Film: Remember the Titans
Release date: Sept. 29, 2000
Tag line: "History is written by the winners."
Box office: $136.7 million against a $30 million budget ($204.9 million vs. $45 million in 2020 dollars)
The plot: Pretty much every sports movie -- and especially every football movie, where practice is such an integral part of the game's fabric -- features the following formula:
1. These guys are supposed to be on a team with those guys? That'll never work!
2. Okay, they're becoming a team, but they're terrible.
3. The talents and personalities finally gel just in time for the team to make a run at the championship, which they will win or fall just short in the most dramatic -- and often unbelievable -- way possible.
Remember the Titans takes this formula and stretches it out over almost the entirety of its 1-hour, 53-minute run time. (Stage 2 involves far more group singing than you might expect.)
Titans tells the story of the integration of 1971 Alexandria, Va., through the newly-opened high school's brand new football team and its firebrand coach, Herman Boone.
Boone not only has to navigate building a new program in a new town, he has to do so while half his roster is outwardly hostile to him, two of his assistants constantly undermine his authority, most of his neighbors are not shy about the fact they want him gone -- oh, and the school board will fire him the moment he loses a game.
"We will be perfect in every aspect of the game," Boone tells his players.
Boone's work is best shown through middle linebacker Gerry "Why is my name pronounced Gary and not Jerry?" Bertier, who begins the season leading his teammates on a cross-town sprint to join a race riot and instructing Boone how many black players he's allowed to play, and ends the film by becoming best friends with his defiant counterpart Julius Campbell, kicking his racist best friend off the team and converting his racist mother and girlfriend over to his non-racist ways.
The Titans cruise through the regular season unbeaten and earn a berth into the state game until Bertier is tragically paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. The team's fragile peace is shaken, and defensive coordinator Bill Yoast snaps at Boone at the mere suggestion that he carry forward with a pre-title game press conference. "I am a winner," Boone responds. "I'm going to win."
The team shows up for the state title game, only to fall into a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 halftime deficit to powerhouse Marshall and their legendary coach Ed Henry. At halftime, Yoast and Boone finally drop their pride and admit they could use each other's help. Finally displaying the teamwork they've demanded of their players all season, and the Titans rally past Marshall to win the state title game.
No, I didn't forget about the subplot: I'll admit upon first, seventh and 24th viewings I underestimated the awkwardness of the situation between Boone and Bill Yoast, who loses his head coaching job in an instant to forces beyond his control. Especially when the man is on the brink of reaching the Virginia high school football hall of fame.
Yoast initially announces he's going leaving to take the head coaching job at Loudoun, next year -- So we're led to believe he'll take the 1971 season off? -- before changing his mind and agreeing to remain on at TC Williams as Boone's defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. That's a tough blow, and Yoast takes it in stride.
But not everyone in his orbit does.
Apparently, the Virginia high school football hall of fame is run by a shadow organization that views the actual results of the 1971 season of secondary importance in comparison to the '71 hall of fame class. What other conclusion are we led to believe when the officials of the Northern Virginia regional championship game begin executing a conspiracy to rig the game against TC Williams... so the Alexandria school board will then fire Boone..... so that Yoast can finally get into the hall of fame?
Why are the qualifications so stringent that Yoast can only get in if he's a sitting head coach in that moment? Yoast is clearly a young man -- we're told the real Bill Yoast coached until 1990 -- so why is it so important that he get in the hall right now? Why are the hall's goons so invested in Yoast's induction?
The subplot culminates with Yoast threatening to expose the conspiracy to cheat Yoast's team out of a title in order to get Yoast -- the unwitting victim and beneficiary of the scheme -- into the hall of fame, then giving this inspiring speech to his players, in which he leans into the record-scratch moment of speaking the movie's title in the movie.
Does any of this make sense to anyone?
Time for the real question. Can Herman Boone coach? Let's start here: Ronnie Bass should have been the starting quarterback from the moment he nailed Bertier from 50 yards out.
Yes, Sunshine struggled to make the option pitch, but this was a mental block that Boone magically cured by telling the story of how he raised his 12 older siblings.
