NOTE: This Spoiler was sent in by DD who says... "A good family movie and for fans of Will Ferrell, but this is an example of throwing everything at the wall and hoping some gags stick."
The movie begins in a crib: It's baby Phil Weston (Will Ferrell), enjoying life, until his father, Buck (Robert Duvall), puts a soccer ball in his crib, saying "you'd better be good at this".
Flash-forward to college, where a grown-up Phil is trying to do his jock father proud by making the track team. A funny montage follows--set to Chariots of Fire--as Phil breaks a table with the shot put, trips over the hurdles, and nearly stabs Barbara, "the prettiest girl on campus," with a javelin. Although Phil doesn't make the team, he wins the heart of Barbara and gets married to her...just as divorced Buck is marrying an attractive woman Phil's age. When Phil goes to the hospital the day his baby son, Sam, is born, Buck comes too...but to see his own son, Bucky, who weighs two ounces more than Sam does. Clearly Buck Sr. is obsessively competitive with his mild son Phil.
The movie picks up about 10 years later, when Phil, who runs a vitamin store, is headed to watch Sam play in his youth soccer league. It's a family affair: Sam plays on the Gladiators with his "uncle" Bucky, who's the team star, and the team is coached by Buck. Unfortunately, Buck is so competitive that he keeps Sam on the bench the whole game. Phil and Barbara are upset about this, and Phil gets up the courage to talk to his dad about getting Sam more playing time.
The family goes to Buck's house after the game; clearly, Buck is well-off, with an elaborate game-room, a wall aquarium, and an unexplained "Pele ball" that he keeps in a glass case. It turns out Buck is the successful owner of a chain of sporting goods stores and known as the "king of sports"; his advertising slogan is "I've got balls" (basketballs, baseballs...hockey pucks)... Buck's rivalry with his neighbor is introduced, when the neighbor is shown trying to blow leaves into Buck's yard--it's ex-football star and coach Mike Ditka (Mike Ditka)! Buck and Ditka start arguing with each other and it's clear they don't like each other; Phil tries to break it up but gets hit by Ditka.
Buck and Phil go inside to play darts--with Buck nailing the center of the dartboard every time and Phil nailing everything, including the acquarium, around the room--and Phil asks his dad about getting Sam more playing time. Buck is happy to tell Phil that Sam is about to get more playing time: he's traded his own grandson to the Tigers, who are in last place. Sure, he got no one in return, but that's how it goes.
Phil goes home, trying to deal with his repressed anger towards his dad and tell Sam about the trade. Sam is pretty disappointed, though not as upset as Phil, who flips out and needs to be slapped by his wife. When they show up for the Tigers game the next morning, the team is predictably a bunch of goofballs. There's the requisite sarcastic kid, Mark; the aloof giant, Ambrose; the tiny Asian kid, Byong Sun, who was adopted by two lesbian parents; and a number of other quirky players. And, although the Tigers coach has gone mysteriously missing, the team is scheduled to play...Buck and the Gladiators!
When all of the other parents decline, Phil--who doesn't want to let his son down--volunteers to coach. Buck can't believe his luck and sends the Gladiators out with a vengeance; the Tigers turn and run, eventually losing 13-0. The kids are mopey and disappointed, but Phil tries to console them, offering cliches like "you played hard" and "it's all about fun".
More weeks of losing follow, and while Phil is trying to stay upbeat in the face of griping parents, a team that doesn't respect him, and a disappointed Sam, he begins to lose it himself and starts bawling when his wife tries to cozy up to him in the bedroom. He just doesn't have it in him to be competitive. Who does? Who would want to help him learn about being a winner in sports?
So Mike Ditka becomes the assistant coach. Yeah, he doesn't know anything about soccer and he barely knows Phil's name, but he really hates Buck and relishes the chance to beat him. Ditka gives the kids--who'd prefer Sammy Sosa--an inspirational pep talk before the game, but they still get slaughtered. The team has yet to win a game and everyone is pretty antsy. They need to win every game left to make the playoffs. Ditka tells Phil they need reinforcements, but he knows just where to find them.
They go to an Italian butcher ship, where Ditka shows Phil the two twelve-year-old Italian apprentice butchers, who are kicking around a ball of dough. The kids, Massimo and Gian Piero, don't speak English but are willing to play sports. Ditka and Phil strike a bargain with the proprietor, agreeing that the kids will play with the team when possible but "meat comes first."
