ESPN is rolling out its fall lineup for the upcoming 30 for 30 season, and there is something for all sports fans here. ESPN Films rarely disappoints, and looking at the documentaries it has on deck, you might as well clear out your Tuesday evenings in advance. Just browsing through the previews, it looks like there is plenty to be excited about and certainly some worth watching for the insight they’ll provide on particular topics of interest. 30 for 30 has done a great job of bringing cultural perspective to sports-related stories in a way that’s been refreshing over these past few years, and everything from the filmmakers involved to the issues being featured suggest 30 for 30 is maintaining that level of quality.
Here is the list of films that will air beginning on October 7th:
- “Playing for the Mob” (Joe Lavine/ Cayman Grant) – Tuesday, Oct.7, 9 p.m.: What happens when you combine “Goodfellas” with college basketball? You get “Playing for the Mob,” the story of how mobster Henry Hill — played by Ray Liotta in the 1990 Martin Scorsese classic — helped orchestrate the fixing of Boston College basketball games in the 1978-79 season. The details of that point-shaving scandal are revealed for the first time on film through the testimony of the players, the federal investigators and the actual fixers, including Hill, who died shortly after he was interviewed. “Playing for the Mob” may be set in the seemingly golden world of college basketball but, like “Goodfellas,” this is a tale of greed, betrayal and reckoning. Ultimately, they both share the same message: With that much money at stake, you can’t trust anybody.
- “The Day The Series Stopped” (Ryan Fleck) – Tuesday, Oct. 14, 10 p.m.: On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m. PT, soon after Al Michaels and Tim McCarver started the ABC telecast for Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, the ground began to shake beneath Candlestick Park. Even before that moment, this had promised to be a memorable match-up: the first in 33 years between teams from the same metropolitan area, a battle featuring larger-than-life characters and equally colorful fan bases. But after the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake rolled through, bringing death and destruction, the Bay Area pulled together and baseball took a backseat.
- “When The Garden Was Eden” (Michael Rapaport) – Tuesday, Oct. 21, 9 p.m.: In the early 1970s, America was being torn apart by the war in Vietnam, with racial unrest in the streets and a distrust of the White House. But there was a happier place where men of different backgrounds showed people what could happen when you worked together: Madison Square Garden. “When The Garden Was Eden” (based on the book by Harvey Araton) explores the only championship years of the New York Knicks, when they made the NBA Finals in three out of four seasons, winning two titles.
- “Brian and The Boz” (Thaddeus D. Matula) – Tuesday, Oct. 28, 9 p.m.: In some ways, Barry Switzer and Brian Bosworth were made for each other. The Oklahoma coach and the linebacker he recruited to play for him were both outsized personalities who delighted in thumbing their noses at the establishment. And in their three seasons together (1984-86), the unique father-son dynamic resulted in 31 wins and two Orange Bowl victories, including a national championship, as Bosworth was awarded the first two Butkus Awards. But Bosworth’s alter ego – “The Boz” – was taking over. Eventually, he went on a downward spiral and became known as an NFL bust. In “Brian and The Boz,” the dual identities of Brian Bosworth are examined as he looks back on his life and passes on the lessons he’s learned to his son.
- “Brothers in Exile” (Mario Diaz, Produced by MLB Productions) – Tuesday, Nov. 4, 9 p.m.: Major League Baseball has been transformed by the influx of Cuban players like Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu. But a special debt of gratitude is owed to two half-brothers whose courage two decades ago paved the way for their stardom. “Brothers in Exile” tells the incredible story of Livan and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who risked their lives to get off the island.
- “Rand University” (Marquis Daisy) – Tuesday, Nov. 11, 8 p.m.: Randy Moss has long been an enigma known for his brilliance on the football field and his problems off it. “Rand University” gets to the intersection of those aspects of Moss by going back to where he came from – Rand, West Virginia – and exploring what almost derailed him before he ever became nationally known for his extraordinary abilities as a wide receiver.
- “The U Part 2” (Billy Corben) – Saturday, Dec. 13, 9 p.m.: Produced in 2009 for the 30 for 30 series, “The U” took a look at all that was good and bad about the rise of the University of Miami’s football program in the 1980s. But that wasn’t the end of the story. “The U Part 2″ picks up where the original film left off, with the program trying to recover from the devastation left by NCAA sanctions and scandals that had some calling for the school to drop football. The Hurricanes rose from those ashes to win another national championship, only to face new controversies when a booster used a Ponzi scheme to win favor with the program.
Looking at this lineup, the feature I’m most excited to watch is the one on Randy Moss. One of my favorite athletes of all time, and one of the greatest wide receivers to play in the NFL, his cultural influences transcended his standing in the game. Moss even had a phrase for humiliating your opponent on the field coined after him, as defensive backs were routinely referred to as being “Moss’ed.” Loved and hated for essentially the same reasons, Mr. “I play when I want to play” has long been overdue for a profile along these lines.
“The U Part 2” is sure to be another must-watch. What better way to round out a Heisman Award-winning weekend than enjoying a little more revealing history on one of more captivating programs in college football’s past in the Miami Hurricanes?
No matter which film you fancy, all of them should be worth checking out this fall. The times and dates vary, but the full slate of films will broadcast in consecutive weeks with the exception of “The U Part 2.” You can check the full schedule here. Meanwhile, get your fix of 30 for 30 by watching a short film of Shawn Bradley getting ‘Posterized’, because the 2014-15 NBA season begins next month!