By Tim Hayes

High on my list of favorite movies sits one that most people never heard of. It features three elements of a film that appeal to me most – it’s set in Pittsburgh, it stars Sylvester Stallone, and it’s funny as hell.

It’s called “Grudge Match,” and tells the story of two senior-citizen former boxing champions. Robert DeNiro is the other fighter, a casting plum pitting the actors who had played the two most famous boxers in movie history, “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta and Rocky Balboa!

In the film, each of the two boxers (DeNiro’s “Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen” and Stallone’s “Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp”) had won a championship bout 30 years ago against each other, but they never fought a tie-breaker because of a girl who tangled up their lives at the time. Kevin Hart plays the promoter, which adds to the fun, but Stallone and DeNiro really bring most of the laughs. It’s a great movie.

The big “grudge match” finally happens. Two titans locked in head-to-head competition. Two guys who have purposely avoided each other for three decades out of mutual detestation. Meeting at last in the squared circle, bare-chested, nowhere to escape. Only one can win in the end.

Fun time’s over. The preliminaries have ended. This is the main event.

Throughout the course of the fight, the built-up animosity overflows. But wait – these two geriatric pugilists still have some surprises up their sleeves. Not once, but twice, a fighter gets knocked down, apparently for good – but is helped back to his feet by his opponent!

Both Stallone and DeNiro finish the final round on their feet, thanks to a respect that went deeper than their hatred for each other. A “grudging” respect, if you will. Proving that, even in the heat of a protracted battle, remembering the inherent dignity and worth of those in the other camp remains the mark of a true champion.

I spun up “Grudge Match” on my iPad the other day and enjoyed it all over again. But it didn’t strike me until afterward why that particular movie had leap-frogged to the front of my brain so suddenly. After thinking about it for a moment, though, it all made perfect sense.

We’re living much the same story in real time right now. Two senior-citizen fighters, weathering decades of shared experiences and meaningful differences along the way. Overcoming long odds to finally arrive at the main event – two men, alone, having cleared the field of all other challengers, ready to have it out at last to determine the single victor.

Of course, I speak of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Think back to those first few Democratic debates. The stage, crowded with a healthy cross-section of candidates representing multiple demographic, philosophical, and political viewpoints. An organizational and rhetorical hurricane. A party trainwreck looking for justification and validation.

Who would have ever guessed that the only two septugenarian white males amid that original throng were to emerge the sole survivors left to battle for the nomination?

So now we move to the main event. From now until this summer’s Democratic Convention in Milwaukee, prepare for a tough, intense debate calling out differences in ideas and strategies, personalities and preferences, histories and visions. Bloodied, battered, and bruised, one of these two old workhorses will walk out of that convention hall carrying the banner of his party forward.

May we pray that – like Stallone and DeNiro in my silly movie selection – Joe and Bernie find, in the end, that they’re both still standing, thanks to a respect that goes deeper than their differences and leading to a joining of forces to take on the incumbent in the fall.

A “grudging” respect, if you will, proving that, even in the heat of a protracted battle, remembering the inherent dignity and worth of those in the other camp remains the mark of a true champion.

Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes