Hollywood doesn’t stand tall in De La Salle movie

I had been waiting for the movie about the De La Salle football program for a while. I’ll be honest, I perused the internet daily to find the release date, and what people were saying about the film. You see I’m a De La Salle graduate, a member of the fourth graduating class, long before the school became famous for its football team.

When I walked into the Galaxy theater on Friday afternoon, notebook in hand, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In most cases, a movie is never as good as the book, and in this case I was right.

When the Game Stands Tall, written by Neil Hayes, was a great read. I urge people, whether you decide to see the movie or not, to take the time to read the book. It’s insightful, as coach Bob Ladouceur gave Hayes complete access for one season to what is arguably the best program in Northern California and one of the top 10 in the nation.

I think the movie is a home run when it comes to delivering the message of the De La Salle football program — teamwork, brotherhood, and being responsible human beings ready to take the next step in life. I think the movie nails it, and for anyone not to see that on the screen, you need to go see the movie a second time or until the light goes on.

I thought that Michael Chiklis did a great job of portraying excitable assistant coach Terry Eidson. Laura Dern was solid as Bev Ladouceur, Bob’s wife. I covered the team for five years (1986-91), and Bev was always pleasant the few times we crossed paths. I know Lad coveted what little family time he had, and I always tried to deal with him at school. Eidson was a gas. He could get Ladouceur to do almost anything.

Eidson was the guy who made the game against St, Louis-Honolulu happen in 2002. I think Jim Caviezel was OK reprising the role of Ladouceur, who smiled more often than you saw during the movie. Make no mistake about it, ‘Lad’ was one serious coach. His commitment to the game and the boys who played it was what made De La Salle great. Let me tell you this, there is no win streak without Ladouceur and Eidson. They were the glue who held it together, and the fact both are religion teachers, makes the De La Salle story all the more better. Ladouceur won more section titles than he lost games from 1979 to 2004. You don’t do that unless you can coach.

That St. Louis game was another in a long line of big-name teams De La Sale played and beat. The Spartans knocked off Mater Dei team not once but four times, and Matt Leinert was the starting quarterback in two of those games. They beat Nevada Union, a Sac-Joaquin Section power, twice by more than 30 points each time. They all came and they were all conquered at least from 1992 to 2003. They beat Long Beach Poly in 2001 and 2002. All big wins in marquee games.

De La Salle outworked people, and I thought the movie could have depicted that more. They lived in the weight room. Attendance was never taken. It didn’t need to be. The captains policed that so well the coaches really didn’t need to.

I was fortunate to cover two winning streaks between 1986 and 1991. One was in the 30s and one was in the 40s. During that time, if you didn’t have uniforms on either team, you might not guess which team was De La Salle on many occasions.

What bothered me about the movie was the factual stuff. Hollywood played fast and loose with the facts, and as an alum and reporter who covered the team at one time, I didn’t like it.

Mitch Stephens, who worked for me at the Contra Costa Times and now does such a dynamic job at MaxPreps.com, said he couldn’t enjoy the movie as as he had hoped because of the same factual mistakes and problems I had with the flick.

Let’s start with where the movie was filmed.

New Orleans? Stephens thinks it’s because of money. Isn’t everything these days? Geeze, why not go to outer Mongolia? Why not the field at De La Salle? If the movie people had done that, the fans who think De La Salle has all the advantages in the world would take a big step back. The stadium isn’t huge, 6,000 if you cram people in. Originally, it seated less than 2,000. If you expected something glitzy like at Bishop Gorman you would be disappointed.

Let’s move on to where Ladouceur lived.

Unless he moved in the mid-90s after I left the area, Ladouceur lived in either San Ramon or Danville not Concord.

Let’s talk about the running back Chris Ryan. He was a fictional character. De La Salle, despite having some great running backs like Russell Lawson, Marlon Blanton and Patrick Walsh, never had a back challenge the state TD record.

I did like the back and forth between Ryan and his father Mickey, however. I’m sure many coaches have had to deal with that type of overbearing father during their coaching careers. When it comes to that relationship, you will appreciate the Ryan character, especially at the end of the movie.

Then there is the 2004 season itself which ended with an 8-3-2 record and a section title. The off-season was marred by the shooting death of Oregon-bound Terrance Kelly, one of the best players in DLS history, and Ladouceur’s heart attack on New Year’s Eve.

The streak breaker against Bellevue was played at Qwest Field in Seattle. The start of the movie showed Danny Ladouceur fumbling the ball after a jarring hit. That didn’t happen, according to the younger Ladouceur in an interview with Stephens. It would have been nice to see actual clips from that game.

The second game of the season was actually played against Clovis West, but the movie makers said it was against Clayton Valley. The Spartans NEVER lost to Clayton Valley, but showed DLS losing.

The third game was a tie against Palma yet the film had the Spartans playing Long Beach Poly. Really? The last time Poly was on De La Salle’s schedule was 2002. The stuff that happened with the heat and fatigue was actual, but again the game was played at night and in the movie it’s a day game.

Why did the producers and directors feel the need to do that?

The film’s creators gave Eidson, Ladouceur and other school athletic staff the first cut of the movie last November to ensure there were no glaring inaccuracies, according to reports. What happened?

Eidson said in a published article recently while the film strays slightly from real-life chronology, it stays true to the school’s athletic program and coaching philosophy of instilling its players with values that go beyond the football field.

I would agree with that, and that’s why you should see it.


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