I don’t have much use for the NFL but a lot of people love it. They have the wrong idea about it, though. They think it is a sports organization. It isn’t; it’s a media company. And from early on, it has produced a stream of barely watchable documentary films about the game. One of them was 1987’s Strange but True Football Stories. It is only noteworthy because it features Vincent Price.
I learned about this odd thing from Chris Ameigh at The Full Price Podcast. He tweeted out that he would love to see it. I immediately bought a copy on VHS (the only format it is available in). But it is available online in one form or another — see below.
(By the way, you should check out the podcast. It approaches Vincent Price very differently than I do. I wrote a 10,000-word article about my favorite Price film, The Last Man on Earth — because I’m a freak. The podcast deals with films but also a lot about Price himself like in Ep 6 Price and the Nazis. Check it out!) [Note: it is no longer available that I can find.]
What’s in Strange but True Football Stories?
Outside of Vincent Price, this is an entirely standard NFL documentary. Price introduces each section, speaking from a vaguely expressionistic set (really one of those faux-3D CG sets that were so popular on PBS at the time). It is only during the final segment that there is any indication that the narration he is delivering was written before they knew what was going to be in the football segments.
And none of the stories are particularly strange. You know: if you play enough games there are going to be unusual occurrences like a couple of fumbles leading to a touchdown.
Here are the segments that Price does on the VHS:
- Introduction (1:29)
- Coaches (0:50)
- The Double (0:33)
- Sideshow (0:45)
- Mirage (1:12)
- Immaculate Reception (0:34)
- Conclusion (0:37)
Check out the video I’ve embedded below. It seems to be what was originally broadcast on television. It is distinct from what was released on VHS where all of Price’s narration over the football sequences was replaced by some John Facenda sound-alike.
What Was Price Doing in an NFL Documentary?
Based on my reading about Vincent Price, he had entertainment interests fairly similar to mine. So I don’t see him as much of a football fan. Apparently, his daughter said that he hated the game.
But I grew up watching Price doing similar kinds of gigs. One of my favorites was introducing a horror magician. (I’ve never located this and if anyone can provide information, I’d be most grateful!)
So I’m sure he did it for the money. People tend to forget that stars of Price’s era weren’t rich the way stars are today. Price didn’t make 3 films in Italy in 1961 because he loved the bitter cold in Rome that year! I’m sure he was doing better in 1987, but he also had a bit of an art habit by then. I like to think that he got ten grand for a few hours’ work, but I suspect it wasn’t that much.
To me, watching Strange but True Football Stories is bittersweet. He was in his late 70s at this point. He was still very good, but it’s hard to watch our heroes age. And there’s something inauthentic about it too. What made Price so great in films like House on Haunted Hill is that his effortless elegance was itself menacing.
Here, he knows he’s supposed to be The Merchant of Menace. And he plays the role well enough. But he comes off more like a kindly old man. Which I’ll take! This works really well in Edward Scissorhands.
If you are a Vincent Price freak, you’ll certainly want to own this tape. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it. Price only has 6 minutes of screen time. There are far better things he did for television like An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe.
 watching it, I was thinking, “It would have been great to have dinner with him and nerd-out about art.” I’m sure he would have had some insights into RH Ives Gammell.
Image taken under Fair Use.