It seems that making a non-animated movie without an abundance of adult language and relationships or excessive violence is a tall order for Hollywood.
But it’s one that “When the Game Stands Tall” (Sony Pictures) successfully tackles — and not just because the storyline revolves around a high school football team whose winning streak far surpasses any in the NFL or NCAA. It’s because sometimes, putting a story on film isn’t a matter of creativity, but a matter of truth.
The highly anticipated film — which had more than 2.5 million views of its online trailer a week before its theatrical release — tells the story of the real Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel). He officially retired in 2012 after 34 years and 20 undefeated seasons as head football coach of La Salle High School, an all-boy campus in Concord, Calif. Twelve of those seasons were consecutive.
Toward the end of that streak in 2003 is where the film’s dialogue opens. Audiences are in for a bit of game action spliced with shots of a pre-game meeting in the coach’s backyard. That’s where Coach Lad, as he’s known, says perfection isn’t expected, but perfect effort is.
He then opens the floor to team members.
“If there’s anything anyone wants to say, now’s your shot,” Coach Lad said.
A couple of players speak up. They share why that particular game matters to them alluding to what they filled in on their commitment card that week. None of their reasons have to do with the final score, winning or even college scholarships. They’re selfless.
Bighearted moves, though rarely glorified, paint the rest of the film. Moviegoers — and there have already been plenty via advance screenings — can’t expect a college not to notice such a winning streak and try to capitalize on Coach Lad’s success. At least fans of NBC’s five-season football drama “Friday Night Lights” will know better.
Like Coach Eric Taylor in “Friday Night Lights,” Coach Lad cares for his team off the field too. He even makes a home visit to his wide receiver’s home to visit an ailing relative on her deathbed.
Coach Lad tells his wide receiver, who’s feeling alone in the world, that he still has a younger sibling, a coach and 60 brothers — referring to the Spartan roster.
“Family isn’t just blood relatives. It’s anyone who will love you unconditionally,” the coach said.
Little did the coach know that shortly thereafter, he would find the team bringing up his own morale. Teammates would rely on each other too: through gangs, grief, an ultimate defeat and discomfort.
Yes, picking their heads up was tough. They had a couple of great role models to follow though. First thing his coach did was give the opposing team’s coach an honest congratulations. And, surprisingly, the coach never once raised his voice.
“When the Game Stands Tall” shows that it’s OK — admirable even — to stand tall in the face of defeat. As Catholics, we’ve had someone who, in spite of crushing blows, stood tall on a cross and emerged victorious.
The players knew they could rise again too.
“Don’t let a game define who you are. Let the way you live your life do that,” Coach Lad told the Spartans.
Cameron Colvin, wide receiver for the real life De La Salle team, attended a Phoenix screening of “When the Game Stands Tall” in June. He admitted that the high school wasn’t his top pick, but tried it out for a year at his mom’s request.
He learned as a Spartan how to be accountable and responsible as a young man. Colvin said his teammates — referring to them only as “gentleman” — remain his best friends today. He said the team’s commitment cards became an effective way to cohesively bond athletes from different demographics.
More than 10 years later, Colvin got a chance to relive his football days on the big screen.
“You don’t’ see how impactful they are on other people until you see them again,” Colvin told The Catholic Sun.
He’s excited that there’s a possibility of “the streak,” as they called it, impacting a number of other lives.