What if Dazed And Confused were retold from the football coach’s point of view? It might look a little like this “High School Coaching Legends” episode about Bob Ladouceur, the former football coach of De La Salle High School in Concord, California, and the man played by Jim Caviezel in the new sports drama When The Game Stands Tall. Between 1992 and 2004, Ladouceur led De La Salle to 12 consecutive undefeated seasons and 151 wins in a row, and the main subject of When The Game Stands Tall is how “Coach Lad” struggled to keep his team focused after that streak ended. In Scott Tobias’ review for The Dissolve, he complains that Caviezel is implausibly passionless playing someone who’s meant to be an inspiring leader. But the six-minute video below—produced by the High School Television Network—suggests that Caviezel may have just been following the lead of Ladouceur, who’s doggedly low-key.
The awestruck, John Facenda-like narration in this documentary sets the tone for what is a not-unduly admiring portrait of Ladouceur. But even the filmmakers seem not quite sure what to make of how “silence echoes through the pristine halls of this cathedral of winning.” Ladouceur, now retired, never liked to draw attention to De La Salle football’s historic accomplishments, and when this film ventures into the streets of Concord, none of the locals know much about Ladouceur or his team, the Spartans. Instead, there’s a lot of talk among the Spartans themselves about “commitment” and “brotherhood” (and “a commitment of brotherhood”), which is all indicative of a program where process trumps outcome.
For anyone who’s spent any time around amateur sports programs, this will all be familiar. In the absence of financial reward, players for high school teams are often asked by their coaches to think about their teammates, and to play for a more noble, self-improving purpose. Still, there’s something maybe just a little bit creepy about players filling out “commitment cards” to each other, monitoring them closely, and even referring back to them decades after high school is over, as described in this film. Critics of When The Game Stands Tall have complained that it’s something of a bait-and-switch, starting out as a football story and then turning into an openly Christian allegory. In this documentary though, all the faith is directed toward the football team—and even Coach Lad is as much a disciple as a pastor.