If you are a sports fan who watches ESPN you may remember the story of Coach Bob Ladouceur and his Spartans back in 2003, I know I do. It was one of the most talked about high school sports teams in the history of football. If you don’t know the story you will soon as Sony Pictures releases “When The Game Stands Tall” on August 22, 2014 right in time for football season. The film stars Jim Caviezel (Person Of Interest, The Count Of Monte Christo) as Coach Bob Ladouceur, Michael Chiklis (The Shield), Laura Dern (The Fault In Our Stars) and Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games).
The De La Salle high school football team may have been just another athletic program until it’s coach Bob Ladouceur brought the team to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport, but of course the story doesn’t end there. As all winning streaks go there must be an end, and De La Salle was no different, but it is what lead to it’s end and how they moved on that makes this story so special.
When you look back to some of the most inspiring sports films ever made like “Remember The Titans”, “Rudy”, “Coach Carter”, “ Miracle”, “Hoosiers” and “Invincible” you come to realize that there are some pretty large shoes to fill in the genre. While most of us as adults grew up with those amazing films there comes an entirely new generation of children, of athletes that deserve to be moved just as we once were. There is however something that makes “When The Game Stands Tall” stand apart from the others and that is Coach Bob Ladoucuer, his team and his leadership. While each of these films flow with inspiration somehow this story feels a bit more grounded and real.
In a world where athletes are seen as celebrities, endorsements run rampant and “the team” is overshadowed far too often by the player we are reminded in this film the importance of depending on the man standing next to you. The De La Salle football team may have had the longest running winning streak in the history of American sports but that is not what makes them legends, what makes them legends is what broke them and how they moved on in not only the games but their lives.
While the film starts off a bit slow, it makes up for it in heart and passion. It is a film that every child and family should watch, and every team should watch together. It has its predictable moments, but that has to be expected especially when you are watching a film based on a real life event. There is a reason this story needed to be told and brought to the big screen and part of that reason are the moments we see coming from a mile away, but as we all so often do in life we overlook them until they are right there in front of us. “When The Game Stands Tall” may have it’s cliché’ inspiring moments but it is those exact moments that we can relate to and that may move us the most.
Coach Bob Ladouceur says “Winning a lot of football games is doable, teaching kids there’s more to life, that’s hard” at one point in the film and I don’t know if any quote captures the tone of a film quite like this. The story takes place in 2003 it is the end of the senior year and the team has just completed its record-breaking season. The seniors are all getting ready to take the next step and the under classmen ready to fill their shoes. The winning had come easy, they put in their best effort, played each play the best they could, and it all came together but suddenly nothing was coming easy. The team suffered devastating loss both on and off the field and suddenly their best was no longer good enough. As the team falls apart it becomes clear that no matter what happens on or off the field they must stand together as one, especially in loss.
This isn’t a film that says if you work hard enough you can accomplish anything, it is the film that proves that sometimes even when you give something your all it may not end the way you planned. It is a film that shows the importance of being a part of something that is bigger than yourself, that being a member of a team is worth far more than winning.
For Jim Caviezel this project was close to his heart having had people like Coach Lad in his life and it shows in his performance. Michael Chiklis ,much like Terry Eidson who he plays, is the perfect other half of this fantastic coaching duo, you can tell that he not only loves the story but also the game. One of the things I truly enjoyed watching the film was that it didn’t feel like a movie, the teamwork and comradery felt was not just there on screen. Ser’Darious Blain told me there isn’t enough movie magic in the world to fake the feeling he had being a part of the team for this film and it was apparent in each and every scene. Alexander Ludwig showed us another side of his acting talents this time taking on the role of a high school athlete that is fighting to see the bigger picture while trying to keep his father happy.
I was never a great athlete, I tried several sports and never mastered anything but there is something I gained in life by being a part of a team that this movie hones in on like no other. There are so many moments in this film that I wanted to stand up and cheer, whether it was the senior telling the underclassmen the importance of being a leader, the coach telling the team “It ain’t about football. It ain’t about scoring touchdowns. It’s about moving you in a direction that can assist you and help you grow…so that when you take your place out in the world and out in our community you can be depended on”, or the smallest team member telling his team that he had been on the team for four years and would never see a minute of a varsity game but that didn’t matter because being a part of that team was what truly mattered to him. The life lessons, the inspiration that this film will leave you with are things that we all need to be reminded of, things that can make us all much better people.
These days kids get trophies just for showing up, honors dinners are no longer being celebrated because the children who didn’t make honors feel bad, and we are literally as a society at times woosifying our children instead of building them up and making them stronger. Coach Bob Ladouceur says “I truly believe that life’s most impressionable lessons are ones when something bad happens to you or something challenging confronts you”. The quote alone gives me the chills, a quote, which he told me, he learned from listening to Dr. Martin Luther King. One of the things I took away from this film and I hope the thousands of children that see it do as well, was the importance of loss, the importance of how it changes us and how we choose to live our lives after that loss. Because you see winning is great, sometimes even easy, but it is how we lose and get back up that truly defines who we are. “When The Game Stands Tall” is not only moving and inspiring but it is honest and real. It will go down in the books as a movie that we all remember and one that will makes us want to be something bigger in life because as Coach Bob says “It is not the game that defines us, but who we are as people, let that define you”.