Aside from that, Boone runs a great offense -- "Split veer, just like novicane. Give it time, it always works." -- and he's a master motivator.
Titans features Denzel at his Denzel-iest. He pokes. He prods. He cajoles. He demands. He demeans. He's an egomaniacal bully at times whose antics destroys the confidence of some of his best players, but he overcomes his own deficiencies with the sheer power of his own Denzeliness.
Not only was TC Williams the best high school football team in Virginia in 1971, I'm convinced Coach Boone could have led the boys on a nationwide barnstorming tour and they would have come home undefeated.
Oh, and this is an iconic scene in sports movie history.
Is there any Hollywood sports instability? Oh, brother.
-- Let's start at the end. TC Williams trails Marshall, 7-3, with 17 seconds left in the state title game. They're at their own 25-yard line. Yoast tells Boone that the legendary Ed Henry has snuffed out his running game, so he needs to throw some misdirection at him. Boone responds by bringing Rev off the bench, and Henry responds by pulling his defense back into a prevent defense. All of this leads to Rev taking a reverse 75 yards for a game-winning, clock-expiring touchdown.
-- I'm not sure what they're trying to accomplish right here.
-- I saw more people go flying in helicopter-like spins from routine hits in this movie than any other football movie ever released.
-- As inspiring as it was to hear Yoast threaten to take "every last one of you out" if the opponent gains "another yard," that just doesn't seem like smart strategy.
-- There are multiple games where TC Williams and their opponent both wear their home uniforms.
-- TC Williams is on the road against Herndon, yet the PA announcer -- presumably a Herndon parent -- goes nuts when the Titans notch the game-winning score.
-- When Yoast is debating whether or not he should leave TC Williams for another job, he tells his daughter Sheryl, "I've coached most of these boys since they were your age." Sheryl later tells Boone she's nine years old. We know Yoast didn't rise with Bertier, Ray and the bunch, because he racked up 15 winning seasons at Hammond. This implies he spent his Friday nights coaching Hammond and his Saturday mornings coaching various Alexandria youth football teams.
-- When Boone first meets Yoast, he tells him he won "four or five" championships in North Carolina. Coach Tyrell responds, "That's AA ball. This here's Virginia. We play AAA ball." What? Are high schools in Virginia somehow larger than they are in North Carolina, or were Standard & Poor's rating high school ball back then?
-- Let's talk about the logistics of that midnight run for a little bit, shall we? It's 3 a.m. when Boone blasts everyone awake, and the sun is up by the time they reach the cemetery. So that was, what, a three-hour run? And did they just walk back, or did Boone arrange to have buses pick them up? Either way, the rest of the morning is absolutely shot.
By the way, Google says it's a 15-minute walk from Gettysburg College to Gettysburg National Cemetery.
-- I can't prove it, but I'd be willing to bet every game was shot in the same stadium.
Other minutiae that may have interest me and only me: Speaking of Coach Tyrell, it had to be a tough blow for all special teams coaches out there when they saw Boone appoint Tyrell his special teams coordinator, without ever having met the man, when Yoast demands a spot on the staff for him.
-- The first line of the film is a voice over where Grown Up Sheryl reads, "In Virginia, high school football is a way of life." How many areas of this great land can say that about themselves, whether it's true or not? "In Texas, high school football..." "In North Dakota..." "In Guam..."
-- Titans movie took more liberties with the truth than Friday Night Lights. For starters, TC Williams was not the only integrated school in its conference; Alexandria integrated its schools six years before the movie says it did; the Titans blew out most of their opponents, the Marshall game was in mid-season and not the title game; Bertier's accident occurred after the season; and Sheryl Yoast was not an only child. Other than that, dead on.
-- If you're a male born between 1975 and 1985, you missed an opportunity if you didn't attempt to pick up a date by saying you were an extra in Remember the Titans. I swear at least 400 different dudes wore Titans uniforms at some point.
What's the lesson here? A football team can overcome all sorts of racial differences as long as the head coach has movie star charisma.
Should you show this to your players? I'm not saying once a month would be too often, but I'm not not saying it, either.