Whenever the topic of “guilty pleasure sports movies” comes up, a few movies instantly come to mind. One of those? “For Love of the Game,” the movie adaptation of the wonderful book of the same title written by Michael Shaara, which tells the story of Billy Chapel, an aging pitcher for the Detroit Tigers (the Atlanta Hawks in the book) staring down the end of his career, and the New York Yankees, at the end of a tough season.
Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Chapel is solid, but perhaps the best part of the movie comes from the late Vin Scully, as the legendary play-by-play announcer portrayed himself on the call for the game between the Tigers and the Yankees, alongside Steve Lyons.
Late in the film, as Chapel’s weary body and aching arm chases perfection against the Yankees in what might be his last major league game, Scully drops this bit of baseball poetry:
“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”
While the seasons might be different, the poetry is similar with Joe Flacco right now.
The Cleveland Browns improved to 9-5 on Sunday with a thrilling 20-17 win over the Chicago Bears. The Browns are now firmly in the playoff mix with just three games left in the season, and control their own destiny for a playoff spot.
And they are doing this with Flacco at the helm, their fourth different starting quarterback of the season and a player that was a street free agent when the year began.
Flacco was by no means perfect on Sunday, as he threw three interceptions and the Browns trailed Chicago 17-10 at home with just over three minutes left in the game. But that’s when Flacco dropped back into the pocket, slid a few steps to his right, and uncorked a throw that will be talked about for years among Browns fans:
Somehow, Flacco manages to split a trio of Bears defenders, hitting Amari Cooper in stride on a deep crossing route. Cooper tiptoes down the sideline, scampering into the end zone with the game-tying touchdown.
After the touchdown, FOX Sports cameras captured the veteran quarterback enjoying the moment:
Pushing the sun back up into the sky with one throw.
Of course, the game was only tied, and the Browns still had work to do. Cleveland’s defense, which has been a strength of theirs all season long, forced a quick three-and-out from Justin Fields and the Bears, giving Flacco the football back with two minutes to work with. With the game tied at 17-17, Cleveland just needed to get into field goal range.
Their drive began at their own 21-yard line, but Flacco and company needed just one play to get into Bears’ territory:
The Browns catch the Bears in Cover 4, and the route combination here plays havoc with the coverage scheme. Njoku is the inside receiver and he runs a deep out, while Marquise Goodwin, the outside receiver, runs the vertical. Generally speaking, the safety will cover the inside receiver if he stays “vertical,” even if that means he breaks to the outside on a deep route. However, both the safety and the cornerback stick on Goodwin, leaving Njoku wide open.
Flacco hits his tight end, and the Browns are in Bears’ territory immediately.
But they needed one more big play to get into field goal range for Dustin Hopkins, and that’s when Flacco connected with Njoku again. This time, Flacco punished a Chicago blitz, hanging in the pocket just long enough to hit Njoku on a crossing route:
After a few short runs, Hopkins split the uprights, and the Browns escaped with a thrilling 20-17 victory.
Again, Flacco was not perfect in this game. Anything but, actually. He finished the afternoon having completed 28 of 44 passes for 374 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. But in December, wins matter most, and Flacco has given the Browns two wins in his three starts, pushing Cleveland closer and closer to the playoffs over the past few weeks.
And pushing that sun back up into the sky for a little while longer.
Flacco and the Browns have three games left to close out the regular season, and finalize their playoff standing. With one of the league’s best defenses at their disposal, and the AFC looking fairly wide open at the moment, there is a case to be made that the Browns have a very good chance to make a deep run in the conference playoffs.
Talk about a movie script.