by Fausta Rodriguez Wertz
While all the headlines about criminal pro players blazed, my sister and I went to see the ultimate football movie, When the Game Stands Tall the other night. The main reasons were that Jim Caviezel stars, and it’s not a chick flick since I hate chick flicks.
Most of the movie takes place on the field. Mind you, I’m a graduate of the University of Georgia in Athens (where alumni buy condos with a view of the football field), and my sister’s son and her husband both are avid Miami Dolphins fans (and proud owners of season tickets), but neither one of us is keenly interested in sports.
The movie was fascinating.
Unlike most sports movies, it’s not about an underdog (Rocky, The Champ), charming losers (Tin Cup), or fantasy settings (Field of Dreams), and the hero doesn’t die of a tragic illness (Bang the Drum Slowly, The Pride of the Yankees).
It’s based on the true-life story of high school football coach Bob Ladouceur, who, as the movie blurb says,
took the De La Salle High School Spartans from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport.
Ladouceur coached the Spartans to consistently “give a perfect effort from snap to whistle” indeed. The winning streak was an extraordinary accomplishment for any coach, by any standard, but that is not the reason why this film is a must-see.
The reason why this story is so compelling is that Ladouceur leads his team members to live by an ethic that transcends sports:
I have often heard it said that football builds character. I disagree; I believe it reveals character. There are many different people, events, and experiences that contribute to character formation. Every single person at this gathering has a special talent. Mine I think happens to be coaching – many times I wish that I had certain talents my students possess but that’s what God gave me. This point could not be better illustrated that in Jesus parable of the Three Servants in Matthews gospel. In it, a wealthy landowner gave three of his servants a certain sum of money to see what each would do with it. The first two returned the money with profit. They used their courage and ingenuity to parlay their sum into something more. The third hid the money and just returned what he originally received. The landowner didn’t expect much – he just wanted the servants to have the courage to use what talent they had and do something. The key point to the story is and I quote, “The land owner gave to each servant according to his ability.” The assumption here, is that each of us has some sort of ability: talent. Now it’s our responsibility to discover what that is and what’s more, have the courage to use it.
Ladouceur believes in integrity and Christian values as a way of life for each member of his team. As Erik Daniel points out,
Where most high school football movies are about sex, pride, drinking, and disobeying your parents, When The Game Stands Tall stresses the importance of purity, humility, and family.
The film shows the entire team reciting the Lord’s Prayer in unison, with reverence, which, as of itself, will probably bring out an atheist hissy fit or two. (That may be why 78% of the audience liked it but only 17% of the critics did at Rotten Tomatoes.)
While the poster tag line reads “It’s not how hard you fall, it’s how you get up”, I also find in When the Game Stands Tall an especially American theme: It’s not just about how you play the game, it’s how you win.
Add to all this a great team of perfectly-cast engaging young actors, and you have a winner.
Go see it.
Rated PG. Suitable for the whole family, but leave the preschoolers home since there’s a shooting, and realistic, rather violent, scenes during the games may frighten some of the youngest viewers.
Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news and culture at Fausta’s Blog.