Elizabeth Banks in Invincible

Behind every great man there is a woman -- that's how the ages-old saying goes. And this adage is held to be so true that almost every sports movie ever made uses it as a key plot device. Think about it. In sports films, from 'The Natural' to this week's based-on-a-true-story football flick 'Invincible,' the heroic male athlete goes through a period of harrowing self-doubt and personal anguish which he is only able to overcome with the help of a (usually) beautiful woman. Below, I pay my respects to my five favorite female characters in sports movies.

5) Elizabeth Banks, 'Invincible': Vincent Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is just a down-on-his-luck bartender in South Philly who has -- against all odds -- landed a spot at the Philadelphia Eagles pre-season training camp. But when a sassy, trash-talking fellow bartender named Janet -- who also happens to be a diehard New York Giants fan -- takes a shine to Vince, he finally starts to believe in himself. She even roots for the Vince and the Eagles when they're playing her beloved Giants. If that's not unconditional love, what is?

4) Nicole Kidman, 'Days of Thunder': After a near-fatal accident, NASCAR driver Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is still confident enough in the bedroom to woo his leggy neurosurgeon Dr. Claire Lewicki (Kidman). Unfortunately, that confidence doesn't so much carry over to the racetrack. But when the good doctor shows up at the speedway for a little pre-Daytona 500 pep-talk, you just know Cole's going to rise to the occassion.

3) Rene Russo, 'Tin Cup': Russo plays a psychiatrist whose advice is questionable but whose love helps a washed-up golfer (Kevin Costner) make a run at the U.S. Open title. So what if he shoots a magnificent 13 on the 18th hole and blows the tournament? He still gets to go home with Rene.

2) Susan Sarandon, 'Bull Durham': Annie Savoy (Sarandon) is sexy, an above-average dancer, and an expert in baseball AND the art of lovemaking -- so basically the perfect girl. In the span of one tumultuous minor league baseball season, she helps hot-headed young pitcher Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) announce his presence with authority and aids aging catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) with something more important -- say, like, figuring out the meaning of life.

1) Glenn Close, 'The Natural': Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), an aging ballplayer with a shady past, is doing the impossible: tearing up the majors as a 40-year-old rookie. But when his affair with the lovely young Memo Paris (Kim Basinger) starts sucking the power out of his bat (that's not a euphemism, I swear), all it takes is the sight of his high-school sweetheart (Close) and Hobbs blasts Mr. Spalding out of the park and through a clock in the Wrigley Field bleachers. And yes, she also provides our boy with the inspiration for his mighty, tear-jerking, light-shattering blast at the film's end.

So thank you Glenn -- and other women of sports movies -- for making these moments of spine-tingling sports euphoria possible. I am forever in your debt.

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categories Features, Cinematical