By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

As you know by now, nobody loves "Enjoyably Bad Movies" more than me -- classics like "Road House," "The Replacements," "Rocky 4," "Toy Soldiers" and anything else endearingly ludicrous and re-watchable. But there's an unsung cousin of the Enjoyably Bad Movie: The "Secretly Terrible Good Movie," defined as "anything entertaining and successful that was really a well-polished piece of crap in disguise."

The king of the Secretly Terrible Good Movies? "Top Gun," one of the original summer blockbusters. It grossed something like $200 million, influenced an entire generation of kids to join the military, even turned Tom Cruise into a superstar. Even now, the movie looks fantastic on DVD (even the flying scenes hold up), and the soundtrack straddles the line between complete cheese and foot-tapping goofiness. (I mean, did it get any better than Kenny Loggins at the time?).


A classic action movie or an overrated piece of junk?

There's also some major firepower involved (Cruise, Val Kilmer, even Anthony Edwards), as well as two eye-opening cameos (Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins, before their respective careers took off) and a potpourri of Tom Skerritts and Michael Ironsides on hand (never a bad thing). Even the plot wasn't bad, as Cruise unveiled his "Brash hero gets knocked down a peg, regroups, then rallies to save the day" formula that would be repeated in his next 17 films. When "Gun" surfaces on TNT -- which is often -- it always sucks me in.

One of the watershed action movies of the past two decades? Absolutely.

But it's cheesy and hokey, too ... and that's the best part. When you watch "Gun" with your friends, you can't help but rip everything to shreds: Kilmer's hysterical over-acting; Cruise doing Cruise things; every inane plot twist; the appalling lack of sexual tension between Kelly McGillis and Cruise; dozens of one-liners that leave you thinking "Somebody actually wrote that?"; the never-ending comedy of Slider and Ice, maybe the hokiest villains of all time; and homoerotic overtones that make SNL's "Ace and Gary" cartoon seem subtle by comparison.

It's a good movie, but it's so bad that it's even better. And that, my friends, is a Secretly Terrible Good Movie.

Let's delve into this year's NFL preview -- 35 of my favorite quotes and exchanges from "Top Gun," spread over two parts, handed out to my favorite plots, subplots and X-factors for the upcoming NFL season. Just for kicks, we'll be calling the league the "NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE" for this entire column, a one-man protest over the fact that announcers can't stop themselves from saying this phrase. Our long national nightmare needs to end.

On to the preview ...

1. "I'm holdin' on too tight. I've lost the edge."

Kurt Warner
Warner went from 36 TD passes in 2001 to just three last season.

To Kurt Warner ... his career hasn't been the same since Super Bowl XXXI. Since then, he's been dealing with a variety of injuries; his wife pulling a Mrs. Christie with that appalling radio-show defense of him; Marc Bulger's breath on his neck; a splintered locker room; his coach's lukewarm endorsement over the winter; and at least 500,000 fans making that "Apparently Warner's deal with the devil finally expired" joke.

Has there ever been a tougher fantasy season to predict? He's either out of the lineup by Week 5, or he's throwing for 4,500 yards and 35 TDs. There's no in-between. I just remember a game on Fox two Septembers ago, when Warner was throwing bee-bees and Madden was comparing him to Joe Montana. Seems like a lifetime ago. I miss watching him thread the needle down the sideline -- nobody did it better. Alas.

2. "Look, lieutenant, I'd just really like to hear about the MIG some time."

The unintentionally funniest line in the movie goes to the unintentionally funniest development of the season ... Jerry Rice's hairline. At some point in life, you need to give up on the dreadlocks and gracefully evolve to the shaved head, don't you? Poor Jerry looks like DeNiro at the end of Cape Fear.

3. "I was afraid that everyone would see right through me. And I just don't want anyone to know that I've fallen for you."

To the Chiefs, this year's chic Super Bowl pick (for all the reasons that have been regurgitated ad nauseam -- you would think they added Jason Taylor and Ray Lewis to their defense or something). I'm not picking them to go THAT far ... but this feels like a 10-win team to me, even though I have a feeling Priest breaks down and Larry Johnson becomes prominently involved by Thanksgiving. I just can't imagine them handling a physical team like the Titans in January. Maybe I'm crazy.

4. "God, he loved flying with you, Maverick. He'd have flown, anyway, without you. He'd have hated it, but he would have done it."

Emmitt Smith
The Sports Guy would like to take a quick break to wipe away some tears.

