Opening today is Jim Caviezel’s new movie “When the Game Stands Tall,” the true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur who led his high school football team – the De La Salle Spartans – on an unprecedented 151-game winning streak, only to see them struggle when the streak finally came to an end.
Caviezel and I discussed the movie in-depth in this interview, but today I want to share five quick reasons that you should see the movie in theaters this weekend.
1. The football scenes are exciting and engaging, but the movie is not just about football. Both sports fans and non-sports fans will enjoy it because the characters come to learn how to win with grace, lose with grace, and deal with pressure not just on the gridiron, but in life. Everyone should be able to relate to some element of the story.
2. It defies sports stereotypes. Football is often seen as a game of bluster and ego, and the bad boys of sports usually make headlines. But because of Coach Bob Ladouceur’s worldview and approach to life, this story is grounded in humility. It’s a trait he teaches his players by being a model of it himself even though it’s not always easy, such as when the coach is sidelined by a heart attack and isn’t allowed to work for some time. There’s also a sequence in which the players, who are feeling sorry for themselves after losing some games, interact with soldiers who’ve lost limbs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wounded warriors are humble enough to adapt to their new situations with a positive attitude instead of wallowing in self-pity, providing another important lesson to the team.
3. Despite his noble character, Coach Bob Ladouceur is no whitewashed saint. While he’s a father figure to the kids on his team, he’s been less successful being a dad to his kids at home. He also experiences a dark night of the soul, of sorts, admitting he feels “lost” after one of his players is killed. He struggles to maintain his faith in God in the midst of suffering and asks questions that anyone in his situation would ask.
4. “When the Game Stands Tall” includes faith elements, but it’s not a “Christian film” in the usual sense. This isn’t a script that was written to convert people; it’s simply a script that tells a compelling story which includes people who believe in God, pray, and go to church. And to its credit, the story isn’t simplistic about faith either. There’s a great classroom scene, for instance, where Coach Ladouceur is teaching about Luke 6:38 “The measure you give will be the measure you get back.” One student challenges that idea by pointing out bad things that have happened to good people like his aunt who got undeservedly fired from her job – and his friend’s mother who developed health problems. Jesus doesn’t swoop in and fix everything by the end of the movie. But God does give the characters’ people with whom to walk through the pain.
5. The ending is atypical for a sports-related movie. Yes, the movie ends with a game the De La Salle Spartans want to win. But there’s the added element of a player trying to break a longstanding high school record, partially for his own sense of accomplishment but more so for his father who is living vicariously through his son to the point that it’s extremely unhealthy for their relationship. The way the issue is resolved was unique, in my opinion, and served as the perfect ending for this heartfelt story.