowered by football, winning and Christianity. They teach players from a young age to listen unwaveringly to their coaches and win at all costs – even their health. In this town, people treat football players like kings (as long as they keep winning) with free rein on the town and its inhabitants in exchange for their health. The film is a great example of the pedestal people place these athletes on and how it’s detrimental to both parties. This more-than-human ideology we reserve for athletes can cause them to ignore injuries until they become more serious and even permanent which happens to multiple character in this film. Under the euphoric haze of the 90’s, this film depicts the darker side of football, bad coaching and the cost of winning.


9. Friday Night Lights (2004)

Based on a book of the same name by H.G Bissinger, also taking place in Texas specifically the town of Odessa, “Friday Night Lights” depicts the 1988 Permian High School journey towards the state championship. This film is very similar to Varsity Blues in that it deals with teen athletes at first on top of the world partying and then waddling with injuries. Both films introduce a star quarterback who, not long into the movie, gets an injury and needs a replacement. It’s a second-string bench-rider who then becomes a big star, calling the plays, changing the fabric of the team for the better.


10. Remember the Titans (2000)

My personal favorite and one I remember from childhood, “Remember the Titans,” is a heartwarming football story covering the desegregation and interracial merging of a West Virginia high school football team in 1971. The film is based on the true story of coach Herman Boone, portrayed here by Denzel Washington, navigating rising racial tensions at the newly integrated team and power struggles between the coaches as well as the wider community. But against the odds, the team becomes a united force. This is a film about the building of a team, family, and bringing everyone together despite differences for a central goal.


11. Honorable mention: The Blindside (2009)

This film won multiple awards for its heartwarming story and phenomenal acting by Sandra Bullock. The film is based off the American football defensive lineman, Michael Oher and his struggles with poverty, education and general life stability. Like many other football films, this is a good example of “with football and love you can conquer anything.”


Check out more stories of our public history interns in our Curation Chronicles Series!