The saddest "Top Gun" moment goes to the saddest subplot of the season: The great Emmitt Smith ending his career in Arizona. It's like a poor man's version of MJ's comeback with the Wizards, Willie Mays playing for the Mets, Sugar Ray Leonard getting his butt kicked by Terry Norris, and Tiffani Amber-Thiessen appearing on that "Fastlane" show. Just plain depressing.

(Special kudos to Meg Ryan here for getting Cruise to make that "I'm trying to cry but I can't make the tears come, so I'll look like I'm taking a dump instead" face. I'll never forget seeing "Top Gun" in the theater. When Cruise made that face, my buddies and I started laughing hysterically, and two sobbing females angrily turned around and glared at us. Doesn't get much better than that.)

5. "You know, he might not make it back."

"Keep sending him up."

To Steve Spurrier ... let the 2003 QB Roulette begin! I love the fact that Rob Johnson ended up here -- nothing like a skittish, fragile guy who can't make up his mind running an offense where the QB takes big hits and has to make quick decisions. He'll be perfect. Wouldn't you bet anything that this is where Drew Henson ends up? And Mark Brunell? And Neil O'Donnell? And Danny Wuerffel, chapter 3? And Jeff George?

(I can't stop thinking of QB's . . . somebody help me!)

6. "On the first one I crashed and burned."

"And the second?"

"I don't know ... but, uh, it's lookin' good so far ..."

10 RANDOM PREDICTIONS
1. Steve Beuerlein replaces Jake Plummer by Week 7.

2. Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck throw for a combined 8,800 yards.

3. Larry Johnson finishes with more TD's than Priest Holmes (and the Ewing Theory strikes again).

4. Chad Johnson leads the league in receiving; Clinton Portis leads the league in rushing.

5. Doug Johnson starts twice as many games as Michael Vick.

6. Jeff Garcia's back gives out by Week 8.

7. Two coaches are fired during the season (Dave McGinnis, Dick Jauron); four right after the season (Mike Holmgren; Gregg Williams, Dave Wannstedt, Mike Martz).

8. The Cardinals finish the season without any of their WR's making a start for any fantasy team in the country.

9. Brett Favre announces his retirement after the Packers miss the playoffs.

10. Steve McNair wins league MVP; Larry Johnson wins Rookie of the Year.
--Bill Simmons

To the Kordell Stewart Era in Chicago .... living proof that the Gambling Gods look out for us from time to time. When they signed Kordell this summer, I felt like I just found a $100 chip in an old pair of jeans from a Vegas trip.

(Hey, speaking of Stewart ...)

6a. "Goose! I'm losing control, I'm losing control! I can't control it!"

To this year's batch of shaky starting QBs: Stewart; Jeff Blake; the Quincy Carter-Chad Hutchinson combo; everyone in Washington and Baltimore; and the award-winning trio of Rodney Peete, Chris Weinke and Jake Delhomme. Speaking of batches, what happens after the inevitable Tommy Maddox injury, when Chaz Batch is running the show in Pittsburgh? Isn't Maddox the next Chris Chandler -- you know he's going down, you just don't know when? Reason enough not to wager on the Steelers all season.

(And was there a more distressing moment in movie history than Goose getting ejected in slow motion against the top of the plane? That's right up there with the on-screen deaths of Mickey, Apollo and Brian Piccolo for me -- it hurts every time. I'm making the Tom Cruise "I'm trying not to cry" face just thinking about it.)

7. Gawddammit, Maverick!"

To Michael Vick's broken fibula. Forget about Atlanta's season going down the tubes ... he was the only guy who kept me glued to the tube even without FGPP (fantasy/gambling/picks pool) implications. I'm still bummed out. Dammit, Maverick.

8. "Are you, uh, uh, a good pilot?"

"I can hold my own."

"Great. Then I won't have to worry about you making your living as a singer."

The most embarrassing "Top Gun" exchange goes to the Cardinals, who finally seized the torch from the Bengals as the most embarrassing franchise in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Only the Cards could leave $14 million of cap room on the table. Only the Cards could assemble the best offensive line in football, then have them block for Jeff Blake, Marcel Shipp and a completely washed-up Emmitt Smith. Only the Cards could head into an NFL season with a crew of wideouts who collectively score under 50 in the "Madden 2004" rating.

I'm calling it right now: Arizona's only victory will happen at home against San Fran on Oct. 26 (classic letdown game for the Niners, sandwiched between home games against the Bucs and Rams). That's right, 1-15. You heard me.

