Movie game ‘Stands Tall’ for ex-Sun Times writer
BY NEIL HAYES For Sun-Times Media August 20, 2014 8:42PM
Terry Eidson (L) and Bob Ladouceur attend the premiere of Tri Star Pictures' "When The Game Stands Tall" on August 4, 2014 in Hollywood, California.| Getty Images
Updated: September 22, 2014 12:35PM
There they were, my two old friends standing on the red carpet (actually, it was green with hash marks and goal posts). Assistant coach Terry Eidson, the extrovert, basked in the limelight as the flashbulbs popped and photographers shouted. Meanwhile, the introverted Bob Ladouceur, the former high-school head coach who stepped down with a 399-25-3 career record last year, wished he were anywhere else before the premiere of “When the Game Stands Tall” in Hollywood earlier this month.
It was just another surreal image for someone who grew up on a farm near Rochelle watching the White Sox on Channel 44 and worshipping Walter Payton.
I left the Sun-Times in 2013 when I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be an on-set consultant during the filming of the motion picture based on my book of the same name. Talk about surreal. How about watching actors such as Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis and Laura Dern, who you have seen perform for years, portray people you have known even longer? Or realizing it was the two old coaches who were the real celebrities when they visited the set in New Orleans one night.
Before there was a book and a movie it was just me and my infatuation with a De La Salle High School football team from Concord, California, that would win 151 straight games over 12 consecutive seasons while taking on some of the best competition in the state and nation.
It began with a question everybody was asking as the victories continued to mount: How do they do it?
I kept peppering the iconic Ladouceur (pronounced Lad-a-sir) with that very question during the summer of 2002. I never got a satisfactory answer for why his team dominated like no other team. The only way to discover the answer, he finally said, was to show up every day for a year, so that’s what I did.
The coach’s wisdom convinced me that this was a story that would resonate beyond the football field, even if the big New York publishing houses disagreed.
“Kids respect true humility and that you stand for something more than winning,” Ladouceur told me. “They will fight for you and your program if you stand for more than that. It boils down to what you believe in as a person, and I’m talking about how life should be lived and people should be treated. Kids see all that. It’s a whole package of things that have nothing to do with standing in front of a team with a piece of chalk. You can know who to block and what play to call, but it has no meaning unless the kids know who you are. Our kids aren’t fighting for wins. They’re fighting for a belief in what we stand for.”
I had talked to a lot of football coaches but had never heard anything as profound.
It’s not always the message. Sometimes, it’s the messenger.
The story of how my book was made into a movie involved serendipity to the nth degree. David Zelon was serving as the voluntary strength-and-conditioning coach for his son’s team at Santa Monica High School. The Mandalay Entertainment executive was cleaning up after the head coach’s dismissal when he found my gift-wrapped book, which had been presented to the previous coach as a welcoming gift from the booster club.
Zelon unwrapped it and sat down on a pile of shoulder pads and began to read, and thus began a journey that will continue when the movie hits theaters Friday.
“The game by itself doesn’t stand tall,” Ladouceur also told me. “Without intangibles, in a certain sense, it’s barbarism. The violence isn’t what attracts me to it. It’s getting kids to play together and get along with each other. The game should be a teaching tool. It doesn’t stand tall on its own.”
When the Game Stands Tall is available at bookstores or at www.neilhayeswriter.com.