Updated on October 7, 2022
Football is hands down America’s most popular sport. This has also filtered down into the world of popular culture, including animation and comics. Here’s a look at some noteworthy references to football in cartoons.
Note this is American/gridiron football I’m writing about. If you’re looking for what most of the world calls “football,” see my post about soccer in cartoons.
The former NFL player turned activist (blacklisted by the league after he protested against police brutality toward African Americans) has started his own publishing company, Kaepernick Publishing. A pair of graphic novels are set to be released in 2023: one a memoir about Kaepernick, another about Akim Aliu, a Black professional hockey player.
DCU football teams
Like baseball, basketball, and hockey, plenty of in-universe pro football teams exist in the DC Universe. Below’s a list of the DCU’s football teams. Info is based on the DC Comics Wiki; I’m ignoring “imaginary stories”/Elseworlds, as well as spin-off media like movies or TV shows.
- Bay City Goldminers. Apparently a pastiche of the San Francisco 49ers, but based in “Bay City.” Only appeared in one 90s Green Lantern story.
- Bludhaven Brawlers
- Central City Cougars
- Coast City Sharks
- Dakota Sharks. From the Milestone Comics line.
- Midway Cardinals
- Mudville Maroons. Apparently a pastiche of the Cleveland Browns, but based in a city called “Mudville?” Only appeared in one 90s Green Lantern story, playing the Goldminers.
- Star City Stags
- Gotham City’s football teams named over the years include:
- Gotham Knights. The Knights have been mentioned in several stories over the years, including in a few media spin-offs.
- Gotham Goliaths. The Goliaths are occasionally mentioned, including as the rivals of the Metropolis Meteors. The name “Goliaths” has also been used for Gotham’s baseball, basketball, and hockey teams.
- Gotham Wildcats. Mentioned in 1990’s “Atlas of the DC Universe,” as well as one story.
- As for Metropolis’ football teams:
- Metropolis Meteors. Steve Lombard played for the Meteors (more on Steve below). Between Steve’s ties and being the most frequently mentioned Metropolis football team, the Meteors are pretty much Metropolis’ default/main football team.
- Metropolis Metros. Mentioned in one 90s story.
One of Lois Lane and Clark Kent’s coworkers is Steve Lombard. Introduced in “Superman” #264 (June 1973), Steve was a former star quarterback for the Metropolis Meteors; after retiring, Steve was hired by WGBS as its new sports anchor. Lois and Clark, while still friendly toward Steve, dislike his boorish, egotistical personality. During the 1970s and 80s, Steve would frequently try to play pranks on Clark. However, Clark would secretly use his powers to make said pranks backfire.
Modern comics reintroduced Steve as a “Daily Planet” sports columnist, though with his large ego and obnoxious personality still intact.
John Byrne’s 1986 “Man of Steel” reboot showed Clark as a star football player in high school (when his powers were still emerging). Presumably this was to make Clark look “cooler,” or more “all-American.” Before the reboot, Clark seldom played sports, both to fit his milquetoast image and to protect his secret identity.
Peter and Roger are big football fans. Earlier strips showed Roger trying to play catch with Peter, usually with Roger facing injury in the process. Said injuries are the source of the title of one compilation: “Eight Yards Down and Out.”
More frequently, Peter sometimes tries to play catch with Jason. The operative word being “tries”: Jason isn’t a big sports fan, and usually either isn’t very good or nitpicks aspects of the game. One strip had Jason insisting on using meters instead of yards.
A series of strips had Peter (with Jason hired as his coach) practice football outdoors during the dog days of summer. Peter thought practicing in sweltering summer heat would improve his chances of becoming a great football player. Needless to say, things don’t work out.
Peter also frequently tries out for his school’s football team, but usually only serves as the coach’s assistant/team water boy. Unlike Peter, the team’s players all look like brutes.
“FoxTrot” also does annual strips for the Super Bowl. One such strip showed Jason, Paige, and Andy only interested in the game for the commercials.
The classic Goofy cartoons featured a series on how to play various sports, including the 1944 entry “How to Play Football.”
The short was released to an out-of-print DVD set of Goofy shorts. It’s also available on Disney+.