(Back to the above exchange: Every time I watch "Top Gun," Kelly McGillis' acting stands out -- she looks like she's auditioning for a porn movie. She's a catastrophe. And just for the record, Kelly never did it for me; I always thought she looked too much like Michael Caine when he was dressed like a woman in "Dressed to Kill." Imagine someone like Rebecca DeMornay [in her prime] or Sharon Stone [just entering her prime] in that role? It's no contest. Kelly McGillis was to "Top Gun" what Marc Iavaroni was to the '83 Sixers.)

9. "Yee-haw! Jester's dead!"

Mike Alstott
The Bucs' lack of a star running back means they won't be repeating.

To the mighty Bucs ... it's always fun to see the reigning champ get toppled, isn't it? Teams don't repeat in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE anymore -- especially with this running game: Mike Alstott, Former Arizona 1st Round Bust Thomas Jones (that's officially his name now), Michael Pittman, and Michael Pittman's electronic tracking bracelet. Yikes. Defending champs are jinxed, anyway.

10. "I will fire when I'm damn good and ready! You got that?"

To Mike Martz ... this just sounds like something he would say. You know, it will be interesting to see which offensive coordinator job he ends up taking this winter.

11. "Take me to bed or lose me forever!"

To Dave Wannstedt, firmly entrenched in the proverbial "S**t or get off the pot" stage with the Dolphins. Will he give them a ring or not? I vote no, even if I could see them sneaking into the playoffs this season. Still, the parallels between the 21st-century Dolphins and the 21st-century Red Sox are mildly horrifying.

(And just for the record, that "lose me forever" line is one of my favorite moments in the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed the "Meg Ryan is Cute" Era. Even paid to see "Innerspace." And I'm not ashamed of it.)

12. "Talk to me, Goose. Talk to me."

To my beloved Pats ... just when I was dreaming about another Super Bowl, they waive safety Lawyer Milloy six days before Week 1. Why dump a defensive leader when 80 percent of his salary counts against your cap, anyway? Yeah, maybe Milloy slipped a little last season, but I just don't get it. Everything just feels wrong about this one, especially the part where he landed in Buffalo. Ghastly way to start the season. And none of the explanations made sense. Talk to me, Goose.

13. "(Sniff) Mitchell. I'm sorry about Goose. (Sniff). Everyone liked him. (Sniff). I'm sorry."

The second-funniest moment of the movie goes to the second-funniest subplot of the season: The Broncos dumping Brian Griese for Jake Plummer. That's like trading syphilis for VD, isn't it? Even the Project Greenlight producers wouldn't have okayed this move.

Some of the preseason quotes about Jake have been fantastic: He's fit right in with the guys ... he's a natural leader ... we never realized his scrambling was this dangerous ... you could see his career take off ... (and my personal favorite) if he can just cut down on his mistakes, he's headed to the Pro Bowl.

Listen, there are few certainties in life, but this is one of them: Jake Plummer will NEVER cut down on his mistakes, just like Lamar Odom will never get his act together, and Nomar Garciaparra will never stop swinging at the first pitch, and Paul Maguire will never stop describing a replay by saying "All right, I want you to watch something right now -- watch this!", and I will never turn in an NFL Preview that's less than 5,500 words. You are what you are.

Jake Plummer
If Jake the Snake falters, there's always ... Steve Beuerlein?

13a. Gawddamn you, Maverick!

To the Broncos ... even if Plummer spontaneously combusts, Steve Beuerlein could easily come in and right the ship. And there's talent on both sides of the ball. And Portis could win the rushing title. And Shanahan's involved. And yet, there's Plummer looming over everything, in an impossibly-tough division, no less. They could go 5-11, they could go 11-5. Just a nightmare team to predict. My head hurts.

14. "The enemy's dangerous, but right now, you're worse than the enemy. You're dangerous and foolish. You might not like the guys flying with you, they might not like you. But whose side are you on?"

To Jeremy Shockey, whose ill-fated summer media blitz was apparently orchestrated by his new agents, John Rocker and Fred Durst. I don't even want to hear his name the rest of the season. Seriously. Jim Fassel should have Val Kilmer read Shockey the riot act (while intermittently glancing at the ceiling and sniffing for no reason).

(That reminds me, how did Kilmer get snubbed in the '87 Oscars? Iceman was a character for the ages; even Macho Man Randy Savage in his prime wasn't that over-the-top. My favorite moment happens after Kilmer chews out Cruise, when he walks away in a towel -- his stomach sucked in, his chest jutting out and his elbows stuck to his sides -- almost like he's trying to crack the crew up during the take. That slays me. One of the reasons I never liked "Hot Shots" was because you didn't need to make a parody movie of "Top Gun" -- how can you parody something that was already a self-parody?)

