Drawing Inspiration from a Dead Football Hero
College football kicks off tonight with a slate of 16 games, followed by 11 more on Friday and such big-name clashes on Saturday as Alabama vs. Southern California, and UCLA vs. Texas A&M.
However, if you want to watch some football and finish with a good feeling—no matter who wins—check out the movie, Greater.
The film relates the story of Brandon Burlsworth, a walk-on at the University of Arkansas. He went on to excel and become a starting offensive guard, All-American, and 1999 third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
Eleven days after the NFL draft, while driving home to join his mother at a mid-week church service in his hometown of Harrison, Arkansas, Burlsworth was killed in a head-on collision with a semi-truck.
A Source of Inspiration
Given that set of circumstances, it is tough to imagine walking out of this movie feeling inspired and ready to do whatever you can to make this world a better place. And doing so having faced down tough questions about God and why He would allow this kind of tragedy to occur.
Yet that is what I felt after a preview screening prior to the movie’s premiere Aug. 26 in several hundred theaters. Since Burlsworth played for a Southeastern Conference school, the South was the primary market for opening weekend. No matter where you live, though, it is worthwhile viewing (you can see a list of theaters showing it here).
Indeed, I rank it every bit as good as 2000’s Remember the Titans, which starred Denzel Washington as the coach of a high school team in its first season as a racially-integrated squad.
Academy Award Performances
That is saying a lot, considering the fact that Greater marks the movie world debut for writer and producer Brian Reindl. The Little Rock businessman believed so strongly in Burlsworth’s story that he formed a company to film it, and invested around $7 million in getting it to market.
That included going through numerous false starts when would-be investors pulled out or he encountered other obstacles. Reindl even flew to screenwriting seminars in Hollywood to learn how to put together a script.
The movie doesn’t include a big-name cast, although Neal McDonough—who plays Burlsworth’s brother, Marty—portrayed Tom Cruise’s best friend in Minority Report. But Greater marks Christopher Severio’s (Brandon Burlsworth in his older days) feature film debut.
I wasn’t born yesterday; I realize sports films don’t get Academy Award nominations. Still, in my opinion McDonough and Severio deserve them.
See it with a Group
This is not a “date night” movie, unless your date likes football. There is plenty of it, and the realism of these scenes is another reason I was so impressed with Greater.
It is also the kind of movie that is good to see with a group of friends. You may find yourself wanting to sit around afterwards and reflecting on what you learned.
If you are a parent or grandparent, this is also the kind of fare you want young people to see, since it contains valuable lessons about hard work, integrity and perseverance.
There is one off-color word, although Burlsworth’s refusal to repeat it gives an insight the kind of person he was (and I doubt it will shock any kids who have been on a school playground).
While as an independent production it may not generate huge box office returns, Greater is the kind of movie that you will be talking about for years to come.