Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall

by C. J. Chase
Some years back—at about this time of year—a fellow Green Bay Packers fan and I were sitting in the church choir before practice discussing the relative strengths of the AFC and NFC when a man walked by. He paused, rather astounded, and said, “Women discussing football!” I sometimes think that could be the basis for a great country song—the things women discuss (like football) when men aren’t around that would totally shock them. 
World famous author C.J.
Chase holds signed book
while modeling Packer scarf.

Yes, it’s autumn again, so you know what that means: school buses are chugging down the road, leaves are changing their colors, and another another football movie has hit the theatres with all the predictability of a run up the middle.

First, let’s look at the typical sports movie. If you’ve ever had kids or even just ever been a kid, you know the formula. A team of misfits gets a down-and-out coach. After a disastrous start to the season, they learn to work together and go on to win the championship. See The Mighty Ducks (hockey), Angels in the Outfield (baseball), Facing the Giants (football), etc. Need more examples? Karate Kid (martial arts), Cool Runnings (bobsledding), Seabiscuit (horse racing), get the idea. There are variations, but the formula is basically the same with only the actors and the sports changing. One could say it’s a winning formula for movie studios. (Bad joke, I know.)

We took our boys to see When the Game Stands Tall two weeks ago. As a sports movie, it turns the formula upside down because the focus is on losing. Losing? But aren’t sports all about winning?

The movie is inspired by real events. For over a decade, from 1992 – 2003, De La Salle High School’s football team went undefeated, a record of 151 straight wins. (For comparison, the next longest winning streak in high school football is 109 games.) The problem was that the longer the streak lasted, the more pressure there was on the coaches and players. What team wanted to be the one that ended the streak?

Of course, eventually life came knocking as it always does. The coach had a heart attack. A player was murdered. And then, the team lost. Unlike the typical sports movie where underdogs make good, WtGST deals with the fallout of being stripped one’s identity as a winner. As someone who has seen a large number of sports movies (did I mention I’m a mom to three boys?) I found that far more impactful than another rah-rah, we-are-the-champions guy flick. Sooner or later, we all go through those times when everything we have built our identity on comes crashing down around us. What defines us is how we react in those moments. Do we give up, or can we pick ourselves up, learn from our mistakes, and begin again?

WtGST stars Jim Caviesel as Coach Bob Ladouceur and is another one of those movies that audiences have liked far better than the critics. (Currently on RottenTomatoes, 79% of viewers gave it a positive rating compared to just 17% of critics.) As one might expect, Hollywood took poetic license with some events to create drama (hence the “inspired by a true story” disclaimer) but Coach Ladouceur's son seemed pleased with the movie in an interview here.

The movie has a PG rating. We took our 7-year-old because he still has far to go in learning to be a gracious loser, but I think much of the movie was still a bit over his head. There are also a couple intense scenes (the coach’s heart attack, the player’s murder, an abusive father attacking his son) that may be inappropriate for very small children. De La Salle is a Catholic high school, so Christian faith elements are sprinkled throughout (the coach teaching a Bible passage, a player who talks about a “purity pledge,” the players reciting the Lord’s Prayer).

All in all, WtGST was an inspiring way to spend a couple hours on a rainy afternoon.

Do you like sports movies? Can you at least tolerate them for the men in your life? Do you have any favorites? (True confession: I think I still have to go with Miracle as my all-time fav even though I prefer football to hockey.)

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at


  1. I remember Gina Welborn discussing football at an ACFW banquet with only one man at the table. Her theory, the success of a team is directly related to the hotness of the quarterback. How's that for mixing male sports with female logic?

    1. Well, hotness is subjective, and win-loss stats aren't. And a guy who plays for a team I like is just going to look better to my eyes than anyone who plays for the Cowboys.

      I've found most quarterbacks aren't too hard on the eye -- the nature of the position requires a…more pleasingly proportioned physique than many other positions on a football team.

      And if I had all those millions, well, I might not be able to buy my way to hotness, but I could travel a lot closer!

    2. Dina, that's right! That conversation was too funny. And the poor guy had such an expression

  2. Hee hee, that Gina story is TOO funny! Now I'll have to see how her theory plays out. ;)

    Yes, "Miracle" is the greatest sports movie because it's about the greatest sports moment in US history AND the greatest game ever.

    Yes, football is second, but hockey is better. ;)

    1. That's probably it DeAnna -- Miracle combines patriotism with the root-for-the-underdog formula. And it was based on a true story.

      Oh, and the actor who played Herb Brooks managed a credible Upper Midwest accent. My dad was from Wisconsin. Getting that accent right is very important to me! (My husband laughs when I talk to my relatives and my vowels suddenly change.)

  3. Google ate my comment. ugh.

    I'd never heard of this movie, so now I'll take a chance when I find it. Love the photo caption, cutie!

    1. Thanks, Deb. I was looking for a photo of son #2 wearing his Packers tie (guess which child is mama's favorite!), and found that one of me instead.

      DH and I were at a political thingie and the governor of Wisconsin was a keynote speaker. The not-at-all shy businessman seated next to me got up and asked the governor (who was surrounded by handlers helping him greet all the "right" people) to come to our table so he could shake hands with the lady who was a Packers fan. He came to the table, and spent probably five minutes chatting about the Packers and Oostburg (town my dad grew up in) while the handlers tried to nudge him away.

  4. Well that is different, CJ. I'llhave to keep my eye on this one. Thanks.


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