When the Game Stands Tall is the best football film since Friday Night Lights. Tracking the final games of De La Salle High School’s 151-game winning streak in 2003 to the subsequent games afterward, the film is framed around a football season, but it isn’t really about football, anymore than Friday Night Lights was. Instead, it’s about family, hope, team, faith, perseverance, and love.
Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caveziel) wants to do more than coach plays; he instills in the football players a sense of purpose, citizenship, and brotherhood. But some of his teams get it better than others, and in 2003, he finds himself struggling to figure out how to get through to his team (while also recovering from a major heart attack and the death of one of his most promising former players). While critics have panned the film, I found several takeaways there– and I highly recommend you checking it out.
1. “Family isn’t just blood.” Ladouceur wants his guys to love each other, a critical issue to several of the players, and a shockingly simple concept that is rejected by most of the public: they are supposed to tell and show each other. While the movie sometimes strains to figure out how to show us this love, it’s captured in several vignettes.
2. “The record doesn’t matter; the team matters.” While I’m as competitive (some might say, more competitive) as the next person, I often find myself disgusted by our cultural focus on winning. I don’t mean everyone should get a ribbon for participating! It’s a shame that we’re focused on who got what rather than what we did together sometimes. Ultimately, a Ladouceur team is measured by how well it recognized who was most important.
3. Faith matters, hope matters. Things get really dark for this group of young men. Sadly, the preview makes it appear as if the majority of that is football-related. It’s not. But I wonder what we think or do as adults when everything we think we know gets turned upside down? Do we turn to God or to our own understanding? Are we full of trite pleasantries and fake smiles, or do we wrestle with the big picture and recognize that God is with us in our struggle?
4. This is not ‘one of those teen movies.’ Lately, we’re inundated with movies where teenagers know everything and they save the day (see: The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Fault in Our Stars). Here, it takes a wise, experienced coach (and his equally wise wife and assistant coach) to get the ship turned around, together. Too often, we act like our life experience doesn’t make a difference. WTGST tells us that we need to learn from each other and our pasts.
5. When the Game Stands Tall doesn’t preach much with words but with the story. Ladouceur’s faith is exhibited in the way he lives his life. Sure, there’s a church scene (a funeral!) but he doesn’t launch into long soliloquies that don’t make sense. “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” It asks us to consider what we do with “the problem of evil”: is it free will? Is it a ‘fallen’ world? Is God punishing us? Does bad stuff happen for no reason?
Yes, there are terrific football moments, but there are some big issues and some life questions covered here, too.
Have you seen it? What did you think? What were your favorite points?
[For the record, my top five football movies are Friday Night Lights, When the Game Stands Tall, We Are Marshall, The Replacements, and Invincible. With apologies to Rudy and Necessary Roughness.]