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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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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

las_vegas-sign-no_caps-stanley_cup_final.jpg
Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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