If you’ve ever seen a religious sports movie, then chances are you’ve already seen 70% of the newest football movie on the block, When The Game Stands Tall.
Based on the real-life 151 game winning streak of De La Salle High School, a Catholic school located in Concord, California, When The Game Stands Tall documents the story of what happens when the 1992 to 2004 football winning streak is finally broken.
Based on Neil Hayes’ book, and produced by Sony Pictures’ religious division, When The Game Stands Tall utilizes every sport movie cliché possible, including, but not limited to: an underdog team, a hidden second-string talent, an overbearing parent, an absent coach-father, a self-promoting player, a gang-related shooting, a stress-induced heart attack, and of course, a hard-fought victory. The combination of all of the above produces a very déjà-vu movie-going experience.
The real-life story of De La Salle High School’s winning streak is incredible. The 151st victory came during the 2003 championship game, ending the season nicely. However, tragedy struck the Spartans during their offseason when recent DLS graduate and future Oregon Duck player Terrance Kelly was murdered in his car in Richmond while he waited to pick up his friend. As if that weren't enough, Coach Bob Ladouceur (The Passion of the Christ’s Jim Caviezel), suffers a massive heart attack. It is only a few weeks after these disasters that DLS’s football team squares off against Bellevue, Washington in a season-opening game. The Spartans lose, breaking their 151 game winning streak.
All of those real-life events could have been the makings of a good movie, but instead, they are merely given a brief nod as the story goes on to document the re-establishment of a team feeling embarrassed to have broken its famous record. There is scene after scene of football players conditioning on a field with tractor tires, weights, and boot-camp drills. In an effort to bring about team unity again, the Spartans visit a war veteran’s rehabilitation center where there is a dramatic race between a football player and a one-legged war veteran on a treadmill. The high schooler loses, learning the important lesson that he isn’t unbeatable after all.
This film really tries hard to make you feel bad for De La Salle’s Spartans, painting them as underdogs blanketed in shame for losing their 151-game streak. One player even admits that he can’t look his older brother in the eye anymore, having broken the streak his brother had maintained when he himself was a Spartan. As a movie goer, this just isn’t believable. Yes, they lost a game. And then they lost another one. But after that? They win again in a highly anticipated game against Long Beach Poly. A game that in reality didn’t even happen. Where I feel bad for the Spartans is in the death of Kelly and the heart attack of their coach, but these events are quickly passed over and Coach Ladouceur is back to work again.
I was drawn to review this film because of the religious undertones I noticed in its trailer. I was hoping that this would be a family movie that many Spectrum readers could see and enjoy. Religion is evident throughout. Coach Ladouceur is not only responsible to his football team, but plays the role as a religious studies teacher. He uses this platform to preach values such as humbling oneself and living a life of commitment and love. He speaks of working together toward a common goal and of brotherhood, quoting some verses in Matthew to reinforce his speeches. However, his pre-game pep talks come off as preachy and forced, rather than authentic and inspiring. Again, it’s a disappointing revelation.
In the world of sporting movies, When The Game Stands Tall just doesn’t make the cut. However, if you do have your heart set on a football movie, I would highly recommend watching The Blind Side. This 2009 sports drama featuring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw is truly excellent. It is now available on DVD and is a great edition to any movie collection. Highlighting values such as family, second chances, and love, this film is incredibly moving and will satisfy your sport movie needs that When The Games Stands Tall leaves unfulfilled.
Rachel Logan is an intern in the Spectrum office in Sacramento, California. She recently graduated from Walla Walla University where she studied creative writing and was a page editor for the campus newspaper, The Collegian.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6224