What does the rough-and-tumble competitive sport of football have to do with love and humility? When the Game Stands Tall (Sony Pictures and Affirm Films) addresses all of these themes.
Opening Aug. 22, the movie is based on a true story, as told in Neil Hayes’ book of the same name. Set in Concord, Calif., it’s the story of the rise of the De La Salle High School football program under the direction of devout Catholic Coach Bob Ladouceur during the Spartans’ 2002 season at the all-boys secondary school in the Diocese of Oakland.
Catholic actor Jim Caviezel — most famous for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ — plays Coach Ladouceur.
He recently spoke to the Register about playing an inspiring person, faith, the power of film and his own sports background.
It’s wonderful to speak with you, Mr. Caviezel. You must be exhausted from all of the interviews.
Well, not when you’ve got a good script like this that you want to get out to people. You want to try to do something to make things better for young boys who are becoming men.
I saw myself at that point when I was 18 years old. I was playing basketball for Kennedy High School in Seattle, and we had just qualified to go to the next level and on our way to the state tournament.
We were out for pizza and celebrating after a victory, and we got selected to play the No. 1 team in the state. We believed we could beat them. And nobody believed we could beat them. It just so happened that they just released the movie Hoosiers (1986), which was about a small high-school team beating a big powerhouse. To make a long story short, we saw the movie as a team …
I imagine that watching Hoosiers as a team made a very positive impact on all of you.
As young boys, we really didn’t realize what was happening. But we went out and played that team — and we played them without fear, and we competed and eventually won that game.
Years later, I reflect on the power of film — what film can do. A film can change the course of a person’s life — no different from this movie or The Passion of the Christ.
How have you been influenced by film?
Jimmy Stewart did a movie that changed my life: It was It’s a Wonderful Life. How could a simple title like that affect someone so deeply? That movie affected me to a point where Jimmy Stewart had said to me [when I met him before I was an actor], “You make good movies, young man” — not knowing what I was going to do in my life. And, so, he was an actor, but he was also a teacher.
Bob Ladouceur is a coach, but he is still a teacher. The best teachers are very humble. Mother Teresa talked about humility. Humility comes through humiliation. Ladouceur had great players. Kids would come to him [who needed direction]. They were from broken homes: Kids who had no hope — and, all of a sudden, there was hope — bought into his system of selflessness, that “you can depend on me.” If you can depend on me, think of when one can depend on you in a team world — then that boy becomes a father, and that boy becomes a husband. He’s no longer a boy; he’s truly a man.
You studied this coach for the movie. Did you meet Bob Ladouceur?
I was with him on his last victory [in 2012]. He won 399 games. This [humility] was very clear about him. People said, “You’ll be the first coach in the history of California to win 400 games!” And he kind of looked around, and he said, “Well, I guess it’s time to retire.”
“What?!” [Caviezel implied that this was people’s response.]
You see, it was never about him. What a lot of people don’t understand is that he was at all of these detention centers, working with kids. When he saw the way that was going, he said, “This is not right. We have to change this.”
And he goes on to do something [about] that. …
What we’re really talking about [in reference to Coach Ladouceur] is: “Is this the coach that won 151 football games in a row, as no other sport in history, pro or amateur, has ever done?” Yes, that’s the coach.
That means he never lost a football game in 12 years! And he did it by playing the best teams in the nation. He didn’t avoid them. He never set out to create a winning football team — that’s what is so incredible about this!
How did the coach’s way of teaching the boys about virtues — being concerned about instilling virtues in his players and not just focusing on winning the game — help the boys in growing up?
That’s something to think about. When you think of the word “virtue,” what does that mean? [Morally good behavior or character, according to Merriam-Webster.] That, to me, is very powerful: Even though that is a powerful idea, what we are talking about are champions [made through virtue]. Champions are created from adversity. Champions are the guys who look adversity in the face and say, “Today is the day that I will not be defeated.” And it’s not how hard you hit — it’s how hard you can get hit and get back up.
What I learned as I got to know about him is that he really wanted to create good men. He wanted boys to become men of virtue and who can be depended on. It just so happens that the positive virtues that he instilled in his students and players — the tenacity, dedication, all those virtues — transferred onto the football field with incredible results.
Coach Ladouceur seems so incredibly humble.
This is a man who does not want attention on him, but he reminds me of us at our best form: when we are like Christ.
I think everything that comes back to me in my faith comes back to what “catholic” means. It means “universal” — a universal way for everyone’s life — a reality that everyone in some way or another can relate to. That is what our faith is. It is the universal message.
People, because they are human, because they love, understand why love is important and why they should know where love comes from [from God himself].
And that’s what Ladouceur teaches. And that comes from [the Catholic tradition of St. John] De La Salle. And that’s why it was there before him. That’s why he is a man who says, “I don’t want credit for this.”
And that’s what makes him beautiful.
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is an author, speaker and EWTN TV host.
Image of Jim Caviezel, as the coach, praying with his team courtesy of Sony Pictures