When the Game Stands Tall – De La Salle Football
When the Game Stands Tall, based on a 2003 book of the same title, begins with the montage of the De La Salle High School Spartans’ record setting 151 win streak and the high of winning the 2003 California State Championship. However, a series of events as the season winds down foreshadow a troubling 2004 season.
With the graduation of the seniors, juniors Tayshon Lanear, Chris Ryan, and Danny Ladouceur (the coach’s son) bicker about who will fill the leadership void as team captains on next year’s team. Head coach Bob Ladouceur receives job offers from colleges, but dismisses them without discussing the opportunities first with his wife. Lastly, De La Salle’s conference rivals complain about the unfair advantage they have in recruiting all the best players from the region, and highlight stats on the average margin of victory to back up their claim. Angered, De La Salle vows to play the 5 conference games they are required to play, then fill out the rest of the schedule with other top-ranked high school football teams from across the country.
When outgoing Senior Cameron Colvin tells Coach Ladouceur that his sick mother only has days to live, Coach visits Cam at his home. Cam begins to question his faith in Christianity and asks the coach why this would happen; how could it be in God’s plan to leave him and his younger brother alone in this world? Coach Ladouceur responds that he and his brother are not alone – they have him and 60 other brothers on the football team that love them.
When Coach Ladouceur returns home from his visit to Colvin’s home, he suffers a heart attack. His doctor tells him that he’s lucky to be alive but that he needs to take it easy, meaning he cannot coach until his health recovers. Ladouceur steps down as head coach of De La Salle shortly thereafter; his wife believes that this will allow him to spend more time with the family and more importantly, be a father to his son Dan, not a coach.
Meanwhile, Cam’s mother has passed away and his teammate, Terrance “TK” Kelly, finds Cam at a friend’s house mourning. TK reminds Cam that they had made a pact as kids to use football as a way out of their dangerous neighborhood, and that opportunity was now here – the University of Oregon had offered both of them a full scholarship. To Kelly’s dismay, Cam tells him that he’s decided to go to University of Miami instead. Kelly gets angry and asks why, to which Cam replies that everyone he loves dies and he didn’t want that to happen to Kelly. TK convinces Cam that it won’t happen and the two boys agree to enroll at Oregon together. On the way home, TK stops by a party to pick up his cousin; while waiting outside, he is shot by a couple of kids who were upset that they had lost to him in a basketball game earlier in the day. This tragedy causes Cam to question his faith even more.
Spring practice begins in April 2004 without Coach Ladouceur. He observes practice from the outside, however, and starts to see complacency and selfishness overtake the team – the effort is not there, and players, namely Lanear, start to develop egos and show up late for practice, or not at all. Coach Ladouceur had a quote, “Nobody on this staff expects you to play perfect… What we do expect and you should expect from yourself and each other, is a perfect effort”, and this message seems to have gotten lost since he stopped coaching.
When Coach returns for a checkup with his doctor, his health has dramatically improved – enough that he’s free to return to coaching. At first, Ladouceur continues to stay away because he knows it’s what his wife wants. However, as tension grows within the football team, she realizes that they need him more ever to provide guidance, restore discipline, and rebuild camaraderie. She supports and encourages him to return to coaching. Upon his return, the intensity on the practice field begins improves, but Coach still sees some complacency and lack of respect amongst teammates. Lanear, in particular, stops a workout short because he’s tired.
De La Salle begin the 2004 season with a shocking loss against Bellevue High School in Washington to end their streak. The players are distraught and a few cry. The one bright spot is star running back Chris Ryan, who is 37 touchdowns from breaking the High School record for TDs by a RB. The team suffers another loss in their next game, this time against Clayton Valley. Upon returning to the school, Ryan’s dad Mick confronts him in the school parking lot and berates his son for not scoring more touchdowns. He tries to force Chris to practice some running plays and when Chris refuses, Mick punches Chris for disobeying him. Coach Ladouceur steps in and Mick leaves while all the players, coaches, students, and parents stare in disbelief.
The next morning, Coach Ladouceur takes the team to the Veterans Affairs Recovery Center to teach the team a lesson about strength, dedication, and brotherhood. The players spend the day volunteering alongside nurses to help injured Vets, with the exception of Lanear. He wanders around the hospital instead, and after an embarrassing incident in which he spills the Vet’s urine bag all over himself, he spends a moment listening to the Vet’s story and is amazed by the Vet’s dedication to his fellow brothers still at combat. The experience sparks a change in Lanear’s attitude and he starts to become a more supportive teammate.
The experience also renews a dedication for all the players on the team and they practice with more motivation and heart. More importantly, the coaches ask the players to start opening up and share their feelings with their teammates. One by one, team members stand up and make a vow to play hard for their brothers and no one else.
The next day, De La Salle plays Long Beach Polytechnic High School, currently the number 1 ranked high school football team and had been ranked 2nd behind De La Salle the previous years. The grueling contest ends with a De La Salle victory after a last-second goal line stand. The win restores confidence within the team, and some team members succumb to the public’s hype of starting a new “Streak”, to Coach Ladouceur’s disappointment.
