We all agree that, no matter where you stand politically, it’s a good thing to “support the troops.” But what if, instead of defending our freedom, the troops were playing football games with terrorists? That’s the question posed by one particular episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, titled “Pigskin Commandos.” The answer to that question happens to be “They’d be assholes and you’d hate them” — although that doesn’t begin to describe the inanity and insanity of what happens when the Joes face Cobra on the field. Are you ready for some (insanely dumb) football? [jump]

Our story begins, like all the best stories do, with Sgt. Slaughter watching TV with an unconscious woman. This unconscious woman is Sgt. Slaughter’s sister, and not some random girl he’s roofie’d (unless Sgt. Slaughter has a weird sister fetish I’m unaware of); it’s worth noting that she looks like ‘80s-era Brigitte Nielsen and they’re both wearing matching camouflage pajamas. He picks her up and sets her into bed, only to hear a loud racket coming from… uh… under his apartment building.


As it turns out, Cobra Commander has sent Metal-Head and Range Viper to turn an abandoned NYC subway station into a Cobra base. Two things: 1) sending two guys with no equipment or supplies to turn a filthy, decrepit subway station seems woefully inappropriate — Range Viper’s whole shtick is that he has a gun that shoots ropes, which probably isn’t that useful when trying to bring a building up to code — and 2) this subway station is directly under Sgt. Slaughter’s apartment. Surely even Cobra has the resources to know the mailing addresses of their most hated enemies, so I’m pretty sure this is less an actual attempt to create a base and more an elaborate hazing ritual.

Metal-Head and Range Viper reminisce about their lives before Cobra, and Range Viper mentions he played football in college — specifically, he was the quarterback for Piranha State College (does that mean there’s a secret U.S. state out there named Piranha? What’s the university’s ranking in U.S. News & World Report? And most of all, what’s the Piranha State University’s mascot? Because the Piranha State Piranhas sounds like a bit much). Range Viper specifically remembers his big game against West Point, whose quarterback was current G.I. Joe member Captain Grid-Iron. In a desperate attempt to feel any kind of superiority over G.I. Joe, Metal-Head assumes Range Viper’s team kicked Grid-Iron’s team’s ass.


Obviously, Sgt. Slaughter does not take kindly to Cobra goons in his abandoned subway stations, nor lies about his fellow Joes athletic record. Slaughter manages to yell that West Point wiped the floor with ol’ Piranha State U. before immediately getting captured by Range Viper’s rope-snake gun.

Now, here’s where things gets stupid.

As Range Viper takes the hostage Sgt. Slaughter to a real Cobra base, they continue arguing about football. Sgt. Slaughter calls Range Viper, quote, “a loser.” Range Viper asks if he’s a loser, how did he manage to capture Slaughter? Slaughter replies “by cheating,” as apparently guns that shoot rope-snakes are banned somewhere in the Geneva Convention. Then Sgt. Slaughter goes on to claim, “If you Cobra creeps cared to challenged G.I. Joe to an honest game, Grid-Iron would make mince-meat outta you clowns!”


Cobra Commander, apparently enraged that someone would impugn the honor of Cobra — a terrorist organization who devoted itself to being generically evil for nearly a decade — decides to take Slaughter up on his challenge, and thus the first ever G.I. Joe/Cobra intramural football game is played. This is like if the Navy Seals set up a tennis tournament with Al-Qaeda. IT SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. The stakes are such: If Joe wins, they get Sgt. Slaughter back, if Cobra wins they get to Grid-Iron as a hostage (which will be a major factor in future Joe/Cobra football games).

So the game begins, and paid American troops play football with known terrorists and wanted criminals who have an American hostage tied to their goal post, who, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, the Joe refuse to rescue. It should surprise no one to learn that Cobra is fucking terrible at football. They fumble the ball every time they’re tackled, they stand around while the Joes run circles around them, and even Range Viper — the one member of Cobra’s team that we know played in college — manages to tackle Cobra Commander at one point, because COBRA COMMANDER IS ALSO PLAYING IN THE GODDAMN GAME. It’s like Seals playing Al-Qaeda while bin Laden is the running back.


