It’s not about winning or losing but about how you play the game. Those words are usually reserved for losing teams, but legendary football coach, Bob Ladouceur, who shattered the record for all American sports, taught his team to live them; win or lose. He took the Spartans of De La Salle High School in California from obscurity to winning 151 straight games. And when their streak ended, he taught them how to lose.
Inspired by this true story, When the Game Stands Tall, starring Jim Caviezel as Coach Ladouceur, begins where most movies end—with the happy ending. An aura of pride and invincibility hung over the entire town through twelve undefeated seasons. But nothing lasts forever. After the streak was broken, the spirit of the team and their fans becomes broken too. Winning had been easy. But everyone had forgotten how to lose and even who they were when they didn’t win.
At a time when the town and team were already down, tragedy strikes and it seems their confusion and pain dogs them on the field. Coach Ladouceur’s ability to coach is even jeopardized. But upon their fallen spirits, the coach builds a new team with a message deeper than playing football; that true success is about getting back up.
Sports movies have a natural drama built in because, after all, it’s about the game. But When The Game Stands Tall shares the spotlight with the coach’s love of God and his desire to impart the true meaning of life to his team. As is common at many Catholic schools, Coach Ladouceur also teaches which means many of his players are also his students, so he is teaching them this lesson both on and off the field.
I watched this movie with my husband and several of our kids. Coincidentally, I had just attended a parents’ sports night for St. Mary’s High School where one of our sons plays football. The message given to us that night was the same one imparted by Coach Ladouceur. It is a Catholic philosopy that leads to the strong formation of young people beyond competitions—humility, charity, working hard, and accepting outcomes. At my kids’ school, I am comforted that they pray before and after games. In When The Game Stands Tall, I was ecstatic that the prayers with the team were included. They were not treated like cursory good luck charms, but rather moments of connecting with God and the recognition of what is most important.
Bev Ladouceur played by Laura Dern portrays the supportive wife, but not passive wife. As a football widow of sorts, she does not let her husband forget his family responsibilities, but neither does she stand in the way of a dream that seems almost a calling.
The movie has a few slow parts as it assembles characters and plot lines, but it’s pace builds with both the anticipation and action towards a new kind of success. There is tension and tragedy but it is a very family friendly movie and highly entertaining. Since three of our kids watched (ages 26, 15, and 12) and enjoyed it as much as my husband and I did, I expect and hope it will do well a the box office. After all, a good movie about a true story that pays tribute to family life and puts God at the top is more than just good entertainment. Be sure to stay until the very end to enjoy photos and video from the real life coach and team.
When the Game Stands Tall will be in theaters August 22. It is rated PG and runs 1 hour 55 minutes.