As a post-signing day bonus, I was invited to a preview of the Oscar-nominated documentary Undefeated, about the 2009 season of the Manassas Tigers, a downtrodden football program in North Memphis, one of those dying neighborhoods we know so well (the Big Plant closed and nothing came to take its place). In the 100+ years of its existence, the team had never been in a play-off game. In 2004, a man from a better neighorhood volunteers to coach, starting out with only 17 players, outdated equipment and no real budget. To raise funds for the program, the team would accept invitations to bus out of town to let themselves be pummeled by larger, more successful programs in order to take home $3,000 or so for their empty coffers.
In 2009, a couple of Hollywood filmmakers read a story about one of the players. They moved to Memphis for six months and filmed 500 hours of practices, games, and the lives outside of football. The player they'd originally read about (the big OT nicely numbered 77* in the picture below) is only one of the stories they stumbled upon. In the Q&A after the film, the filmmakers said they hadn't set out to make "a football film" and had intended to focus on education. And they could never have expected the scenes that would unfold in those 500 hours of hanging around with the cameras rolling. (They said that they would never have caught that footage without first establishing trust, and their fading into the background was helped by their small, un-Hollywoodish cameras. Especially with kids now so used to phone-cameras everywhere.)
I hate going to over-hyped films, because then I'm usually disappointed. But for those of us who follow recruiting so closely and the dramas of the kids that might come, don't come, do come, some who leave or are asked to leave, about kids for whom football can be their only way out, and for those of us who hear about how certain coaches "touch" kids (in the Hoke-ish tradition) and anguish over how many strikes = out, this is a film well worth your time.
*And yes, their colors are a kind of a blue and a kind of yellow, and that M on the yellowish pants looks slightly familiar at a distance and in the dim lighting, but there are greater reasons for seeing the film. General release is posted as February 17. Hope it comes to your neighbs.