An out-of-favor football player turns up in Cozumel in search of a girl. They fall in love amid danger, dirty deals and murder. Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward add the necessary sparkle while a soundtrack featuring the well-known Phil Collins title song ensures worldwide success.
But it may be the spectacular locations on the Yucatan peninsula chosen for “Against All Odds” that really steal the show. Chichen Itza, recently listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, forms a spectacular backdrop for the movie’s pivotal scene, where modern-day football is compared to the ball games once played at this ancient site.
Maya Ball Games, Anyone?
You thought American football was rough on the players? Maya football was a brutal game with a particularly gruesome finale and is considered to have been an important part of Maya culture. The game was played on a T-shaped ball court, examples of which can be found at sites across Mexico and Central America. Players would wear heavy leather padding across their chest, arms and knees, along with a stone belt with which they would make contact with the ball. The aim of the game was to keep the ball (similar to a soccer ball but far heavier) from touching the ground and this was done by using the elbows, knees or hips. Points were scored if the ball was hit against a stone ring on the side of the court (above right, in the picture).
Exactly how the game was played is largely unclear, yet perhaps it’s the gruesome ending of a Maya football game that is most disputed. Many believe that the losing captain was beheaded and his life offered as a sacrifice to the gods. Others suggest that it was in fact the winning captain who was sacrificed; after all, it was important to offer the most valuable gift to gain favor with the deities. That someone was killed at the end of a game is the one thing that’s not in doubt.
Visiting Ball Courts at Chichen Itza and Tulum
Apart from being an admittedly high-risk sport, the ball games were also an integral part of religious observance during the centuries of pre-Columbian Maya civilization. Every community of significance had a ball court, and easily accessible examples can be found in both Chichen Itza and Tulum. Trips to both sites are within easy reach of the resorts along the Yucatan coast, and make for a great day trip from Playa Paraiso or Cancun.
Photo | Andy Jarosz