Eventually Cobra Commander has enough of it and cheats (which belies the whole “for the honor of Cobra!” bullshit mentioned about five minutes ago, but whatever). Somehow, despite the fact there are 11 members of G.I. Joe on the field, Cobra manages to sneak six large, armed vehicles onto the field, meaning the Joe team is just shocked when Cobra hikes the ball to Range Viper, who simply drives into the end zone for a touchdown.

Cobra kicks off, but the Joes stand around, wondering what to do since they’re playing a football game against large military vehicles. Luckily, Grid-Iron had the incredible foresight to imagine Cobra might cheat — no one else did, apparently — and has several Joe vehicles parachuted down. Luckily, Cobra sits and just watches all this happen, but even then they’re completely shocked when the Joes come at them in their own vehicles.


There are no words in the English language to convey how dumb it is to watch the forces of good and evil play a football game in giant vehicles, so let me just give you a few of the details:

• One of the Joe vehicles literally drives over one of the Cobra vehicles, causing it to explode and killing whoever’s inside (no last-second parachute here).
• Obviously, Cobra just starts firing lasers and missiles.
• One of the Joes makes an illegal forward pass to Grid-Iron, which would be a penalty, except that everyone’s already in tanks and shooting at each other.

Cobra finally realizes how ridiculous this is, and they take their stuff — i.e., Sgt. Slaughter — and try to go home. Range Viper escapes with Slaughter, while Cobra Commander orders his remaining troops to capture Grid-Iron (he really, really wants Grid-Iron, for some reason). Of course, Grid-Iron escapes in a helicopter hidden in a tank — standard G.I. Joe issue — and begins a lengthy, stupid chase of Range Viper around New York City.


It begins in the water — because Grid-Iron’s helicopter also turns into a submarine somehow — but after a bit of missile fire, Range Viper, a SAW Viper and Sgt. Slaughter end up hailing a cab with a laser gun and speeding off. Luckily, at that exact moment, a limousine pulls up carrying none other than Lady Jaye (who obviously wasn’t allowed to play football on account of her having a vagina). Lady Jaye’s explanation for being in NYC? “I was going to get my hair done,” although that doesn‘t explain the limo at all. Thanks a lot, rampant U.S. military overspending!

Grid-Iron uses the limo’s car-phone to call Bull-Horn’s helicopter — because it apparently also has a phone in it — which serves no purpose as Cobra’s taxi is actually defeated by a NYC bus, which cuts Range Viper’s off and covers the area with exhaust. In the confusion,. Grid-Iron makes a terrible football pun (“Time for a safety blitz!”) and rescues Sgt. Slaughter.


Of course, that’s not all. A high-speed chase ensues right in the middle of New York City, as Cobra fires missiles at the limo willy-nilly, and Lady Jaye destroys entire aircraft with her trademark javelins (causing these giant, hulking, flaming wrecks to crash on to the streets). Eventually, the limo, now being driven by Grid-Iron for no apparent reason, drives under a tunnel in Central Park, where a horse and buggy just happens to be chilling out.

Grid-Iron calls a “play-action fake” (sigh), and sends the limo forward by putting some rocks on the accelerator, while he, Lady Jaye and Sgt. Slaughter leave the tunnel from the other direction on the buggy. First of all, Cobra Commander falls for this completely. Even though the tunnel is only 20-feet long, even though the limo stays under there for like three full minutes, even though two vehicles exit the tunnel at the same time, Cobra Commander chases after the limo, shoots it, lands, flings open the door and then screams at the deception.


Meanwhile, all the other Cobra minions — including Range Viper, who’s commandeered another hoverjet — do not fall for this obvious trick and chase Grid-Iron and Slaughter in the buggy, which isn’t difficult since they’re trotting off at maybe five miles per hour. Happily, this is when the rest of the Joe team shows up to have a massive firefight in the middle of Central Park.

Grid-Iron and the still completely tied-up Sgt. Slaughter transfer from the buggy to the horse, just range Viper blows it up (and yes, the presumably all wooden buggy does explode). With Slaughter tossed over his shoulder like a captured princess, Grid-Iron rides the horse into the subway. While we don’t get to discover how the horse possibly got past the turnstile — which would have been genuinely fascinating, in my opinion — we do see Grid-Iron toss Slaughter onto the roof of a passing subway car, and then jump on himself.


