Any Given Sunday

Identity – Playoff Football Edition

Any Given Sunday

As we enter into the time of High School football Playoffs, I thought it might be time to roll out a football movie. My entry into this realm is Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Known for his big, character driven movies, Stone pulls out all the stops with this one. Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, Aaron Eckhart, and James Woods lead this all-star ensemble that is filled out with lots of other familiar faces.

As I mentioned in the baseball edition, there are many football movies worth watching and mentioning, whether your favorites are Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, or The Longest Yard. Perhaps you prefer the humorous like Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy, the classic Necessary Roughness, or the obligatory Keanu Reeves reference of The Replacements. One of my favorites will always be the high school entry of Varsity Blues. Whatever direction you prefer, I want to discuss Identity from the perspective of being part of a group, or team and the values that we carry.

Throughout Any Given Sunday you have lots of moving pieces, but at the core is a young athlete who is trying to find his place after being thrust into the spotlight, and an aging coach who is trying to stay relevant and retain the respect he feels he has earned. As the team prepares for the playoff game amidst personnel controversy and interpersonal drama, Coach D’Amato (Al Pacino) delivers a heartfelt speech before they hit the field. I am including two versions for you here. The first contains some vulgar language, while the second is the ‘Clean’ version, though a bit shorter due to language cuts.

(NSFW) (Clean)

There are a couple things I would like to point out in this speech. First, Coach is connecting with his team in a way that rallies them behind him. How does he do this? Vulnerability. He uses his own loss and regret, opening himself which allows his players to connect relationally with him. Second, he appeals to their willingness to persevere through challenges and ‘Fight and Die for that inch.’ Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he brings the relationship back in full focus by recognizing that their willingness to sacrifice will not go unheeded as they either ‘Heal now as a team or die as individuals.’

We in this school are partners with one another. I see parallels on many levels whether that is the importance of vulnerability in forming the basis for trusting relationships with students or peers, to the value of coming alongside and giving your best because you know the kids in your classrooms deserve your very best. Struggling to find ways to reach that one child who just never seems to understand, or reaching out to the one who is always on the fringes may reap benefits that you will never see, but can influence generations.

Coach states that, ‘Living is the 6 inches in front of your face.’ I need reminders of this often. It is easy to be stuck in my own head or thinking of something else entirely, while at the danger of missing the great things happening or perhaps the pressing needs of another right in front of me. We have children and families that we are serving who are struggling to survive one day to the next. What can we do to come alongside them and help them to know that we are fighting for them?

‘Either we heal as a team, or we’re going to crumble.’ I am incredibly grateful that I am not using this film to address this issue. Could situations be different? Absolutely. Bringing two distinctly different high schools together, adding new staff, and living through the chaos of change can tear people and organizations apart. Have there been challenges and will there continue to be? Of course, but as long as we are willing to coalesce and give our best we will overcome whatever we face together. I want to thank you for putting our children first and coming alongside one another as a team. I consider myself fortunate to serve this district and I know that with your willingness to fight to find the greatness in each of our kids and each other, we will continue to rise to be our very best.