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Football fans get a close-up in 'Silver Linings'

Football fans get a close-up in 'Silver Linings'

NEW YORK (AP) In David O. Russell's ``Silver Linings Playbook,'' Bradley Cooper plays an unstable former teacher trying to improve himself after exiting a mental institution. When his character, Pat Solitano, consults his otherwise level-headed psychiatrist Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher) on whether a Philadelphia Eagles' jersey is appropriate attire for a dinner party, Patel questions which jersey. On hearing that it's star wide-receiver DeSean Jackson, he responds unequivocally:

``DeSean Jackson is the man.''

This is Philadelphia, where undying loyalty to the local NFL team - ``the Birds'' - is everywhere, even in the sensitive relations between therapist and patient.

As large a role as football plays in American life, Hollywood has typically focused its cameras on the field of play, where the dramatics of gridiron battle are self-evident. But ``Silver Linings Playbook,'' which was recently nominated for five Spirit Awards and is widely expected to be a best picture Oscar contender, is more interested in the face-painters in the stands.

The annals of pigskin pictures have ranged from the hijinks of Groucho Marx ("Horse Feathers'') to the inspiration of a newcomer to the sport ("The Blind Side''). Football in movies has been a regular source of hard-knock action ("Any Given Sunday''), manly tragedy ("Brian's Song,'' ``Remember the Titans'') and underdog triumph ("Rudy'').

But along with ``Silver Linings Playbook,'' a handful of films have sought to capture the fanatical passion - both the communal spirit and the toxic obsession - that grips millions of households and acres of parking-lot asphalt every Sunday this time of year.

In Vincent Gallo's ``Buffalo `66'' (1998), Gallo drew from his own childhood in the upstate New York city, playing a man named after the hometown team (Billy), with lifeless parents glued to the TV screen for Buffalo Bills games. A lost bet on a crucial game cost Billy $10,000 and put him in jail. On his exit, he's bent on avenging the guilty place kicker, a fictionalized version of a real-life Bills scapegoat, kicker Scott Norwood.

``Big Fan'' (2009), written and directed by Robert D. Siegel (who also wrote ``The Wrestler''), depicted a die-hard New York Giants fan (Patton Oswalt) whose devotion is tested when he's brutally assaulted by his favorite player.

The 2004 film ``Friday Night Lights,'' and the subsequent TV series, sought to portray a football-mad Texas town, where the sport reverberated in nearly all that was good - and all that was bad - in Dillon, Texas.

These movies all share in the spirit of Frederick Exley's classic 1968 fictional memoir, ``A Fan's Notes.'' The Giants-loving author wrote: ``Cheering is a paltry description. The Giants were my delight, my folly, my anodyne, my intellectual stimulation. ... I gave myself up to the Giants utterly. The recompense I gained was the feeling of being alive.''

It was that kind of intensity that interested Russell, whose last film, ``The Fighter,'' captured the boxing community of Lowell, Mass.

``What makes characters fascinating in a funny and an emotional way to me is when they have life and death stakes about their particular currency,'' the director says. ``So (Robert) De Niro's currency was everything about the Eagles.''

As with many things in sports, the Eagles devotion in ``Silver Linings Playbook'' flows through the father, played by De Niro. He not only makes much of his living from the Eagles as a bookie, but he watches each game at home with obsessive-compulsive ardor. The fortunes of the Solitanos become inextricably linked with that of the Eagles.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, a Philadelphia native who, reached by phone at his home in Massachusetts, makes no bones about his allegiance: ``I bleed green,'' he says.

``My earliest memories of my father are of going down to the Vet,'' says Quick, referring to Veterans Stadium, the former home of the Eagles. ``In the neighborhood I grew up in, the men didn't tell you that they loved you or give you hugs, they took you to Eagles games,'' says Quick. ``If the Eagles scored a touchdown, you got a hug.''

``It's such a metaphor for striving,'' says Quick. ``No matter what happens, there's always that next game. There's always that next season.''

The plot of ``Big Fan'' might suggest a more cynical view of football, but Siegel, too, is a lifelong sports fan. Growing up on Long Island, he became a devoted listener to the New York-area sports radio station WFAN. In the film, Oswalt's character is a regular caller, dialing in like a performer with a nightly show.

``The callers seemed like these incredibly vivid, almost movie characters,'' say Siegel. ``You've got these ordinary working Joes taking on the machismo and testosterone of their heroes and doing it anonymously through the radio where it's very safe. It's kind of a form of fantasy play acting.''

As he treated a sport usually not taken seriously (professional wrestling) in ``The Wrestler,'' Siegel feels the often-disrespected sports fan is fertile, relatively unexplored territory.

``What (fans) are passionate about might seem silly to the outside observer,'' says Siegel. ``Certainly you could make the case that that's very sad and pathetic, but I don't. I admire their passion and I identify with it.''

``Sports fans are outsiders who feel like insiders,'' he adds, ``which is an interesting thing to explore.''

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Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at:http://twitter.com/jake-coyle

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
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- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.