Like most other thirtysomething American men, I saw The Dark Knight Rises this weekend.
Without going into a full review, I’ll tell you that I agree with the 86 percent of reviewers, according to Rotten Tomatoes, who had positive feelings about the movie.
But as much as I enjoyed the movie, I left the theater with one nagging question on my mind:
What’s up with the pro football team from Rapid City?
I don’t want to spoil any crucial plot points, but I think I’m safe telling you that a key scene in the movie involves a professional football game between the Gotham Rogues (featuring Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, and coach Bill Cowher) and the Rapid City Monuments. I’m guessing that the “Monuments” nickname alludes to Rapid City’s proximity to Mount Rushmore.
But why Rapid City?
I’m glad that the Nolans (director Christopher and writer Jonathan) didn’t pit the Rogues against a squad from another city in the DC Comics universe. The movie needed to keep the focus entirely on Gotham. A Sunday afternoon game against Metropolis or Coast City—cities with their own iconic heroes and villains—would have distracted from that focus.
And I appreciate that the Nolans didn’t enlist an actual NFL team to play against the Rogues.
While it is clear that Gotham is a major American city, it is also clear that the Dark Knight saga takes place in a fictional universe. American cultural icons are absent from the series: We never see the Caped Crusader speed by a McDonald’s; we never see one of Gotham’s finest enjoying an ice cold Coca Cola; we don’t see Selina Kyle and her roommate listening to Lady Gaga.
Bringing an NFL team into the mix (assuming the NFL would have allowed Warner Bros./DC/Legendary Pictures to do so) would have been jarring.
To that end, it was probably wise for the Nolans not to invent a team from a city that currently has an NFL franchise.
I caught The Game Plan on Disney Channel a few months back. It stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Joe Kingman, quarterback of the Boston Rebels. I spent the entire movie wondering if the New England Patriots also existed in the Game-Planiverse. If the Gotham Rogues had lined up against the Chicago Grizzlies or the Philadelphia Hawks, I would have had trouble giving my full attention to the rest of the film.
So I applaud the decision to create a fictional team from a city without an NFL presence. But I don’t get Rapid City.
Rapid City is a lovely town at the foot of the Black Hills in western South Dakota. About 70,000 people live in the city limits and about 120,000 live in the Rapid City metropolitan area. Compared to other towns on the western plains, Rapid City is huge. Compared to cities that support major professional sports teams, it’s tiny.
Green Bay is the smallest market in the NFL and all of major American pro sports, by far. But more than 100,000 people live in Green Bay proper, and more than 300,000 live in the Metro area. Green Bay is within driving distance of other population centers, such as Milwaukee and Madison and (if you don’t have other Sunday plans) Chicago. Rapid City is five hours away from Cheyenne and six hours away from Billings.
Green Bay is also a holdover from an era when several NFL teams made their homes in medium-sized Rust Belt and upper Midwestern cities. But back in the 1920s, when the NFL was in Canton and Muncie and Evansville and Kenosha, Rapid City (which was well outside of the NFL’s footprint) had a population of less than 6,000.
Even Regina, Saskatchewan, the smallest market in the Canadian Football league, is significantly larger than Rapid City. More than 200,000 people live in the Regina area, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders play in a stadium that seats only 30,000. NFL stadiums (and, I’m assuming, their equivalents in the Dark Knight universe) have more than twice that capacity.
There are plenty of other non-NFL cities that could have been home to the Rogues’ opponent: Los Angeles, San Antonio, Portland, Salt Lake City, Orlando, Vancouver. It’s not hard to imagine big-time pro football in any of these cities. But the Nolans went with a town one-third the size of Peoria, Illinois.
I mean no ill will to the people of Rapid City, and I understand that any Batman movie requires viewers to suspend disbelief. But it’s one thing to ask moviegoers to accept the hero’s impressive array of Bat-gadgets and Bat-vehicles; it’s quite another to ask moviegoers to believe that Rapid City could support a major professional football team.