The Spartans go on a six game winning streak and win their conference easily as they make the playoffs. All season long, however, Ryan has to endure his father’s abuse about breaking the state career record for touchdowns, even getting into a heated confrontation in his father’s car where Mick forces Ryan to promise that he’ll get the record. Furthermore, Coach Ladouceur has a growing concern about the expectations of the community and media for a new Streak, as well as the continued ego-driven actions of some of his players. He wonders if his time has passed at the High School level and that he no longer has the impact on kids as he had in the past. He decides to meet with Stanford University about their head coaching position.
The team continues to play great and advances to the State Championship against Amador High School. They dominate and as the game winds down, the fans (led by Mick) cheer for the record-breaking touchdown from Ryan. The players are in full support but Ryan looks over at Coach Ladouceur and realizes what the correct thing to do is. He shares his intentions with his teammates who, out of respect for Ryan, has Ryan line up as the quarterback. When the ball is hiked, Ryan takes a knee on consecutive plays to run out the clock. With the game in hand, Ryan knows that there is no need to run up the score against the opponent for personal glory. He denies himself the touchdown record to bring the focus to the team and to show respect towards Coach Ladouceur for the positive impact he’s had on the kids.
It’s not about the record. It’s about the team.
Contributing author: Alvin Nguyen
When the Game Stands Tall – Real Life, Reel Differences
- There was no star running back in the 2004 season that approached the scoring touchdown record. Chris Ryan was “inspired by multiple people who’ve actually been in and out of De La Salle” (Hammon, 2014). In addition, neither of the coaches recalled an instance when a player got punched by his father in a parking lot (historyvshollywood.com).
- The character Tayshon Lanear was not based on a real life player. He was created to reflect the attitude of several players on the 2004 team (Hammon, 2014).
- Danny Ladouceur did not have a mental block that prevented him from catching balls after his father’s heart attack. Neither did he have a redeeming catch to win a game against Long Beach Polytechnic HIgh School (Stephens, 2014).
- There was no visit to a VA Recovery Center to reinforce the team values of service and brotherhood. Assistant Coach Terry Eidson believes this scene was inspired by some of the players who visited a Shriners Hospital for Children in Honolulu, Hawaii during a trip for a road game in 2002 (Hayes, 2003).
- De La Salle did not lose to Clayton Valley in the second game of the 2004 season but they lost against Clovis West High School. However, De La Salle did have a 17-17 tie game with Clayton Valley (Hammon, 2014).
- De La Salle High School did not play against Long Beach Polytechnic High School in 2004 although they did meet in 2001 (Hammon, 2014).
- In the movie, Chris Ryan somersaulted into the endzone to score the first touchdown against Long Beach Polytechnic. Maurice Jones-Drew actually did do that in real life (against Long Beach Polytechnic High in 2001) and was flagged for an excessive celebration penalty (Hammon, 2014).
- There was no member of the press nor were there students actively flaunting the accomplishment and the start of a new Streak. This was looked down upon by school administration and Coach Ladouceur (Hammon, 2014).
- In the movie, it’s TK and Cam Colvin who commit to Oregon together. In reality, there were four of them – Willie Glasper, Jackie Bates, Cameron Colvin, and Terrance Kelly. TJ Ward was going to join them a year later, in 2005.
- In reality, the De La Salle players did march onto the field holding hands as depicted in the film. The players also did write commitment cards and read them to each other.
- Coach Ladouceur really did have an heart-attack, but it wasn’t after visiting Cam Colvin. It was on New Year’s Eve in 2003.
- Terrence Kelly was, in fact, shot by a kid who had a grudge from losing a basketball game, but it was a game from over a year ago, not from earlier in the day.
Where Are They Now?
Cameron Colvin played college football in Oregon as a wide receiver and was one of the leading receivers in the nation in the 2007 season despite suffering numerous injuries throughout his college career. After college, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco 49ers but was then released in the summer of 2008. He played one year in the United Football League in 2011 for the Las Vegas Locomotives. In 2008, he became the CEO of his own real estate company, Rise Above Agency (Pashelka, 2014).
Maurice Jones-Drew was a 2002 graduate of De La Salle High School. He went on to have three successful years as a running back at UCLA. In 2006, he was drafted in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has been to the Pro Bowl three times (2009-2011) and was the leading rusher during the 2011 season. He announced his retirement after an injury-plagued season with the Oakland Raiders in 2015.
Danny Ladouceur played college football at San Jose State University as a wide receiver. He now works as an EMT for the Alameda County system and has followed his father’s footsteps to become an assistant coach of the freshman football team at De La Salle (Pashelka, 2014).
Coacn Bob Ladouceur retired in 2013 with 399 career wins at the age of 58. Before he started at De La Salle, the program never had a winning season. When he retired, he had coached 20 undefeated seasons and won 11 national championships from various sports media outlets (ESPN).