As the sporting public inches closer and closer to the start of the 2010 NFL Season (or 'pointy ball' as my wife likes to call it), it's only fair to take a moment and look back to the magic that 2009 brought us, culminating in the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts. But a funny thing happened while I was watching this 2009 recap, titled Run for the Championship. I forgot (or more exactly drifted away from) who won the game played only six months ago.
This is due to the work of NFL Films, the perennially and almost eternally praised production house for the National Football League. The feature, which runs a scant 63 minutes, reminds you in the first five why the game is so thrilling to so many. Featuring up-tempo music set to amazing highlight plays and engaging play-by-play broadcasting, it's not hard to be swept up in the moment and emotion of a particular play or storyline. There were many in the 2009 season, not the least of which being the Saints' win, the result of swarming their opponents offensively and defensively.
Along with the Saints' rise to a title, the New York Jets, headed by coach Rex Ryan, returned to playoff form for the first time in several years, and appeared to possess a swagger that carries them into the 2010 season. They even beat the Indianapolis Colts late in the 2009 season to help secure a playoff berth. This is particularly memorable, since the Colts started the year winning their first 14 games, but decided to rest their starters and lost their last two games before returning to the playoffs where they lost to the Saints in the Super Bowl.
As for the team's players, Brett Favre continued to play the retire/unretired game with the league and its team fan bases. The latest victim was the Minnesota Vikings, but unlike previous years, Favre's return to his younger self from a performance perspective carried the Vikes to the NFC Championship game, losing to the Saints in overtime. While old heroes returned, new ones like Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson threw their names into the fray for the right to become part of the league's legacy. Along with Ryan, Denver's Josh McDaniels helped introduce themselves to the league as new coaching minds that could perhaps one day take a place next to Landry, Noll and Halas.
NFL Films juggles these elements and more seemingly effortlessly that makes the hour breeze by, giving you thrills, levity and, in the case of the Cincinnati Bengals, a well-struck poignant note. The Bengals suffered two losses during the 2009 season; the most notable being the sudden death of troubled receiver Chris Henry (friend Chad Ochocinco took it the hardest), but when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer found his wife of 27 years dead in their home from natural causes at the age of 50, seeing him coach on the sidelines days later, speaking to the team after a hard fought win in Baltimore while some players break down, it remains a touching moment now as it was when I saw it the first time. Because NFL Films gets you involved in the stories of players, coaches and officials, using a mix of on-field microphones and locker room footage, you forget about the end result and the journey becomes newfound and fresh, no matter how recent it is.
That's why, when you look at Run for the Championship, you should look at it from the level of a documentary rather than just a normal, cookie-cutter retelling of stories that similar sports review features tend to do, because NFL Films includes the human element that other sports may not catch or flat-out miss. One moment in the feature includes Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh as he talks with an official during a television timeout late in a playoff game. They each talk about the great moments they've witnessed and the greatness of the game. Moments like that crystallize what NFL Films does so superbly for football video productions.
Run for the Championship is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and the viewing results are very good. All of the game play translates accurately over to film and on little shiny silver discs, and all of the running, throwing and catching looks sharp without any pixilation or edge enhancement issues that I could find. It's not high-definition chocolatey goodness, but it's awful close, and for standard def, it works superbly.
I can't say I'm surprised that the only soundtrack option is a two-channel Dolby stereo one, but it sounds decent enough for the material. There's no directional activity though there's near-bouts of low-end fidelity through the subwoofer, and the sounds of helmets hitting pads and players talking on and off the gridiron sounds clear with no distortion, hissing or mosquito noise. Way to go, NFL Films.
More of the same footage mentioned earlier can be found here, whether it's coaches talking up their troops before and during the game (8:01) or during their training camps (8:01). The players that have in-game microphones even get some time (6:08). "The Game of Chance" (3:13) is interesting, mixed old and new film. The super slow motion footage of some of the field action is pretty cool (6:10). All of it is nice to see, but after awhile it just feels like vintage NFL Films segments with a 2009 flavor.
Run for the Championship doesn't cover any new ground if you're a diehard NFL fan. That said, the artistic directions that the feature takes are much better than expected and the overall quality of the footage is excellent. It's lacking on the supplements side, but I'd think about picking this up if you know someone who's into 'pointy ball.'