It’s pretty amazing how much mileage the underdog formula has gotten in sports films. After all, 95% of these movies feature an underdog in some capacity. It’s the nature of the beast. People never want to root for the guy or team that’s supposed to win.

However, sports comedies are a subset of sports films that offer even more adherence to convention. So much so that one can pretty much make a guide to creating the ultimate sports underdog comedy. If one was to follow these steps in writing their script, this film would gross at least $45 million domestically. So long as you keep the budget under $55 million or so, you’ll be able to turn a profit after DVDs and foreign markets, and you’ll have a hit on your hands.

Follow these rules. It’s actually that easy.

The Team Should Start Horribly

No one wants to watch a team of champs defend their title. That’s not exciting. I’m aware that the “underdog” part of the article’s title addresses that the team should be worse than at least 50% of the teams in their league, but that’s not enough. If an 8-8 team makes the NFL playoffs, that’s not really an underdog story. That’s just a shitty team that fans and audiences wouldn’t care about one way or another. That’s the Seattle Seahawks.

This team should be AWFUL.

The film can demonstrate this awfulness with a preseason montage or the first practice. If at least three people don’t fall down during the montage, then the team is not bad enough. During the montage, the scouts or announcers can do a voiceover introducing different players, a la Major League, or the coach can simply call on players to demonstrate their nonexistent chops. Either way, this roll call introduction sets us up for…

Bring on the Colorful Characters

Nobody wants to watch boring people come from behind and win. In fact, no one wants to watch boring people do anything ever.

If it’s a hockey team, the goalie should be completely drunk at all times. The right wing should constantly be in and out of jail for domestic abuse. No. That would sacrifice too much likeability. Maybe the right wing could be in and out of jail for peacefully protesting left wing politics, just because that’s a delightful little play on words that I couldn’t sit on any longer.

It merits noting that if you have a black player on your team, “colorful” is just another word for “stereotypical.” In addition to his god-given talent (duh), he should be flashy, pompous, brash, and with a vernacular that his teammates have a hard time wrapping their heads around. Think “obnoxiously urban.”

You can’t go wrong with twins here, either. Because twins freak people out.

Have a Total Bastard Coach Your Team

Walter Matthau and Emilio Estevez are both good candidates.

Excuse me.

Emilio Estevez is a good candidate. Walter Matthau is dead.

The coach (or quarterback) should be forced into this position against their will. Community service is always a safe explanation, but so is falling in love with one of the players’ moms.

The incredulous and jaded coach serves as an exaggerated audience surrogate. We all step into the theater wanting to see our team win. And coaches obviously want their team to win, but over time, coaches (and the audience) will realize that it’s not just about wins and losses, but also basking in the new relationship between the Jewish jockey and his Palestinian trainer. Or the gay player accepted by the rural Mississippi AA baseball team.

If the coach starts off proud of his team, then there’s no upward trajectory on that front. The team will have to earn that pride and respect, because without that subplot, your movie is only gonna run like 75 minutes. Once the team does earn the coach’s admiration, you may be tempted to make him a warmer, more likeable person. Don’t. The players should be likeable on their own. The coach should be gruff. Maybe slightly less gruff than when the season started, but still gruff.

While you’re at it, give the coach something to prove. Maybe a missed shot at greatness in his playing days. John Candy gave us that in Cool Runnings, and I managed to suspend my disbelief that John Candy could fit in a bobsled.

Gruff, involuntary, something to prove. Those are the only characteristics your coach needs.

Have a Girl on the Team

If you’re anything like me, when Kathy Ireland appeared as the kicker in Necessary Roughness, I was all, “WHAAAAAAAAAAT! THAT GIRL’S TOO HOT TO PLAY FOOTBALL! AND THAT GIRL’S A GIRL!!!!”

Then I regained my composure, excused myself to the restroom , then I came back and I was like “WAIT, WHAT???????” because I had forgotten about the big revelation pretty quickly.

Anyway, stick a girl on the team. It will really add to the “ragtag” factor.

Make the Best Team in the League Evil for Absolutely No Reason

Couldn’t the guys from the Cobra Kai dojo have been really nice guys that just happened to be good at karate?

Absolutely not.

I don’t want to see nice guys get beat. Only a monster would want that. I want to see bad guys who make the contest personal by cracking inappropriate jokes about wives and children and seriously injure opposing players then smile about it. That’s who I want to see fall from grace.

Why was the Icelandic team from Mighty Ducks 2 so evil? I don’t know. I just know they wore black, never spoke, and had slicked-back hair. If you see a kid with slicked-back hair, you should cross the street, cause that kid’s bad news. Other examples of this include Draco Malfoy and the child crime boss from Robocop 2.

Also, Make the Defending Champs White

People just don’t want to see white people as underdogs. There are plenty of white underdogs in sports, but it’s just a hard pill to swallow. I can’t really explain it. Seeing a white guy as an underdog is like seeing a dolphin using a typewriter. It’s weird and unsettling. (NOTE: White people are totally believable as basketball underdogs. If the sport in question is basketball, disregard this paragraph.)

If you really want to go whole hog, give them all Aryan features. The only thing worse than watching white guys win something is watching blonde white guys win something. I’m getting angry just thinking about it.

The Underdogs Should Just Play For Pride

They shouldn’t be trying to save a rec center from a greedy developer, and they certainly shouldn’t be playing for money. I understand in Major League, they were playing so that they wouldn’t be sent to Miami, but that subplot was forgotten about as quickly as it was brought up.

A true underdog story should hinge on the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. There needn’t be any external forces at play. No one wants to see the scrappy underdogs get rich. That happened in Major League 2, and that movie sucked.

Establish Some Really Convoluted Trick Play to Win the Last Game

I could belabor this, but it’s self-explanatory. Here’s a list of trick plays that have been used by underdogs to win games:

“Play It As It Lies” – Happy Gilmore

World’s Slowest Catcher Bunts For Hit – Major League

Crane Kick – The Karate Kid

That Stupid Thing With The Little Drums – The Karate Kid II

Flying VThe Mighty Ducks

Black Kid Shoots His Urban Knucklepuck – The Mighty Ducks 2

Oopty Oop – Varsity Blues

Faking The PAT, Going For Two – Necessary Roughness

And millions more.

So there you have it. If you’ve got a computer, word processor, or typewriter, and have at least a tenuous grasp on the English language, you should be able to take these guidelines and create a serviceable sports comedy. Please join us next week when we will offer tips on how to lighten up your Civil War screenplay.