“Tonight we’ve got Hayfield. Like all the other schools in this conference, they’re all white. They don’t have to worry about race. We do. Let me tell you something: you don’t let anyone come between us. Nothing tears us apart. In Greek mythology, the Titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power. Well that football field out there, that’s our universe. Let’s rule it like titans.” – Coach Herman Boone
Some movies are so inspirational that you stop what you are doing just to watch it. Disney’s Remember the Titans (2000), directed by Boaz Yakin, is one of these movies for me. I remember the high school field trip to Virginia in 2002 when I first saw the movie. On the school bus ride home to New York, I am trying to do homework. However, Remember the Titans starts playing and I could not stop watching it. As with many Hollywood movies, it is loosely based on the true story of the desegregation of the school system in Alexandria, Virginia. In real life, three schools are integrated: George Washington, Hammond, and T.C. Williams high schools. In the movie, it is the integration of the black George Washington and the white T.C. Williams. While the film includes characters with the names of the actual players, much of the racial tensions and drama of the season is sensationalized for the movie. For an excellent breakdown of the parts of the movie that are fact or fiction, please go to http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/rememberthetitans.php. As such, the real life events are less exciting as there is no racial tension among the team and the football team dominated the season. Nevertheless, I agree with the use of creative license. While racial tensions may not exist for the football team in real life, including them in the movie helps reflect the climate of the era. Moreover, dramatic games in a sports movie are important for drama. As T.C. Williams is a dominant team, it would have been very boring to watch them take knees at the end of most blowout wins during their season. Remember the Titans does an excellent job addressing the issues of race and how an unifying force, like football, can bridge differences.
In addition, the cast is great. Denzel Washington is a great actor and fantastic as Coach Herman Boone. Will Patton is also brilliant as Coach Bill Yoast. Wood Harris is great as the best of the black players, defensive end Julius Campbell, and Ryan Hurst does an excellent job as the best of the white players, Gerry Bertier. The cast for the rest of the team is fantastic and are a great group of characters. The film also includes future stars in Ryan Gosling, Kate Bosworth, and a very young Hayden Panetierre. Hayden is the most memorable of the supporting characters as Coach Yoast’s tomboy daughter, Sheryl. She is a diehard football fan. In one scene, she is passionately debating strategy with Coach Boone. When Coach Yoast comes into the scene, Boone asks “Why don’t you get this little girl some pretty dolls or something, Coach?” In response, Yoast answers “I tried. She loves football”. Moreover, her temper tantrums and frustration when plays go against the Titans during the movie are hilarious. While the rest of the cast are great characters, the movie is driven by Coach Boone, Coach Yoast, Julius Campbell, and Gerry Bertier. Moreover, the film is defined by the relationships between the two coaches as well as the best players, Julius and Gerry.
As usual, Denzel Washington delivers a powerful performance. At the beginning of the movie, Denzel is humble and respectful as Coach Boone. At first, the school board assigns Boone as Yoast’s assistant coach for the integrated school football team. When Yoast arrives to his office to find Boone waiting for him, he is not receptive to Boone’s assignment. Yoast’s assistant coach, coach Tyrell, is especially rude. Tyrell tells Boone that he is not needed and dismisses Boone’s accomplishments to inferior competition: “That’s double ”A” ball. This here’s Virginia. We play triple ”A.” Regardless, Boone remains respectful and poised in responding “What an opportunity for me then… to learn… from the best.” However, the school board eventually assigns Boone as the head coach of T.C. Williams over Yoast as every other head coach in the system is white. Boone is reluctant to take the job noting that “I left North Carolina because I was passed over for a job that I had rightfully earned. Gave it to a white coach down there, couldn’t even tie up his own football cleats. Now you are asking me to do the same thing to this man? I can’t do that.” I like that it shows him as moral man with a sense of right and wrong even if it goes against his self interests. Nonetheless, he accepts the job after he sees the black community rally for him. It sees him as “an answer to our prayers” after a history of “humiliation and despair” for the black community in the city. Although Boone accepts the job, he reminds the crowd that “I’m not an answer to your prayers. I’m not a savior or Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, or the Easter Bunny. I’m a football coach, that’s all. Just a football coach.”
As a football Coach, Boone is tough and a disciplinarian. At the initial team meeting, running back Petey Jones (Donald Faison) is cocky and smiling. In a hilarious scene, Boone jumps all over him asking why he is smiling. In response, Petey responds that football is fun. Boone continues to berate and question Petey until he concedes it will be “zero fun”. Immediately, I like that Boone takes control. He also demands punctuality and proper attire in the form of a “jacket, shirt and tie”. He finishes his address to the players by reiterating that “This is no democracy. It is a dictatorship. I am the law. If you survive camp, you will be on the team. If you survive.” Boone is the hard ass football coach. However, you need to be tough in order to instill discipline into young men who require it. Of course, the biggest challenge Boone has is getting the players to accept the other race and unite as one team. For this purpose, he forces them to integrate on the buses and dorms. He splits them by defense and offense. He also forces them to spend time with someone of the other race. When these initial measures fail as the white and black players continue to fight and ignore each other, he holds 3-a-day practices until each player meets every one of his teammates. Moreover, he wakes the team up at 3 AM and has them hitchhike all the way to Gettysburg. In one of the best moments in the movie, he gives the team an inspiring speech about the Battle of Gettysburg and tells the team “If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground [Gettysburg], we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other of not, but you will respect each other. And maybe… I don’t know, maybe we’ll learn to play this game like men.” Afterwards, the players are finally able to unite as a team by the end of training camp. I really enjoy how well the film clearly shows the importance of Boone’s rigid and unrelenting syle to the teambuilding process.
