If you are a football fan, specifically of the American high school game, then “The Streak” is something you’re likely familiar with. From 1992 to 2004, under the guidance of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur and assistant coach Terry Eidson, the De La Salle High School Spartans from Concord, California won 151 consecutive games, smashing all records for any American sport.
It’s a great story that the film “When the Game Stands Tall” uses as a starting point. We join the Spartans as their record-breaking sprint to the history books comes to an end. During the 2003 post season Coach Ladouceur (a very low key Jim Caviezel) suffered a heart attack and a popular student was senselessly gunned down. The following school year, in September 2004, they lost their first two games in “the biggest upset in high school football history,” according to one commentator. Their biggest problem isn’t the other teams, however, it’s a lack of teamwork. “We got lost. Caught up in the glory.” Can the Coach convince them that it’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game that counts?
“When the Game Stands Tall” puts a spin on the usual football flick by adding in faith-based subtext about the power of positivity. It’s not about playing a perfect game, the guys are told, but handing in a “perfect effort.” Coach Lad, who still trains the De La Salle High School Spartans to this day, is an inspirational figure who turns young lads not just into champion football players, but into men.
The underdog aspect of the story doesn’t quite gel. Two defeats don’t exactly make the Spartans the Caltech Beavers who had an impressive run of 207 loses on the gridiron. When the embark on their inevitable climb back up the ladder one announcer calls it “one of the greatest comebacks in football history.” Really? Try telling that to the Caltech Beavers.
The football scenes, however, are effective, exciting and feel genuine. The spirit of the players feels a little over blown as done some of the dialogue. “The only way I’m going off this field is on a stretcher,” says quarterback Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig) before winning one for the Gipper… er… I mean Coach Lad.
For football fans “When the Games Stands Tall” brings a famous story to life. For the rest of us it plays like an after school special with better production value.