15. "Tell me one thing -- if you had to go into battle, would you want him with you?"

To Bill Parcells ... and the answer is "yes." This Cowboys season should mirror the '93 Pats and '97 Jets -- some tough losses early on, lots of ranting and raving from the Tuna, the defense and special teams coming on down the stretch, a nice little winning streak to head into 2004 (gentleman, start your wagers!), and an incalculable number of disturbing camera shots of Parcells in his practice skivvies.

(Then again, would anything be worse than Parcells pulling an Al Roker, getting that stomach-stapling surgery, and looking like a skinny, mutated, shrunken version of himself? I don't think I could handle that emotionally. Some people should just be forced to remain overweight if it fits their persona. I would even make this a law. I feel very strongly about this.)

16. "Gentlemen, you are the top one percent of all naval aviators -- the elite, the best of the best."

To Peter King's "Monday Morning QB" column, John Clayton's "First and Ten" column, the "Edge NFL Matchup" on ESPN, and every second of HBO's "Inside the NFL" show -- four weekly staples that make the NFL that much more fun to follow.

God, is anyone else giddy for Sunday right now? Did you ever wake up at 6 a.m. on the Sunday morning of Week 1, then not been able to fall back asleep? Umm ... me neither.

HIDDEN HOMOEROTICSM SUBPLOTS IN 'TOP GUN'
As Quentin Tarantino's character first pointed out in "Sleep With Me," gay undertones permeate many aspects of "Top Gun," to the point that you almost wonder if the script was written by the five guys from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." There's the ultra-close friendship between Mav and Goose. There's the charged, uncomfortable tension between Cruise and Kilmer (when do you ever see guys talking with their faces two inches apart?). There's the surreal volleyball scene, which plays like a "Schmitt's Gay" beer commercial on SNL.

There are lines during the action scenes like "I've got your tail" and "Watch your rear." There's the bald commander yelping, "I want butts!" There's the fact that Kelly McGillis' character went by "Charlie," or that she dressed up in the manliest way possible to win Cruise's affection (in the elevator). And of course, there's the memorable "Tail" exchange between Cruise and Kilmer at the end. It's funny to watch "Top Gun" again and look for these things. Believe me, they're everywhere.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
--Bill Simmons

17. "I'm going to take a shower. Thank you. I enjoyed being here."

Just a classic moment in movie history. Has there ever been a stranger stream of dialogue? Did somebody actually write that? Has anyone ever wrapped up a date by saying those words?

Anyway, I enjoyed this sequence so much, and it's brought me so much joy over the past 17 years, I'm giving this one to my favorite coach: the immortal Dave McGinnis, the man responsible for the TV highlight of the summer that didn't involve Nick Lachey, Jessica Simpson, or anyone from Paradise Hotel and the OC.

I'll set the scene: We're about 14 minutes into NFL Films's 2002 Yearbook about the Arizona Cardinals, which was already funny enough because it made their 4-1 start seem like the Normandy Invasion, then casually skipped over the fact that they lost nine of their next 10 games. And McGinnis has already been so over-the-top, it almost defies imagination -- it's like he watched Pacino's locker-room speech in "Any Given Sunday," then spent the summer improvising deleted scenes in front of a bathroom mirror (while downing cups of coffee).

So McGinnis is addressing the team after a dramatic 9-6 win over the Cowboys -- an ESPN Instant Classic if there ever was one -- and his carotid artery is ready to splatter all over the place. Pacing like an absolute maniac, he belts out the following speech:

"What did we expect? (Some grumbling) WHAT DID WE EXPECT??? (Louder grumbling, confusion) We expected it, men. We expected it! And when you expect to win, you earn the right to be there to win. You've earned the right to EXPECT to win. And you've earned much more than that."

Fade to commercial.

Now ...

I'm not sure what any of that means. I'm not sure we'll ever be sure, and if we ever come close to solving the mystery, there will probably be about three bags of marijuana involved. But I can tell you this: During the tail end of the speech, McGinnis walks by one of his players, who's desperately trying not to laugh as his coach belts out the last lines.

So was it one of the greatest moments in NFL history? Right up there with Alan Ameche's 1-yard run, the Kellen Winslow Game, Elway's Drive, Vinatieri's Kick, Lynn Swann's Catch and everything else?

Yeah. I think so. But that's just me. When you expect to laugh, you've earned the right to expect to laugh. And sometimes, you've even earned more than that.

*** COMING FRIDAY: PART TWO ***

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.



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