In addition, Coach Boone continues to be a driver and a motivator of his team. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the starting quarterback Jerry “Rev” Harris (Criag Kirkwood) breaks his arm during a game after getting sacked by the defender. As such, the backup quarterback Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass (Kip Pardue) is forced into the game. However, he is unable to execute one of the plays, an option pass to the running back. As such, he is nervous and is unsure about taking over for Rev. In response, Coach Boone tells his quarterback “Yes you can. When I was fifteen years old I lost my mother and my father in the same month Ronnie, same month. 12 brothers and sisters I was the youngest one of them. Now I wasn’t ready either, but they needed me. Your team needs you tonight. You’re the Coronel. You’re going to command your troops!” After Bass enters the game, assistant coach Paul “Doc” Hines (Gregory Alan Williams) asks whether Boone actually had 12 brothers and sisters. Boone answers 8. Consequently, Doc adds “Yeah. 12 Sounds better”. I love this scene as it symbolizes how Boone is always able to push the proper buttons with his team in order to get the most out of it. I also like that he only runs 6 plays and notes that “Just give it time, it always works.” It is a very similar philosophy to the greatest football coach of All Time, Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. The great Lombardi believes in execution rather than the number of plays. In other words, if a team executes its play, the other team will not stop it anyway. As such, both Lombardi and Boone believe in execution over deception. Boone makes his philosophy clear to the team when he states “We will be perfect in every aspect of the game. You drop a pass, you run a mile. You miss a blocking assignment, you run a mile. You fumble the football, and I will break my foot off in your John Brown hind parts and then you will run a mile. Perfection!
Coach Yoast is also a great coach. However, his style completely contrasts with Coach Boone’s personality. While Boone coaches through fear, Yoast motivates through love and support. I also like that Yoast is a man of honor who will always do the moral thing. At first, he is unwilling to accept an assistant coach position from Boone. When the white players threaten to boycott the season if Boone is the head coach, Yoast sets aside his pride and accepts the coaching position. He does it so his players will play the season and the seniors will not lose their chances at athletic scholarships. Before one of the games during the season, the school board tells Yoast that it will fix the next game so it can fire Boone. Afterwards, it will rehire Yoast as the head coach and induct him into the Virgiinia High School Hall of Fame. During the game, the referees purposely make awful calls against the Titans. However, Yoast’s conscience does not allow him to be a complicit bystander to the fix. He goes to one of the referees and threatens to go to the newspapers about the plot if they do not call a fair game. As such, he knows the school board will no longer induct him into the Hall of Fame. I like how these examples show that Boone is selfless and will make the just decision even if it hurts his own self interests. While he is not as fiery as Boone, Yoast is able to motivate his players too. After he talks to the referee, he rallies his team around him and declares “All right, now, I don’t want them to gain another yard! You blitz… all… night! If they cross the line of scrimmage, I’m gonna take every last one of you out! You make sure they remember, forever, the night they played the Titans!” Consequently, his defense is inspired by his speech and ride the momentum to bring the team back and win the game.
While Boone is fire, Yoast is ice. While they respect each other, their different personalities clash. During training camp, Boone pushes his players in practice and denies them water. However, Yoast is able to quietly speak to Boone and plead “Coach. There’s a fine line between tough and crazy, and you’re flirting with it.” I like this aspect of the relationship as Boone is a driver personality but Yoast is able to use his calm demeanor to be a check against Boone going too far. Nevertheless, their biggest clash is in regards to running back Petey Jones. As Boone continues to ride Petey, he loses his confidence and is unable to play for Boone on offense. As such, Yoast nurtures Petey and grooms him to be a star on defense. However, Boone has a problem with Yoast pulling some of the players aside after Boone yells at them as it undermines his authority. Defending himself, Yoast tells Boone “Some of the boys just don’t respond well to public criticism. I tell them what they need to know, but I don’t humiliate them in front of the team.” However, Boone correctly points out that Yoast only does it for the black kids. In addition, Boone does an excellent job explaining that “Now, I may be a mean cuss, but I’m the same mean cuss with everybody out there on that football field. The world don’t give a damn about how sensitive these kids are—especially the young black kids. You ain’t doing these kids a favor by patronizing them. You’re crippling them. You’re crippling them for life.” As a result, Boone’s tough treatment of the players is also important as it teaches his players to cope with a world that is much more difficult than football. While Boone may walk the line in going too far at times, Yoast does not go far enough at other times. As such, the two men are a great combination as both styles are needed to build a great team. Moreover, their respect for each other grows throughout the movie and they become great friends.
