Sports is an arena in which individuals can excel in physical prowess and skill as well as in moral character. Both are on inspirational display in a new film, My All American, based on the true story of University of Texas Longhorns football Coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart) and star safety Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock).
Making the team
Freddie is a Colorado boy in the 1960s who loves sports. His father (Michael Reilly Burke), a Denver cop, could have been a great athlete if not for an earlier injury. Dad pushes Freddie hard in practice, but this is not some “father and son in conflict” story. Freddie wants to excel! He does so on his high school football team, but because of his short stature, he can’t find a college that will offer him, from a cash-strapped family, a football scholarship.
“Freddie is a fighter and he will inspire you to fight as well.” —Sam Acho, Chicago Bears
But his high school coach calls him to the attention of Coach Royal who is determined to turn his Longhorns from mediocrities into champions. Freddie is flown to Austin with teammate Bobby Mitchell, who really is the big guy with the seemingly better chance of making the team. But Royal has seen films of Freddie playing. He thinks that this tough and determined young man is just what his team needs. He offers both Freddie and Bobby scholarships. When Freddie returns to Colorado and tells his father the news, we see the love and pride of a parent on full display.
Making of champions
Training in Texas is grueling. Coach Royal explains that “Football doesn’t build character. It eliminates the weak.” The film follows Freddie, a rising defensive star, and his teammates as they attempt to win their way to a national championship.
It also follows Coach Royal’s attempt to use a new offensive strategy, the triple option, as a path to victories. For non-football fans, think of the game as a very physical version of chess. Strategy and judgment count. Are his players smart enough as well as strong enough to pull it off?
Freddie must not only overcome the opposing teams. His leg begins to bother him, which could affect his game. And when he finally gets it checked out by the doctors, he finds himself in a battle tougher than any game he’s played.
My All American is a triumph and tragedy story that leaves the viewer inspired by just what individuals are capable of if they put their hearts and minds to it. The members of the team are young men who must possess both disciple and endurance—physical and mental—to be successful athletes.
But the film also shows their character in the respect they have for one another as well as for Coach Royal. When Royal has to pull Freddie from a game out of concern that his bad leg is affecting his play, Freddie tells Royal it was the right decision. Freddie understands that the goal is to win. This is a far cry from the reputation of so many NFL players today, who have just enough self-control to play ball but not enough to keep their personal lives from being train wrecks.
The film also shows us the respect Coach Royal has for what his players have made of themselves. He cares as deeply for the individuals he coaches as he does for the victories they bring his team.
Leaving the 1960s of the film and returning to present day America, I was struck by an insight that the filmmakers probably did not intend but which is a statement about the era we live in. Contrast the toughness of those college athletes with the mental and moral weaklings on campus today, who cry like babies that they need their “safe spaces” where no idea or opinion might upset their infantile feelings.
If you’re cynical about human nature, if you think failure is what’s to be expected, if you think what counts is the excuses you come up with rather than the things you achieve, then this movie might not be for you. But on second thought, it is exactly for you so you can see how individuals can be and should be. For all of you, and especially for those of you who like football and inspiration, check out My All American!