The facts and the fiction in 'When the Game Stands Tall'

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CONCORD, Calif. — Any time Hollywood makes a movie based on a real life story, it’s going to take creative license.

People closely associated with the De La Salle High football program say you need to see “When the Game Stands Tall” twice if you know the program well.

For those familiar with the Spartans’ story, the first viewing will be spent looking for all the inaccuracies between what really happened at the end of De La Salle’s historic 151-game winning streak and what the Hollywood film depicts.

The second time you can enjoy the movie for what it is — a work based on and inspired by a true story but not a documentary.

But even if you don’t know the first thing about the team, the town and the coaches, you might be curious. What’s real and what was a Hollywood creation? Here’s a look that includes what those depicted in real life had to say about the experience.

Spoilers ahead so you might want to wait until you see the movie to compare fact and fiction:

 

YES, THAT REALLY HAPPENED:

The events: The three major events that lead up to the heart of the movie are all true (albeit not every little detail). Coach Bob Ladouceur suffered a heart attack on New Year’s Eve 2003, popular player Terrance Kelly was shot and killed in Richmond just before leaving for college at Oregon and the winning streak finally ended at 151 games with a 39-20 loss to Bellevue in Seattle in the 2004 season opener.

The characters: Many of the player characters in the movie are fictional composites — star running back Chris Ryan, for instance — but the actors that portrayed real-life people like Mr. Ladouceur, assistant coach Terry Eidson and Mr. Kelly kept those characters true to life.

Jim Caviezel, who played Ladouceur, even attended a state championship game and took video of the real head coach on the sideline to help with his role. The stories of Danny Ladouceur, the coach’s oldest son, and Cameron Colvin are also very close to the truth.

“I saw the film and I didn’t feel like the acting for my particular character did any injustice to me,” said Danny Ladouceur, who was portrayed by actor Matthew Daddario. “I think he did a good job with what they had to go off of. I don’t have any problems with that.”

The teams: Some of the little details that the movie gets right are nice touches, as well. De La Salle’s opponents are all real schools (even their uniforms are accurate), the Spartans have a tradition of sliding head first into the end zone after winning a championship and the team walks out for games in pairs holding hands.

“They have a lot of things in there that are exactly what we did,” Mr. Ladouceur said. “Our team meetings, our commitment cards, our approach to it, our philosophy, what was important to us as coaches.”

Getting those aspects right was a big take-away for the De La Salle community.

“They really wanted to make sure they captured the spirit of our program,” Mr. Eidson said. “That was a high priority to them. A lot of people in Hollywood aren’t like that. They really wanted us to feel good about the story.”

 

THAT SORT OF HAPPENED:

Other parts of the movie were inspired but real life events, but happened differently or happened in a different season.

The games: De La Salle did not play national power Long Beach Poly in Southern California in 2004. But they did in 2001 and several of the details from that game were depicted on screen.

The star running back — Maurice Jones-Drew in real life, Ryan in the movie — did a somersault into the end zone, a celebratory gesture that irked Mr. Ladouceur. The game was also played at night. In the movie, it’s played during the day.

Warm weather and the physicality of the game against a larger Poly team had such an effect on the Spartans that by halftime, Mr. Ladouceur was worried about players’ safety and asked trainer Mike Blasquez to handle substitutions in the second half. Still, the Spartans held on for an improbable victory.

The field trip: De La Salle’s 2004 team also didn’t come together on a trip to a veterans rehabilitation center.

But Mr. Eidson liked that the scene showed the school’s commitment to service. He believes the movie got the idea from when he took the team captains to a children’s hospital during a road game in Hawaii in 2002.

The offers: Mr. Ladouceur has indeed received college coaching offers, but those have been spread out over the years and not unique to the 2004 season.

 

THAT NEVER HAPPENED:

The running back and his dad: Probably the biggest Hollywood creation is the story line of Chris Ryan.

Not based on any one real life person, Ryan is the Spartans’ star running back in the film whose father is obsessed with his son breaking the state touchdown record.

That doesn’t mean De La Salle hasn’t had some crazy parents over the years. “But I’ve never witnessed anyone hitting their kid in the parking lot,” Mr. Eidson said.

The show-off: The Tayshaun Lanear character is also a composite, though his cocky attitude was representative of some of the turmoil on the real 2004 team.

 

SOME NITPICKY POINTS:

Other discrepancies are easy to miss if you blink, like a banner pasted on the school reading “151 games — long live the streak.” Flaunting accomplishments runs contradictory to the real school’s attitude.

Other details are more minor.

De La Salle did not lose to Clayton Valley in the second game of the 2004 season. In fact, the Spartans’ unbeaten streak against Northern California competition is still alive at 250 games.

But Clayton Valley did post a rare 17-17 tie with De La Salle that season.

People at De La Salle also joke that Mr. Eidson would have never gone jogging with Ladouceur, referring to a scene early in the film.

For the most part, however, the movie doesn’t veer all that far off course from reality.

“It definitely honors our players and the time and commitment they put into our program,” Mr. Eidson said.



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