The 1990s were the golden age of kids sports movies. Worn-out VHS tapes of The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot, The Big Green, and Air Bud were in heavy use throughout the decade, from sleepovers, to youth group functions, to those days when your overworked, underpaid teacher just needed a little break.
Little Giants fits in that same category, yet it also belongs in its own. For one, it’s the only one about football. More importantly than that, though, is that the protagonist is a girl. Not a mom. Not a love interest. Not a tertiary character who hangs out in the background.
Becky “Icebox” O’Shea is both relatable and inspirational, a hard combo to pull off without venturing into Mary Sue territory. But Little Giants navigates it perfectly, thanks to a script that treats her like a three-dimensional person and to a winning performance from Shawna Waldron.
Becky is tough as nails, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s also allowed to be a kid, with all the flaws that come with it. Some of her actions — such as her awkward attempts to gauge Junior’s interest in her, and her outburst against her well-intentioned dad — might make us cringe now. It’s not because they’re immature. It’s because we completely understand what it’s like to be young and have feelings that you don’t know what to do with.
Seeing a character like Icebox on screen meant a lot to the girls who grew up with the movie. We all know what it’s like to be better than the boys and not get the credit for it, and to be disregarded or passed over for being who you are. She’s not just for us, though. She’s for anyone who has ever felt excluded.
In the movie’s opening minutes, when she finds out she wasn’t picked — by her own uncle! — to make the football team, Icebox is crushed.
That look of heartbreak is fleeting, because it then gives way to a steely gaze of determination that makes one thing very clear:
More than anything, Icebox is a freakin’ boss.
Young or old, man or woman, girl or boy, in 1994 or decades later, we are her students. Here are a few lessons we can learn from Icebox, even today, about how to be a boss:
1. Make things happen for yourself.
Icebox just wanted to play football. And there was part of her that was motivated by the jerks who thought that she couldn’t play because she was a girl — never mind that women have been playing football for longer than you’ve been alive, Uncle Kevin!
So she started her own team, with players she helped recruit, to, as she told that turdface Murphy, “kick your little Cowboys butts.”
She also volunteered her dad to coach the team because hey, sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.
2. Don’t let the bullies win.
The first time we see Becky, she’s making a tackle (with excellent form, naturally). Minutes later, this little twerp — who probably has a name, but he doesn’t deserves one — makes a disparaging and tasteless remark about her urinary technique.
She responded appropriately:
Shortly after, when Murphy and his gang of hoodlums give Nubie — who didn’t even try out for the team — a wedgie for NO reason, Icebox gets the Omar Little treatment. Murphy’s crew realizes Icebox is coming and they get the hell outta there.
She tracks them down in her go-kart, one by one, and makes them wipe out on their bikes, hopefully painfully. That’s another important boss reminder: There’s nothing wrong with letting others have a healthy fear of you.
3. It’s OK to doubt yourself sometimes.
The best leaders are the ones who can get introspective and question whether everything they thought they knew is really true. For Becky, her world is turned upside down the first time she sees Junior, and realizes, even if she won’t admit it to anyone else, that the Icebox does in fact get crushes.
She experiences the entire spectrum of first-crush emotions: when you come into physical contact for the briefest of seconds and your insides turn into a butterfly sanctuary; the euphoria of getting teased in a friendly, possibly flirty way that makes you feel seen; the agony of seeing them teasing someone else in a friendly, possibly flirty way that makes you feel invisible.
This is new territory for her, and she’s both embarrassed and curious by these feelings. She starts experimenting with makeup and doing pretend cheers for Junior in the mirror, wondering if he will ever like her like her if she’s his teammate and not a cheerleader like her cousin Debbie.
Junior, affably clueless Junior, tells her, “But you’re not. You’re different. You’re cool. You’re the Icebox. I mean, come on, you’re probably the only girl I’ve met that could beat up my dad.”
Oof, read the room, dude. As hurtful as this was to hear, those words put Becky on a path to figuring out who she is deep down.
4. No one can put you in box (no pun intended).
Becky feels like she has to choose between being a fullback, like her dad calls her, or being a princess, like her mom used to call her (before she abandoned them, as if you needed another reminder of how strong Becky is).
She decides on the latter when she quits the football team to join Debbie on the cheerleading squad. That lasts until Junior gets injured on a cheap shot courtesy of Spike and his Bountygate dad.
It also leads her to an important self-discovery: She can be both a football player and a cheerleader, a fullback and princess, Icebox and Becky.
She doesn’t have to choose.
5. Stand your ground.
Sometimes, that means quite literally, like when she holds the line:
Other times, it’s more figuratively — like when grammatically incompetent Spike announces, in third person, his refusal to play football “with a girl,” she fires back with, “I can tackle anything, any time, anywhere. Got that?”
Then, Spike threatens her (with death?!) and she doesn’t back down one inch.
(Spike totally had a crush on the Icebox, BTW.)
6. Share in the glory.
There’s no way the Little Giants would have completed their comeback if Icebox hadn’t entered the game. She also knows it takes a team effort. Although she doesn’t directly score one of their three touchdowns that follow, she’s responsible in part for all three.
First, she forces a key fumble (suck it, Spike) and then takes over at quarterback for the injured Junior. She leads the huddle and directs Johnny to run the football to his dad to score a Beast Quake-like touchdown.
Then, Becky’s perfect spiral is the cure for Hot Hands’ dropsies. He outraces the defense and hauls in the catch, running it in for the tying score.
More importantly, she makes the critical goal-line stand to help set up the “Annexation of Puerto Rico.” She acts as a decoy on the game-winning play, knowing that Spike (who is obsessed with her), will follow her.
And she was right. Because she’s a boss — and one who can still teach us valuable lessons to this day.