Success in team sports is typically determined by a complicated equation including a team or athlete’s kinetic energy in relation to his opponent, part synergy of the bodies and minds (aka teamwork) and most importantly, execution of the game plan.
When you discuss the X’s and O strategem of sports there are a pantheon of iconic sideline generals in every sport that all disciples of a sport must allude to. John Wooden in college basketball, Morgan Wooten in high school basketball. Vince Lombardi is the NFL’s coaching role model. Bear Bryant in his houndstooth hat is college football’s embodiment of coaching genius while the NBA’s model is a toss-up between the cigar-smoking Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson’s Zen-Triangle philosophy.
De La Salle’s Bob Ladoucer and his eight mythical national titles are perched at the zenith of high school football’s totem pole. However, his 151-game winning streak is the capstone atop his sterling coaching resume.
On Aug. 22 his reign over high school football in a talent-rich state will be adapted onto the silver screen in When The Game Stands Tall. Jim Caviezel, who can personally identify with the task of coaching at an elite level, was cast as Ladoucer, the architect of De La Salle’s football success.
While Caviezel is renowned for his roles on CBS’ Person of Interest and for his controversial role as Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ, Caviezel is also fond of taking on roles in sports films.
In 2004, Caviezell also portrayed distinguished golf icon Bobby Jones in the movie Stroke of Genius.
Part of that affinity develops from his affection for sports and basketball in particular. Caviezel’s father played basketball for John Wooden at UCLA, but Cavaziel’s own hoops career came to a halt in high school.
Caviezel was so demoralized playing against a young John Stockton in his youth that he left depressed about the prospects of his basketball future.
In addition to taking on roles in sports motion pictures, Caviezel has found an outlet for his passion for athletics by volunteering at Wooden’s basketball camp and by using Wooden’s Pyramids of Success as a pillar in the structure of his own life.
Caviezel also volunteered as a counselor at Howard Garfinkel’s famous Five-Star Basketball Camp and Washington State’s basketball camp.
Caviezel looks like a coach, speaks with the measured tone of a teacher, quotes Wooden or Lombardi off the cuff like a former student of both games and has the athletic build of a former player, all of which puts his passion for the role into perspective.
“Believability is everything.” Caviezel advised about portraying a contemporary figure such as Coach Ladoucer.
However, portraying athletes and coaches is a bit more complicated and requires a type of attention to detail analogous to studying game film. Instead of studying defensive formations, Caviezel observes tendencies and speech patterns as an actor.
“I remember watching some film before I was playing Bobby Jones and the golf instructor told me look, if you are looking at your grip when you pick up that gold club, everyone is going to know you don’t play that game.”
As part of his preparation for the role, Caviezel attended Ladoucer’s final game on the sidelines and taped his interactions with players and coaches.
Caviezel was fascinated by Ladoucer generating such an impact despite his lack of a fire and brimstone coaching style. Ladoucer didn’t ask for a perfect game, but compelled his players to submit a perfect effort from snap to whistle. As evidenced by their record streak, in addition to their mini-streaks that spanned multiple season, it’s obvious that his guidance helped them achieve both.
Unlike Hoosiers’ underdog story or Friday Night Lights’ insight into the sordid world of Texas high school football, When The Game Stands Tall this doesn’t follow the standard sports film formula.
Instead, it treats De La Salle’s winning streak as the backdrop for the off-field events, setting up the triumph through adversity of their tumultuous season.
“As Coach Lad told me, when one’s heart is burning so hot with passion, you don’t feel the pain.” Caviezel recited.
Caviezel experienced this firsthand after getting the back of his head smashed open against Auburn High School during the ’87 Regional Playoffs.
Caviezel was airlifted to the nearest trauma center; however, in a theme reminiscent of Kevin Ware telling his teammates that the best elixir for his pain would be a victory while bones protruded from his shin, Caviezel was more worried about his teammates and the final score. Unfortunately, Caviezel’s Kennedy High School would lose a heartbreaker in the final minutes.
However, nothing brings back more painful memories for the Washington native than Seattle losing the Supersonics.
Caviezell detailed his intimate memories surrounding the Sonics ’79 title in a Finals rematch with the Washington Bullets with an intensity reminscent of Clevelanders recounting the warm July day LeBron James returned to restore pride in The Mistake By The Lake.
“Seattle made a huge trade, got rid of Marvin Webster and brought in some guy out of Illinois’ Wesleyan by the name of Jack Sikma and people are like, what a stupid trade.” Caviezel said sarcastically.
“I remember this like it was yesterday. We went over to the Seattle Center. My dad took me to the game. I remember the first guy I saw was Dennis Johnson, #24 and this is the first time I’ve ever seen anybody famous.” Caviezel smirked. “I was just in love with this game. Seattle would go on to the win the game and take a 3-1 series lead.”
“When Seattle left, it was like a part of my heart got ripped out.” Caviezel admitted somberly before drawing a link between himself and Cavs fans. “I’m glad we still have the Sonics name and hopefully we’ll be able to get our franchise back, but just to see how well some of the Oklahoma City Thunder who were Supersonics are doing is heart wrenching.”
Box office numbers aren’t what will define Caviezel’s latest film. Like Caviezel's memories of the Seahawks, he hopes the impact is felt on a deeper, visceral level.
Caviezel echoed Ladoucer’s virtues by hoping that the value of effort over the box score will echo long after the theatre run is over.
“Turning these boys from boys into men. From those virtues, courage, all of the adversity that they had to undergo and that one has to in life.” Caviezel explained. “The focus on the love aspect is a universal aspect that will transcend to all people whether they ever play a sport or not.”