Massimo and Gian Piero show up for the next game and the Tigers are reborn. The two of them do amazing things with the ball, passing and scoring at will. The team's new game plan: get the ball to the Italians.
On the strength of this strategy, the Tigers go on a win streak that takes them to the brink of the playoffs (it gets dicey when the Italians can't show up one week because the butcher shop gets a huge order and "meat comes first"; the Tigers go to the butcher shop and cut the meat together, making it to the game just in time. But because they're covered in blood, the other team runs away and they win by forfeit.)
The team makes the playoffs, but a few important things have happened along the way. First of all, Ditka has introduced health-conscious Phil to coffee in order to build up his manliness after Buck beats up Phil during a tetherball match. Phil ends up addicted which leads to a mildly funny subplot where there's a cappucino machine on the bench with him, but it also makes him much more competitive and anal retentive--he starts yelling at everybody. Secondly, the Italian kids are basically dominating the games and the rest of the Tigers don't do anything at all, which is fine by Phil at this point, who's become obsessed with winning. Lastly, even though the other Tigers aren't doing much on the field, the Italian kids have been teaching them a few tricks with the soccer ball on their own.
The Tigers win a few playoff games and all signs point to a rematch with the Gladiators in the championship game. Before they get there, things come to a head with Phil and everyone in his life. Buck encourages him to make a bet that the Tigers will beat the Gladiators in the final. A lot is at stake: if Buck and the Gladiators win, Phil will sell his "wussy" vitamin store and come to work for Buck's sporting goods. Phil doesn't want to take the bet but decides to with one condition. If Phil and the Tigers win, he gets "the Pele ball" from Buck (in a flashback, the Pele ball is revealed to be a ball that Pele hit into a soccer stadium crowd when Phil was a kid; Buck snatched the ball out of Phil's hands and kept it for his own). It's a deal so the Tigers now need to win in the semi-final and then in the final game.
Phil's obsession with winning now alienates his wife Barbara and son Sam. In a role reversal, he tells the players they need to play dirty and win at all costs; this leads to an argument with Ditka and Phil kicks him off the team. Although the Tigers win due to the brilliance of their Italian players, Phil doesn't even play Sam in their semi-final win. The Gladiators look on and figure out the strategy--they'll swarm the two Italian kids and force the other Tigers to make plays.
Finally it's the championship game and Phil, going crazy with coffee at this point, has even made a hideous "Tiger suit" to wear on the sideline
The grumpy Tigers show up, but Sam and Barbara don't, which upsets Phil but only a little bit--he's here to win. Although the Italians get a goal, the Gladiators indeed swarm them and suddenly the Tigers can't do anything right. They go into halftime down 2-1
Sam shows up in street clothes at halftime--he's not playing, because his dad didn't even play him in the last game. It's déjà vu all over again; Phil has a flashback of Buck doing the same thing to him and comes to a realization--he's done everything wrong. He apologizes to Sam, to the team, even to the parents (who he's been yelling at too) and even breaks the cappucino machine. In the second half, the team decides to do everything "opposite of what Phil taught us to do." So instead of just passing to the Italian kids, the Italian kids get taken out of the game.
Here, all of the kids' unique talents get to shine. The sarcastic kid makes a big play that the Italians taught him to do; the kid who eats worms fakes out the goalie; the giant has tiny Byong-Sun sit on his shoulders to head the ball and before you know it the game is tied (Ditka is thrilled, looking on from his house with binoculars and cheering "Way to go Bing Bong!"). It all comes down to one last play...and with time running out, it's Sam who fakes out his "uncle" Bucky, using an Italian move, and scores the winning goal! Tigers win!
Buck takes defeat like a champ. He offers to give up the Pele ball, but Phil's had second thoughts. He tells his dad to hang on to it--the ball was a metaphor, all he wanted was his dad's respect. Besides, he has a better idea.
The movie ends with a commercial for Weston's Sporting Goods. The "King of Sports" Buck comes on the air to tout his "balls" but now he's joined by Phil, the "Prince of Vitamins", as the sporting chain now offers both sporting goods and vitamins. The Tigers run around in the background of the commercial, still goofballs but now championship goofballs.
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