I've been an on-and-off fan of ESPN's 30 For 30 since it started. I say "on and off" because I've found the quality to be on and off. Some of them were outstanding ("June 17, 1994," "Into the Wind," "The Band That Wouldn't Die," etc.). Others, like "Marion Jones: Press Pause," were real letdowns that could have been so much more. Some, I felt, trod too-familiar ground (was there really anything that revelatory, for instance, in "Four Days In October"? Too shopworn a subject. We get it by now, okay? We know the Red Sox finally won a World Series. Enough!). Others had interesting subjects but ended up being sort of meh ("The Legend of Jimmy the Greek" and "Tim Richmond: To The Limit," among others, were nice but could have been better).
As much as I've enjoyed the series, I can't help thinking about other topics I would have loved films about. Off the top of my head, here's four sports-related subjects from the last 30 years that would have made brilliant episodes of the series in the hands of gifted filmmakers. There are more, lots more, but here's a start:
1. Anybody remember the old IMSA GT series? Remember how during the 1980s, a few drivers ended up in trouble with the law? (See, as an example, this old Sports Illustrated piece.) In the right hands, it would have been better than an episode of Miami Vice -- only, it would be all true.
2. From the late 1980s on, there has been a boom in stadium construction on the part of local municipalities, as team owners threaten to move unless new facilities are built. While it's been around a while, it really seemed to hit new levels in the 1990s; numerous baseball teams wanted their own version of Camden Yards built at taxpayer expense or they'd threaten to move. The Browns relocated because Cleveland didn't build a new stadium (though this was briefly touched upon in "The Band That Wouldn't Die"). With it has come not only public funding of stadiums for private teams, but the loss of several time-honored old ballparks and one or two relocated teams. A detailed examination of the stadium boom, its costs to society and sport, and the transformation of stadiums from municipal recreation area to giant television studio, would provide a lot to chew on.
3. Perhaps a bit meta, but why not let a filmmaker take a look at how television coverage, and having so many networks and so much media devoted to nothing but sports and the worship of athletes, has changed sports the last 30 years? It's now to the point where when you go to a ball game, you're not going to a ballpark; you're in a giant television studio. For its 40th anniversary issue Sports Illustrated published a brilliant long-form piece on the effect of people like Roone Arledge, Judge Roy Hofheinz, and so forth on the sports and the world SI covered. (Here's Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.) This would be sort of a televisual version of that kind of story.
4. Finally, what about a film about the merchandising of sports nostalgia? This could run the gamut from autograph shows (and the fees ballplayers collect from those) to what I call the "Field of Dreams" effect, to the throwback jerseys and caps you can buy, the whole nine yards. Why not a look inside the growth of this industry? It'd be interesting not only as documentary, but sociology and psychology too.
Anyway. Four ideas off the top of my head early on a dark morning. (ESPN, I'm waiting for your call.)