I know I’m infringing on pop culture with an article about a movie, but it’s an article about a sports movie, a childhood favorite character, a football player, and an oddly-placed jersey.
I was called at work recently to pick up my sick kid from school. Me and mini-me had an afternoon to ourselves, and he was low on energy from having a fever. All of this is an extremely rare phenomenon, and I usually seize these opportunities to indoctrinate my kids into my favorite “home sick from school” activity, watching awesome 80s movies. There’s the usual rotation: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones movies, or this week’s selection, The Karate Kid. Now, I’ve seen The Karate Kid about a thousand times, but this time was different. This time I noticed something that didn’t sit right with me, something that shook my decades-long relationship with Daniel LaRusso to the core.
Think back to just before that fateful Halloween party. You know, the one where Daniel attends dressed in the “Shower” costume that Mr. Miyagi made for him, and he ruins Johnny’s solo weed sesh in the bathroom stall? Ok in the scene before the party where Daniel is telling Miyagi why he isn’t going, Daniel is wearing a SAN DIEGO CHARGERS JERSEY! I mean, I must have seen this before, my brain must have registered it, but why, as an adult in my thirties, does this suddenly not sit well with me?
Let’s back it up. For those of you who have only ever seen some piss poor remake of The Karate Kid or haven’t seen this film in recent memory, allow me a quick refresher on young LaRusso. The year is 1984 and at the start of the film Daniel and his mom are on a cross-country drive moving from the Garden State to the Golden State. Therefore, being geographically from North Jersey, before the start of the movie, Daniel is in all likelihood a fan of one of two football teams. He’s either a New York Jets fan, or more likely a New York Giants fan. No kid who grew up in Newark New Jersey is going to own any San Diego Chargers swag. At the time, you’d think every kid in North Jersey was born wearing a Lawrence Taylor jersey.
For a Jersey-bred teen that spends much of the movie thumbing his nose at kids that are faster bigger and stronger than him, it would seem odd for him to try to fit in by eschewing his east coast roots, especially since he spends half the movie bemoaning California, guilt tripping his mom for moving them out there, and crying about how wants to move back. Is there something deeper, an underlying reason for this transgression of fandom?
The jersey in question is #89. In 1984 Wes Chandler wore #89 for the Bolts. If Daniel was trying to fit in, why not wear quarterback Dan Fouts’ jersey? He was wildly popular at the time and much more iconic than Chandler. Don’t get me wrong, Chandler was very successful wide receiver for San Diego from 1981 to 1987, but Fouts would have helped young LaRusso blend. There’s more to this than attempted assimilation to Californian life. Funny thing here, Chandler was traded to San Diego in the middle of the 1981 season. Hmmm, maybe he never wanted to play for San Diego, maybe he never wanted to live in California. Maybe Wes Chandler didn’t want to leave his friends, family and teammates in New Orleans, the team that drafted him. Could Daniel have identified with a fellow reluctant SoCal transplant?
This also may be just an oversight by costume designers Richard Bruno and Aida Swinson. Bruno did the design for some all-time all-timers like Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Chinatown, and The Untouchables, but Swinson has some less than gold standard titles to her credit (Jingle All the Way). Could this have been an error by Swinson that went overlooked by Bruno? Perhaps it was a decision by Bruno and Avildsen to make the reluctant transplant connection?
Now I feel as if I’m meandering, grasping at straws, trying to make excuses for lifelong friend. I’m like the oblivious girlfriend in a bad relationship crying into my pillow over and over “It isn’t his fault, I can change him!” not allowing myself to see what all my friends have seen for years, and is staring me plainly in the eye: Daniel LaRusso is nothing but a punk. I can tell you from experience, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me, nothing makes you want to more proudly strap on your teams’ gear more than being away from home. I love nothing more than walking the streets of NYC or Boston with my Phillies cap on. At home, whatever, everyone knows where my allegiances lay, but on the road, in hostile territory, that’s when it really counts. Maybe Ali (Elizabeth Shue) was a Chargers fan, but that just makes the whole thing worse.
I suppose another NFC team would have been more damning, but for Daniel to just cast aside his childhood team so easily, in such a short period of time speaks volumes. Having grown up idolizing Daniel-san, I’m surprised he didn’t have a more negative subconscious impact on my own fandom, and I certainly don’t want him setting this type of example for my boys. He’s probably the type who would have switched back and celebrated the Giants winning the ’86 Superbowl.
Maybe that’s why Ali left Daniel for that UCLA football player.