Marvel’s also mentioned football in a few stories over the years. Their blog summarized appearances of the game in the Marvel Universe over the years. These include:
- The 1986-87 series “Kickers Inc.,” about a fictional New York football team-turned-superheroes. It was part of the short-lived “New Universe” line of books.
- “NFL SuperPro,” a short-lived 1991-92 series about an ex-NFL player turned superhero.
“Peanuts” is famous for its long-running gag of Lucy tricking Charlie Brown into kicking a football, but always pulling the football away from him at the last minute. A typical example is found in this clip, from “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.”
Two football-themed specials were also produced: “It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown” (from 1977) and “You’re in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown” (from 1994). The first special is infamous for Charlie Brown inaccurately being blamed for losing his school’s homecoming game, when it was all Lucy’s fault (she kept doing her “pulling the football away” bit).
“It’s Your First Kiss” is available on the DVD “Peanuts Deluxe: Touchdown Charlie Brown!” It’s not on Apple TV+, the exclusive digital/streaming home for the “Peanuts” specials.
“You’re in the Super Bowl” also stands out as (as far as I know) the only “Peanuts” special not available on any modern home video format. It was originally a direct-to-VHS promotion given away at Shell gas stations. Since then, it’s never been re-released on DVD, digital video, or on streaming services. I suspect the special’s strong NFL ties (and licensing issues) might be preventing a re-release.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
The “Wossamotta U” storyline sees Bullwinkle recruited by Wossamotta University to play for their abysmal football team. Thanks to Bullwinkle’s “mighty moose muscle,” the team goes on an unbroken winning streak. This draws the attention of Boris and Natasha, as well as their Pottsylvania superior, Fearless Leader. The villains create their own team of thugs to go against Wossamotta’s, betting on the outcome of the game.
The story also takes shots at Civil War revisionism, with a Southerner repeatedly insisting it’s called “the War Between the States.” Subsequently, the moose and squirrel also end up forced to play the big game using Civil War battle plans, while wearing Confederate uniforms (a gag which probably wouldn’t fly today).
Keeping with the show’s love of puns are the names of the schools Wossamotta plays against. One school is “Bairly Normal,” as in “normal school,” which was once a popular type of college. Another school is the “Watchmakers Technical Institute,” better known as “Tick-Tock Tech.”
The “Wossamotta U” storyline’s available on the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” volume 5 DVD set.
“The Simpsons” has seen multiple football-themed episodes, but to list some of my favorite moments:
- The third season episode “When Flanders Failed” shows Homer watching the Canadian Football League draft on TV. The TV announcer states it’s “exciting 15th round action”; one of the anchors discusses the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
- Also from the third season is “Lisa the Greek.” Homer discovers Lisa has a gift for picking the winner of football games, and uses it to make bets. Needless to say, things go badly for Homer and Lisa’s relationship. The episode features a now-dated parody of what Super Bowl halftime shows were like until the early 90s, with a corny song-and-dance number.
The above episodes are available on the show’s third season DVD set. They’re also available on Disney+.
“Where’s Huddles?” is a short-lived 1970 primetime animated sitcom produced by Hanna-Barbera, about two friends, Ed Huddles and Bubba McCoy (voiced by Cliff Norton and Mel Blanc), who play for a pro football team. The show was made in the same vein as “The Flintstones,” even using some of the same voice actors. Actor Paul Lynde voiced Ed and Bubba’s cranky neighbor.
The show’s also noteworthy as the first primetime animated series with a non-stereotyped African American supporting character: Ed and Bubba’s teammate “Freight Train” (voiced by Herb Jeffries).
Here’s the show’s opening.
“Where’s Huddles?” was released as a DVD box set in 2016.
Explaining football’s rules
Football’s rules are complicated, especially for those unfamiliar with the game. The NFL itself produced this animated video explaining the basic rules of the game:
A somewhat snarkier explanation of football’s rules is also found in this YouTube video. A few aspects in the video are now dated: Washington’s football team (finally) changed its name to the “Commanders” as of the 2022-23 football season. (They spent the previous several years going by the name “Washington Football Team.”)
Image by filterssofly from Pixabay