Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010
By Joe Collins
Guys will stop at nothing to quote lines from movies. If you get a couple of them together at a bar, you can count on them flashing back to films of yesteryear. It's like clockwork. With my group of friends, the quotes usually start with Back To The Future, Ghostbusters and Goodfellas. That usually segues into The Blues Brothers, Airplane, The Naked Gun and The Godfather. One night, thanks to some free beverages and a friendly bartender, we even started quoting lines from Uncle Buck. Hey, it happens.
But it's nothing like how we quote "It's A Wonderful Life."
Despite the heavy Norman Rockwell'ish feeling and extra syrupy ending, we always seem to make reference to this 1946 Frank Capra classic at some point of the night. It's probably a slight man card violation...but we don't care. Some movies just need to be quoted. We'll even compare bar patrons to characters in the movie. For instance, the guy that is celebrating his 21st birthday always seems to get the "Mr. Gower" tag. The bouncer is always Mr. Potter. The clueless server that gives you the wrong burrito at 4am gets pegged as Uncle Billy. And so on.
I caught the annual mid-December airing of this movie on Saturday. I figured it was time to take the references one step further: if the legends of Chicago sports could star in "It's A Wonderful Life," who would get the key roles? I can't bring myself to compare Mary Bailey to a Chicago sports figure and I won't dare do the same with Mr. Gower. But even still, there are far too many connections between the Chicago sports world and the characters in "It's A Wonderful Life." Let's meet a few of them, shall we?
Nick The Bartender Kenny Williams
Tough. Aggressive. In charge. (especially the Pottersville version of Nick). In the movie, George and Clarence were not able to hang with the crowd at Nicks. In baseball, no general manager can hang with Kenny Williams. The Sox GM has repeatedly tossed other GMs into the snow with his persistently clutch way of signing free agents and making improvements.
Martini Ozzie Guillen
Lovable, loyal and funnywith an effervescent personality. Has a temper too, but he is better known for his good vibes.
Mr. Welch (guy that punches George at Martinis) Bill Laimbeer
Ma Bailey - Virginia McCaskey
The matriarch of the biggest sports family in Chicago, much in the same capacity that Ma Bailey oversaw one of the biggest families in Bedford Falls.
Pa Bailey - George Halas
Yeah, I know that Virginia is George's daughter. We're going to have to look past a few of the anachronisms to make this work! But again, this role just seemed too obvious.
Sam Wainwright - Dennis Rodman
He was annoying, unpredictable and a complete goofball. But you can't deny the fact that he was successful everywhere he went. He made others frustrated and some were a little jealous of his stardom-- but hey, he took complete advantage of the opportunities that were given to him.
Violet Bick - Cade McNown
Nothing more than a big tease.
320 SycamoreThe Bailey House - Wrigley Field
Some would want to live there. Others wouldn't live there if they were a ghost. Regardless, it's a landmark with sentimental value.
Bert The Cop - Dick Butkus
No other guy could lay down the law like Dick Butkus. He was the ultimate enforcer. If you were stupid enough to punch Dick Butkus in a game, you had to be sure you could outrun him to avoid the wrath. George decked Bert while leaving a club and was lucky to escape Pottersville alive.
Ernie The Cab Driver - Scottie Pippen
Both were always comfortable playing the sidekick. Ernie was happy to assist drivers getting from point A to point B in Bedford Falls. Pippen, second on the all-time Bulls assists leaderboard, was always happy to find Jordan for a wide-open three or baseline jam.
Mr. Potter - The New York Yankees
Henry F. Potter was the evil empire and dark cloud that hung ominously over Bedford Falls: "The richest...and meanest man in town." Chicago sports fans, along with most fans west of Jersey City, despise the evil Yankee empire. I bet if Potter was running the show in Gotham, he would already be trying to lure Cliff Lee away from the Phillies.
Harry Bailey - Jonathan Toews
The ultimate hero. Harry got the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving lives in World War II. Toews won a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Both were honored with grand homecoming ceremonies after their respective victories.
Clarence - Ron Santo
I was originally going to put Santo in the George Bailey spot, but after watching the movie on Saturday--and given the recent news of Santo's death-- I couldn't think of a better guy to play the guardian angel of Chicago sports. Yes...yes, I know I'm tip-toeing on being cheesy here (psssh....like the rest of this column hasn't been cheesy), but there are too many mannerisms that Clarence and Ron both shared. Both had great stories to tell and were full of life.
George Bailey - A Cast Of Characters
Try limiting this to just one character. No shot. It's impossible. You can call Michael Jordan George Bailey for being "the richest man in town." Derrick Rose could get a similar nod for being successful in his own backyard. Paul Konerko could relate to George's victory too. Patrick Kane sprinted down the ice after his Cup-winning goal just like Mr. Bailey did down main street towards the end of the movie. Mike Ditka saw the highs and the lows of Chicago sports just like George did with the ups and downs of Bedford Falls. Bobby Hull, Ray Meyer and Johnny Red Kerr could tell you the same thing. George Bailey never conquered the world as he had hoped, just like Ernie Banks and Billy Williams found out with not being able to bring a World Series to Wrigley, but they found they could still change people's lives forever just the same. These George Baileys did the big things and little things right and the people have Chicago would stand in line for hours to thank them for all that they've given the city.
Just imagine if all of these George Baileys were never born.
Or something like that.