Film / Varsity Blues

"Football is a way of life."
Jonathon 'Mox' Moxon

Varsity Blues, a 1999 comedy-drama directed by Brian Robbins, is one of the great Cliché Storms of the 1990s. It is a sports story that centers around high school football in the great state of Texas.

The film revolves around the fictional town of West Canaan, Texas; its high school football team, the Coyotes; and the team's head coach, Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight). Kilmer has won more than 20 district championships and two state championships; as such, the stadium is named after him, and a giant bronze statue of Kilmer has been erected in the end zone in his honor. However, the questionable lengths he goes to to win these championships begin to surface after his star quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) goes down with a season-ending injury, prompting a conflict between Kilmer and the team's academically-minded backup quarterback, Jonathan "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek).

This film contains examples of:

  • All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Averted by Mox, who actually turns down a cheerleader because he prefers his girlfriend.
  • Badass Bookworm: Mox, who can make a ref across the field groan in pain from receiving a spiral thrown by him while sitting... As he reads Slaughterhouse-Five. He also gets a full academic scholarship to Brown University just before beating the best team in the conference.
  • Big Man on Campus: Who you are if you're the quarterback at West Caanan High School.
  • Blackmail: What you do to ensure your players listen to you.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: There are multiple examples, however a conversation between Mox and his girlfriend underlines his conflict.
    Jules: Then quit!
    Mox: I can't.
    Jules: Then play.
    Mox: You don't understand...
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: The players, toward the police and later Kilmer as his lack of integrity comes to the surface.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Hook and Ladder play that was practiced earlier in the film is used to win the Big Game.
  • Date Rape/Black Comedy Rape: Charlie Tweeder talks to Mox about how girls are panty-droppers, after you give them some painkillers and alcohol. Subverted by Mox who, rather than laughing about it, asks him if he'll like prison.
    Mox: Tweeter, do you think you'll enjoy prison?
    Tweeter: I don't know...what?
  • Groin Attack: "...And say, 'I'm stupid and I'm about to get hit in the nuts.'"
  • Hangover Sensitivity: When the boys leave the strip club following a night of partying. The hangover lasts into the game that night.
  • Hot Teacher: Taken to the extreme with Miss Davis, especially considering it's a small town. Bonus points for her dancing to Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher". Double bonus because she's the sex ed teacher.
  • How Many Fingers?: The trainer uses this to help diagnose Billy Bob.
    Mox: No-no-no, it's Billy Bob. It's gotta be true or false. Billy Bob! The man is holding up some fingers, true or false?
    Billy Bob: ...true?
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Miss Davis asked for other terms for the male erection... Mox obliges.
    Mox: The male erection? Pitchin' a tent, sportin' a wood, the icicle is formed, the march is on... stiff, stiffie, Mr. Mortis, rigor mortis has set in... flesh rocket, Jack's magic beanstalk, tall Tommy, mushroom on a stick, Mr. Mushroomhead, purple-headed yogurt slinger...
  • I Call Him "Mr. Happy": Culminating in this.
    Mox: Oh, and Pedro.
    Ms. Davis: ...Pedro?
  • Interrupted Suicide: Mox tracks Billy Bob at the field, who is drinking and shooting his old trophies before presumably shooting himself; Mox talks him down.
  • It's All About Me: Kilmer's attitude regarding the football program, since he's fully willing to sacrifice the health of High School athletes to further his personal glory as a winning coach.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: During one game, Mox sits on the bench reading a book instead of watching the game. Kilmer is understandably pissed off about this since Mox is supposed to be paying attention and could possibly have to go into the game if Lance gets injured (which happens the next game).
  • Losing Is Worse Than Death: Of course it's easier since it's not his well-being, but that of his players at risk. Unfortunately, this is a bit of Truth in Television with some coaches in high school sports, so long as they treat it as Serious Business. And in Texas, football is as serious as baseball in New York, hockey is for Canada or soccer for Brazil.
    Coach Kilmer: The only pain that matters is the pain you inflict!
    • Notably, this mentality is what kicks off the plot, as Coach Kilmer's, and by extension the town's, fixation on this trope result in his talking injured high-school athletes into taking painkillers and avoiding the hospital so they can still play, with the doctors treating Lance absolutely horrified at the amount of scar tissue they find in his knee, and turning what would be a season-ending injury into a career-ending one.
  • Meaningful Name: Johnathan "Mox" Moxon as in "moxie".
  • Mr. Fanservice: Plenty of the football players show off their muscles. Tweeder walks naked in the street wearing just a cowboy hat
  • Ms. Fanservice: Darcy, especially when she pulls out the whipped cream. She's played by Ali Larter, after all.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Averted. Lance is perfectly fine with Mox dating his younger sister.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The stolen patrol car is full of this trope.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Billy Bob and Tweeder, to name a couple.
  • Our Founder: There is a bronzed statue of Coach Kilmer, for whom the high school stadium is also named.
  • Parental Obliviousness: His son just received an acceptance letter to an Ivy League college, with a full academic scholarship nonetheless, but Sam Moxon wants to talk football.
  • Parental Substitute: Billy Bob: [crying] "Man, Coach loved me like a son! Treated me like one, too."
  • Put Me In, Coach!: "Put me in there! We'll block it."
  • The Quarterback: Lance, then more especially Mox, with his talking Billy down, rousing speech, intelligence and kindness.
  • Reality Ensues: Coach Kilmer's obsession with winning runs so deep that he'll talk his injured stars into taking painkillers and ignoring injuries - which winds up costing Lance his scholarship to college as his knee was so shredded that by the time the doctors got to it, a season-ending injury became a career-ending one.
    • In particular, Billy-Bob's concussion has become much Harsher in Hindsight in the decades since this movie premiered.
  • Rousing Speech: Done a couple of times by Kilmer and then by Mox at halftime of the final game after the team overthrows Kilmer.
  • Save Our Team: Inverted; it's only when the team kicks their coach to the curb that they achieve true success.
  • Serious Business: Football in West Caanan, Texas - see Losing Is Worse Than Death.
  • Small Town Boredom: The reason Darcy Sears sticks with the star players.
  • STD Immunity: Averted, albeit indirectly, when Tweeder looks down his own pants and asks aloud, "...The fuck is that?!"
  • Teenage Wasteland: If you're a Coyote in West Canaan (especially a starter), don't expect the law to apply to you. You are a part of a different society that has its own laws.