The other great relationship in the movie is between Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier. As Julius is the best black player and Gerry is the best white player, their relationship symbolizes the transformation that the team and city goes through during the movie as they mature to accept other races. At the beginning, Julius and Gerry are at odds with each other. They are roomed together and get into a fist fight when Gerry objects to a poster Julius puts up. One of the better scenes in the movie is when Gerry pulls Julius aside and criticizes him for being “Nothing but a pure waste of God-given talent.” Gerry adds that “You can’t run over everybody in this league, and every time you do, you leave one of your teammates hanging out to dry… me in particular”. However, Julius responds that he does not care as it is not a team. He also cites that none of the white players block for Rev as their quarterback. As such, he does not care about the team and only cares about getting his tackles. When Gerry notes “That is the worst attitude I ever heard”, Julius responds with one of the better lines in the movie by stating “Attitude reflect leadership”. As Gerry is the team captain, he is responsible for leading his team. Julius’s words ring true in Gerry’s head. The next time he sees his best friend Ray Budds (Burgess Jenkins) not blocking for Rev, Gerry calls out Ray for not blocking: “If we get to Rev once, just one time, I swear to God, I’m gonna hit you so hard, by the time you come to, ooh, boy, you’re gonna need a new hair cut.” It is a turning point in the movie. As Gerry finally accepts the black players, the rest of the team follows his leadership, including Julius. In addition, he develops a friendship with Julius. I like how the movie highlights the importance of a team’s best player and leader needing to buy in to an idea so that the rest of the team will follow.
While the team leaves training camp united, it is difficult to maintain the unity back at school where race is still a very big issue. Julius and Gerry also find it difficult to stay friends. Gerry’s best friend Ray, girlfriend Emma Hoyt (Kate Bosworth), and mother all disapprove of his friendship with Julius. While Gerry initially succumbs to the peer pressure, he eventually ignores them as Julius becomes his best friend. Ray is never able to accept integration. When Rev gets hurt, Gerry knows it is because Ray purposely failed to block the defender from getting to Rev. As such, Gerry is forced to make the tough decision to tell Ray that he is off the team. In my opinion, it is one of the most important scenes in the movie as it shows Gerry has completely bought in to accepting people based on their character instead of their skin color. On the other hand, Gerry is eventually able to convince his girlfriend and mother into accepting Julius and ending their prejudices. Of course, one of the biggest moments in the movie is when Gerry is paralyzed by a car accident. It is one of the events that actually occurred. In real life, the accident occurs after the Titans already won the championship game. In the movie, it occurs before the championship game to add to the drama. When Gerry is in the hospital, he asks for only one person, Julius. When a nurse tells Julius that only kin are allowed, Gerry points out to the nurse “Are you blind? Don’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.” Consequently, it closes out the full circle from the two men hating each other because of race at the beginning of the movie to them feeling like they are brothers. The relationship between the two is very well done and a perfect reflection of the theme of the movie. In the words of Gerry, “I was afraid of you, Julius. I only saw what I was afraid of. And now I know I was only hating my brother.”
Of course, the Titans still have to win the Championship game. Yoast wants to be reflective about Gerry’s injury and not concentrate on the game as “Everything’s not always about winning and losing.” In response, Boone declares “I’m a winner. I’m going to win”. When Yoast visits Gerry in the hospital, Gerry wants to talk about strategy for the championship game. However, Yoast responds “we don’t need to talk about football now. I think this is a good time for reflection and for prayer.” Gerry answers comically by noting “Coach. I’m hurt. I ain’t dead”. With Gerry’s blessing, Yoast is able to move on to football instead of feeling sorry for Gerry. Another part of the ending I like is when Boone declares in a press conference that “You cannot replace a Gerry Bertier… as a player or person.” It is a simple statement but speaks to the importance of a great player and great leader on a team. It is a statement that I have heard repeated by sports commentators to explain how big of a loss a key player is to a team. In the Championship Game, the Titans are down at half time. While Coach Boone tells his team that it is doing its best and that is “all anybody can ask for”, Julius disagrees. In one of the most memorable speeches in the movie, Julius notes “No, it ain’t Coach. With all due respect, uh, you demanded more of us. You demanded perfection. Now, I ain’t saying that I’m perfect, ’cause I’m not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. But we have won every single game we have played till now. So this team is perfect. We stepped out on that field that way tonight. And, uh, if it’s all the same to you, Coach Boone, that’s how we want to leave it.” Naturally, the Titans are inspired by the halftime speech for a comeback and the game goes down to the final play. The movie ends with the funeral of Gerry Bertier. Similar to real life, he dies years later in a second car accident when he is hit by a drunk driver. An adult Sheryl Yoast narrates the end scene by giving us one final, powerful social commentary “People say that it can’t work, black and white. Well, here we make it work every day. We have our disagreements, of course. But before we reach for hate, always, always we remember the Titans.”