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Utility Player

Feb. 10, 2014
Feb. 10, 2014

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Feb. 10, 2014

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Utility Player

A do-it-all actor's foray into sports

Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Oscar-winning actor who died at age 46 on Sunday, took on plenty of dark roles, but he also provided one of the funnier sports scenes in recent cinema, in the otherwise paint-by-numbers 2004 rom com Along Came Polly. Playing Ben Stiller's friend and two-on-two hoops teammate, Hoffman hoists brick after brick while bellowing SportsCenter--inspired catchphrases ("Rain dance!" "White chocolate!" "Old school!") before he has to call a timeout because his "legs are burning." The scene trades on Hoffman's burly, almost oafish, everyman quality, a trait that allowed him to disappear into a wide range of characters (including a boorish craps player in 1996's Hard Eight, which launched his longtime collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson).

This is an article from the Feb. 10, 2014 issue

It also made him a natural to play former A's manager Art Howe—the old school foil to baseball's new thinkers, with their spreadsheets and advanced metrics—in the 2011 adaptation of Moneyball (above). The portrayal of Howe was controversial; the movie needed a villain, so the baseball lifer was written to come off as a bit of a jerk. But not even Howe found fault with Hoffman's performance, telling TMZ, "I didn't blame him—he was just playing the part he was given. He was an outstanding actor."

Hoffman, who struggled with substance abuse for years before his death from a heroin overdose, was a wrestler before a neck injury forced him to give up the sport. In a 2006 interview with Psychology Today, Hoffman spoke of a high school match that took place in a dingy boiler room. He ended up getting pinned as his mother exhorted him to get up, a result, he said, that he tried to use to maintain his perspective. "It doesn't matter how brilliant or wonderful I think I am," he said. "On any given day, no matter how hard I fight, there is somebody who can take me down."

THEY SAID IT

"We played well all the way until, like, the second quarter."

LeBron James after the Heat's 112--95 loss to the Thunder on Jan 29.

PHOTOMELINDA SUE GORDON/COLUMBIA PICTURE (HOFFMAN)PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JAMES)