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Greatest Football Movie Ever Tournament: We Are Marshall vs The Junction Boys

It's time for another match-up in our Greatest Football Movie Ever Tournament. Our last match-up, Knute Rockne, All-American vs The Program got the fewest votes of any of our match-ups thus far. . .probably because it got pushed off the front page significantly faster than any of the other ones did. Hopefully I can keep that from being the case this time around. The winner of that match-up ended up being The Program, who garnered 114 of the 187 votes cast (61%) to knock our tournament's oldest movie out.

This week's match-up should be another interesting one, as we're matching up two more movies that are based on true stories from the realm of college football.

We Are Marshall

On November 14, 1970, a plane that was flying from Greenville, North Carolina to Huntington, West Virginia (with one stop in between) crashed in a field just outside of Ceredo, West Virginia. The 75 passengers on the plane were 37 members of the Marshall University football team, Marshall head football coach Rick Tolley and five members of his coaching staff, Marshall athletic director Charles Kautz, team trainer Jim Schroer and his assistant, Donald Tackett, 25 boosters, and five crew members. Nobody survived the crash.

This story is about the rebuilding of the Marshall University football program, a job undertaken by new head coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey). The new team ends up being composed of the 18 surviving players from the previous program (three freshmen and fifteen sophomores that weren't on the ill-fated flight for various reasons), and walk-on athletes from other Thundering Herd sports programs.

One of the things that surprised me about this movie was the connection that the Marshall football program at the time had to coaching legend Bobby Bowden, who at this time was the head coach at West Virginia. Bowden, who has said he was, at one point, the leading candidate for the job that eventually went to Rick Tolley, went so far as to ask the NCAA for permission to wear Marshall jerseys and play Marshall's final game of the 1970 season against Ohio University (a request that the NCAA denied). The real Jack Lengyel gave Bowden a great deal of credit for helping the Marshall football program recover.

We Are Marshall is another very well-done feel-good story from the world of football, and is a must-see for any football historian or any football aficionado.

The Junction Boys

I was unable to find a decent trailer for this one anywhere that I could embed. If you want to take a look at some of the trailers for The Junction Boys, you can get them from ESPN's web site.

The Junction Boys was a movie based on a 2001 book by author Jim Dent. It detailed the torturous football camp that legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant put his players through after taking over as the head coach at Texas A&M University back in 1954. Bryant felt that the players were weak and poorly coached, and decided that they needed a camp away from the distractions of campus. . .so, he arranged to have the camp in the nearby town of Junction, Texas.

At that time, that area of Texas was in the fourth year of a nasty six-year drought, and it has been documented that the temperature for every day of the ten-day camp reached 100 degrees, with practices starting before dawn each day and meetings going well into the night, sometimes until close to midnight. What made the camp so awful, for the most part, was Bryant's insistence on not allowing water breaks to his players. The only relief from the heat came in the form of two towels that were soaked in cold water. . .one was shared by the offense, and the other was shared by the defense. One of the players said that it was not unusual to lose 10% of your body weight over the course of a day due to sweating.

As you can imagine, the number of players that continued to show up every day dwindled because of the conditions that they were going through. To be certain, there's absolutely, positively no way that any coach would be able to get away with anything like this today.

Two of the Junction Boys, Jack Pardee and Gene Stallings, went on to be very successful football coaches. Stallings, in fact, became a part of Bryant's staff at Alabama in 1958 when Bryant left Texas A&M for the Crimson Tide job, and led Alabama to a national championship as the head coach in 1992. Stallings has also gone on record as saying that he didn't care for the way the movie portrayed Bear Bryant, saying that the movie portrays him as "brutal," while Stallings says he was merely "tough."

This was ESPN's first foray into film making. . .and, in something I don't quite get, it turns out that the movie was filmed in Australia, not in Texas. I had no idea simply from watching the movie.

So, have at it, folks!