Later, the two arrive at Times Square, presumably hoping to engage in a firefight in an even more densely populated area. Only now does Grid-Iron attempt to free Sgt. Slaughter (Grid-Iron calls the ropes “mummy-wraps,” which seems particularly insane to me). Alas, Range Viper, cunningly using a hook attached to a rope hanging down from his hoverjet, picks up Slaughter like a fish. Grid-Iron leaps to grab hold of Sgt. Slaughter’s feet — which proves to be a less than optimal idea when Range Viper ascends to several thousand feet. Here’s the kicker: This was actually Range Viper’s plan — to hook Sgt. Slaughter and for Grid-Iron to grab his feet and then to fly off and thus capture both of them. I don’t know what’s more insane — the fact that was his plan in the first place, or the fact that it actually worked.

The Joes despair, as the Cobra forces are just about to reach the Hudson river, which apparently ends G.I. Joe’s jurisdiction somehow. Now, in case you’re not up on your geography, the Hudson is in-between NYC and New Jersey; and since we just saw G.I. Joe fighting Cobra in Manhattan, this indicates G.I. Joe has no authority in New Jersey. They’ve abandoned the entire state to terrorist organization like Cobra, which, if you’ve ever been to Newark, actually explains a lot.


But it doesn’t actually matter, because Range Viper flies towards the Statue of Liberty, which is actually located in New York Harbor. This has the unforeseen consequence of allowing Grid-Iron — with a little help from a total breakdown in the laws of physics — to swing the rope around the Statue’s torch, free himself, free Sgt. Slaughter, and somehow tie the rope off in about half a second so that Range Viper can’t fly away.

Of course, Range Viper is still piloting a hoverjet, which begins to rip off the Statue of Liberty’s arms. Luckily, Grid-Iron has a grenade. Unluckily, he has to narrate the entire process of throwing it like he’s a quarterback in a big game, because Grid-Iron is an asshole. Eventually he throws it, Range Viper’s jet is destroyed, and it hangs off the arm from the rope (which would probably have almost as much pull on the statue but is somehow fine).

Realizing they’ve endangered lives but not any famous monuments, the other Joes decide to shoot the remaining Cobra ships right next to the Statue of Liberty. Grid-Iron finally gets Slaughter out of his “mummy-wraps” (which Sgt. Slaughter also calls “mummy-wraps,” for good measure). Now, in any other episode, this would be the end, right? Right. But this isn’t just any other episode: It’s the Worst Episode Ever.


Cut to: Studio 55, an obvious parody of Studio 54 that I’m sure the children of 1990 were absolutely delighted by. Cobra Commander arrives dressed in his armor and a giant purple cape, hoping to get into the hottest club in town. I am not making this up. Of course, the bouncer refuses him entry — not because he’s the most wanted criminal in thr entire fucking world, as you might expect, but because he’s a “weirdo.” The bouncer tosses the famed international terrorist into a puddle.

At this point, Grid-Iron, Lady Jaye, Sgt. Slaughter and his completely silent sister pull up in the limo. They walk directly past the prone Cobra Commander, where the bouncer salutes them and lets them in. Meaning the Joes have had two unbelievably easy chances to capture Cobra Commander and essentially take down the greatest terrorist organization of all time, but ignored them to 1) play football and 2) go dancing. And for the perfectly wretched end to a perfect wretched episode, Cobra Commander whines “It’s not fair!” as wacky clown music plays.


What Did We Learn?

• The rules of sportsmanship outweighs the needs of the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

• Cobra either doesn’t scout locations for its potential bases ahead of time, or they really hate Metal-Head and Range Viper.


• The military paid for limousines to take its soldiers to hairstyling appointments. Gotta keep those ladies lookin’ good!

• Horses ride free on NYC subways.

• “Mummy-wraps” is an acceptable term for the ropes you’ve been tied up with, apparently.


• G.I. Joe is an American organization that will fight for freedom anywhere around the world… except New Jersey, Sorry about that, Bruce Springsteen.

• Even if you’re an evil terrorist who wears a complicated suit of body armor, putting on a purple cape just makes you look like an asshole.

• The guy who played football is the most essential person in any military operation.


[Thanks to JoeToonArchive.com for the screencaps.]

This io9 Flashback was originally published in 2013 at some point. I forgot to write down when before I changed it.