My All American – Freddie Steinmark
My All American (2015) is a story about famed college football player Freddie Steinmark and the 1969 University of Texas football team led by coach Darrell Royal. The movie is based on the book Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story by Jim Dent.
Freddie is from Wheatridge, Colorado and was pushed by his father, Fred, to be the best he can be in both sports and academics. From a very early age, Fred (a former athlete himself) spends his time working with Freddie to improve his strength, speed, and agility. This helps Freddie, who is otherwise short and scrawny, to excel at football.
Despite an impressive high school career and being recognized as one of the best players in Colorado, not a single major university is willing to take a chance on him because of his short stature. This frustrates Freddie and his father, who has high hopes for his son. Freddie’s luck changes, however, after his high school coach gives Freddie’s game footage to a friend that is the defensive coordinator for the University of Texas. The film makes its way to the head coach, Darrell Royal, who decides to give both Freddie and his teammate, Bobby Mitchell, the chance to prove their grit as members of the University of Texas football team. Freddie jumps at the opportunity to play safety on an athletic scholarship and a few months later, is at spring training.
At practice, Coach Royal makes it known on the first day that there are two hundred people competing for spots on a one-hundred man roster. Those who are too weak or who refuse to go the extra mile will not make it to the end of camp. No matter how much they put Freddie through and no matter how much they try to break him, Freddie keeps going and refuses to quit.
The offensive coordinator is so impressed by Freddie’s resolve that he tells Coach Royal that he wished he had more players like Freddie because that’s exactly what the team needed. As spring training continues, the number of players in camp starts to dwindle while the remaining players begin to identify their role on the team. Freddie solidifies himself as an inspirational leader for his fellow teammates, as well as an All-Star player willing to push himself to the limit and rise to any challenge. As a member of the Freshman team in 1967, Freddie was a starting defensive back and became a starter during his sophomore and junior years (1968 and 1969 seasons), which was unheard of at the University of Texas.
The 1969 football season was one of the best for the University of Texas as well as for Freddie. The players on the team made a commitment to go all the way to the top and after an undefeated season, the Longhorns play for the National Championship in the Cotton Bowl. Freddie has been playing better than ever before, proving to his father, his teammates, and his coach how powerful true grit can be, despite playing with an injured knee. On orders from Coach Royal and at the behest of his longtime girlfriend, Freddie goes to see the team doctor two days after a victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks. They discover that he has a tumor the size of a baseball in his left knee and the doctors are amazed that he was able to walk, much less play football. Before the National Championship game against Notre Dame in the 1970 Cottom Bowl, Freddie has his left leg amputated in order to prevent the spread of cancer. Twenty days after the surgery, Freddie surprises his teammates by attending the game and leading the team out onto the field. After a stunning victory, he is presented the game ball by Coach Royal.
Freddie finally succumbed to the bone cancer and passed away a year and a half later. The credits reveal that Freddie continues to play an important role within University of Texas football, where a memorial has been set up in his honor and is touched by every football player before running onto the field on gameday.
Contributing author: TrueSportsMovies
My All America – Real Life, Reel Differences
- Freddie Steinmark was even shorter than Finn Wittrock, the actor who portrays him in My All American (Steinmark was 5’9” and Wittrock was 5’11”)
- Many of the on-location shoots for the montage sequences of My All American were shot at the Cotton Bowl Stadium, not at the stadiums where the real games took place. In addition, the “Cotton Bowl Classic” game in the movie was played on January 1, 1970 but was filmed in June 2014 with outdoor temperatures over 95 degrees.
- Bobby Mitchell did attend the same high school as Freddie and was also recruited by Coach Royal to play at UT, as depicted in the movie. Furthermore, Mitchell’s brother did really lose his brother in Vietnam and Freddie had huge impact on providing support during Mitchell’s grieving.
- The story of Freddie Steinmark has largely disappeared from public knowledge, with the exception of UT football players and die-hard UT fans. After the death of Freddie, his family remained out of the spotlight, even turning down 8 different attempts to tell Freddie’s story. Angelo Pizzo’s directorial debut of Freddie Steinmark’s life was heavily scrutinized for accuracy by his family members representatives of the 1969 football team.
