Valdosta Daily Times

December 30, 2013

Valdosta Football in the Movies

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Can't get enough football with the bowl games? Why not look up a few football movies with a Valdosta connection.

Admittedly, some of these Valdosta connections are a bit of a stretch, but we've thrown them in anyway.

So, pull up your favorite recliner, pop some corn and have a seat on the 50-yard line of your TV. It's time for football movies.

WE ARE MARSHALL (2006). In 1970, the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team was returning home, by plane, from an away game. The plane crashed and 75 people, most of the team and coaching staff, were killed. "We Are Marshall" is how the Marshall community dealt with that loss and how the team came back the next season to play again. This movie's Valdosta-Lowndes County connection: "Red" Dawson was a member of the Marshall coaching staff who was not on the plane that night. He lived and coached again. Dawson is from Valdosta. He has family still living here. He took an active role in the movie's production.

THE LONGEST YARD (1974). Adam Sandler is fun in comedies, but his remake of this original football film proved he is no Burt Reynolds. Considering that Burt Reynolds was also in the Sandler version, the remake unfortunately also proved that Burt Reynolds is no Burt Reynolds anymore either. But in '74, Reynolds was convincing as a pro football player whose wild life lands him in a penitentiary run by a football-crazy warden played by Eddie Albert, boiling down to a game of the inmates versus the guards. Good stuff, with that '70s mix of drama, action and comedy. This movie has a couple Valdosta connections: Burt Reynolds once sporadically visited Valdosta Wildcats practices in the '80s and '90s. Valdosta's Sonny Shroyer, most famous for playing Enos in "The Dukes of Hazzard," plays one of the characters in this movie.

FORREST GUMP (1994). What!? "Forrest Gump"? A football movie? Wait. Wait. OK, "Forrest Gump" is not a football movie, but there is a football scene in it. Tom Hanks' Forrest plays for Alabama's The Crimson Tide. The Valdosta connection: Sonny Shroyer again. He plays legendary Coach "Bear" Bryant.

REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000). Another story based on real-life events. Denzel Washington plays a black football coach assigned to oversee a once-whites-only school's first racially integrated team. Coach Hermann Boone must overcome issues of race and prejudice, on and off the field, as well as creating a team that can win football games from this potentially volatile situation. Strong performances, great drama, and hard-hitting action in the game sequences. All based on a true story. A couple Valdosta connections: Denzel Washington visited Valdosta a few years ago to watch his son play a football game here. The Titans were second in the nation in 1971. That same year, the Valdosta Wildcats were first in the nation.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2004). This was a book that became a movie starring Billy Bob Thornton that became a television series all with the same title. Author H.G. Bissinger based his book on time spent with the 1988 team of Permian Panthers in Odessa, Texas. With Thornton as the coach, this movie revealed the glory and the agony of playing high school ball in a football-crazy town. The Valdosta connection: The legend goes that since Bissinger wanted to write a revealing portrait on the struggles of high school football, he approached the nation's "most winningest" high school football team: the Valdosta High Wildcats. Legendary Wildcats Coach Nick Hyder reportedly turned down the offer to have a writer dissect his team, and Bissinger went to Odessa instead. Or so the story goes.

FACING THE GIANTS (2006) "Facing the Giants" is also a movie of an indomitable spirit as well as finding the spirit of God in all things we do. As one character tells losing football coach Grant Taylor early in this movie, one must prepare one's fields for the day when the Lord grants His blessings. Taylor goes from a sad-sack coach with a losing record to an inspired coach ready to face an unbeatable opponent, but he has prepared his fields by training his players for the victory that can be theirs if they can keep the faith. Not a Valdosta connection but a South Georgia connection: This movie was filmed in Albany.

BLEACHERS. This is not a movie, at least not yet, but a football novel by John Grisham. It is about a town coming together to remember a championship football coach who has died. Anyone who recalls Nick Hyder may wonder if Grisham didn't base this novel's coach on the legendary Wildcats coach. Almost word for word, the novel's coach says lines similar to Hyder's pep talks. In this book, the coach's coffin is placed on the 50-yard line of the football field where he had led his team to so many victories. Hyder's funeral was held at Cleveland Field; his casket on the 50-yard line. Grisham may not have based his coach on Hyder, but Valdostans reading "Bleachers" may get an eerie feeling that there's a whole lot of Nick Hyder in this fictional coach.