- President Nixon did attend the 1969 UT vs. Arkansas game as shown in My All American. Not included in the movie was President Nixon personally congratulating the team and Freddie for their hard-earned victory. Freddie’s story really did inspire President Nixon to declare a “War on Cancer”.
- The extent of Freddie’s religious conviction is greatly downplayed in the movie. In the final days of Freddie’s life, he was known to have spent time with Father Fred Bomar at the parish. However, the film instead highlights his relationship with Coach Royal to amplify the themes of courage and conviction under fire.
- The movie leaves out the separation of Freddie and longtime girlfriend Linda Wheeler after his diagnosis with cancer. While the movie does show some of the tension that came about because of his diagnosis, this aspect of his relationship is left out.
Where Are They Now?
Freddie Steinmark passed away 18 months after the end of the 1969 college football season due to bone cancer. He has left a legacy for generations to come. The United States Congress, inspired by the bravery and tenacity Freddie showed during his fight with cancer, wrote the National Cancer Act of 1971 and it was signed into law by President Nixon. Also in 1971, with the help of Times Herald sports editor Blackie Sherrod, Freddie penned and published his biography which was entitled “I Play to Win“.
Freddie proposed to his longtime girlfriend Linda Wheeler after a brief separation but before they were to be married, Freddie began to fall in and out of coma. Freddie Steinmark died on June 6, 1971 at the age of 22. One year later on September 23, 1972, prior to the University of Texas vs. Miami game, the jumbotron at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium was dedicated to Freddie during a pre-game ceremony. A biography has been written about Freddie entitled Freddie Steinmark: Faith, Family, and Football, authored by former teammate Bower Yousse. To this day, all players touch a picture memorial before entering the field on gameday. The first two things that new players for the University of Texas learn is the fight song and the story of Freddie Steinmark.
The Steinmark family remained quiet about his story for many years, causing his legacy to disappear from popular media. They turned down eight opportunities for the story to be told, only allowing the movie My All American to be made with the strict agreement that the story remain 100% factual and that Freddie’s brother be allowed to oversee production and the direction of the portrayal. Members of the 1969 Longhorn football team were also present to ensure authenticity, including Tom Campbell and Bobby Mitchell. The role of Longhorns quarterback James Street was played by his son, Juston Street (fun fact: James’s other son is Huston Street, a professional baseball player). Here’s a video where Juston talks about playing his dad in the movie.
The Fred Steinmark Fund carries on Freddie’s legacy and helps to support student-athletes at the University of Texas. There is an official Freddie Joe Steinmark website that has a short bio and numerous links to media and press coverage about Freddie’s life, his inspiration, the movie, and a future documentary. There is also a Facebook page, but it has not been updated since July 2015.
Prior to the nationwide release of the film on November 13, 2015, the University of Texas held a tribute for Freddie Steinmark during their November 7th, 2015 game against the University of Kansas. Steinmark’s teammates from the 1967-69 teams participated in a pregame ceremony to rededicate the Freddie Steinmark Scoreboard, there was a special presentation to the Steinmark family after the first quarter, and the University of Texas football team wore “throwback” uniforms similar to those worn during the 1969 season. During halftime, a video on the legend of Freddie Steinmark was shown:
Linda Wheeler was Freddie’s real-life girlfriend, having known each other since they were in the 8th grade. They stayed together except for a short stretch of time when Freddie found out he had cancer, but the reconciled and got engaged. Unfortunately, Freddie died before they could get married.
There’s not much public information about Linda Wheeler, although she did serve as a consultant for the movie and presumably, she did get married to someone else because her daughter, Mackenzie Meehan, played a nurse in the film.
Coach Darrell Royal continued coaching the Texas Longhorns until 1976 and working as Texas Athletic Director from 1962 until 1980. He continued on as a special assistant to the University President for athletic programs. In his time as the head coach of the Longhorns, he carried the team through two undefeated seasons, one in 1963 and the other in 1969 with Freddie Steinmark. As the Athletics Director for the State of Texas, Royal saw the integration of African American students into the athletics department, doing what he could to get athletic scholarships to African American students and to integrate them into the University’s athletic programs. The University of Texas football stadium was renamed in honor of Coach Royal in 1996, to Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium. Royal died on November 7, 2012 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.