The football-proud town of Athens, Georgia, hasn’t been the same since Coach Buster Schuler walked off the field following the death of his son in a high school game 12 years ago. Without Schuler, the Crusaders winning legacy is history. That’s why it’s a big deal when Schuler agrees to come back for one last season before the school is closed and the Crusaders are bussed to neighboring high schools.
Coach Schuler is one tough coach. Say something he deems inappropriate (even something petty) and you’re off the team. Can’t gain enough weight to be a threat? You’re off the team. Refuse to "give it all up for the team" and bloody your knuckles in a inter-team brawl? You’re outta here! So the question is, can Schuler’s drill-sergeant style and mean exterior whip this bunch of boys back into shape? It’s not that the guys don’t have talent, it’s that they’ve grown accustomed to losing. Selfishness and personal gain—over team play—rule on the field. Without a spirit of unity, Schuler’s last season is destined for failure. Especially when he cuts everyone except a skeletal crew of 15 guys.
Meet Elvis. A teenage drifter who wants to be a Crusader. He shows promise ability-wise, but Coach Schuler won’t let him play because his motivation is merely to collect a scholarship, and he’s not only selfish on the field, but an all-around jerk. Now meet Rachel Sawyer, the daughter of the Crusader’s mild-mannered assistant coach. She has committed herself to pray for her dad’s team—and for Elvis. Using Elvis and Rachel as lightening rods, the rest of the film follows the 15 remaining Crusaders as they claw their way through their final season. Will they ever win again? Will Coach Schuler let Elvis in the game? And what of Rachel and Elvis? Is there love in the air?
positive elements: Selfishness and self-centeredness are portrayed as unhealthy—especially in a team atmosphere. Rachel—not football—is really the star of Hometown Legend. Despite being a teenager, Rachel takes a reluctant leadership role in an effort to save the school. When studying alone with Elvis, he remarks that he’s surprised Rachel’s dad trusts him. "My dad doesn’t trust you," she replies. "He trusts me." Father and daughter have a good relationship (although it’s not developed fully in the film). When the players finally learn what it means to play as a unified team, things begin to happen—and not all of them can be counted with "W’s."
spiritual content: Rachel is a strong character. Spiritually and emotionally. She believes in prayer (the movie opens with her praying for God "to show up and show off"—meaning to help the Crusaders football team succeed). She desires to share her faith (although she doesn’t get a chance to do more than drop a few hints along that line). "Have you ever dared to think there’s something bigger than you?" she asks Elvis. Before an important game, Coach Schuler declares the team will pray despite what the Supreme Court says (he’s never portrayed as a man of faith so it comes across as a "foxhole" prayer at best). Jars of Clay tunes are included in the soundtrack. "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" plays as background music for one scene. For a pep talk, Coach Sawyer tells the players the story of Gideon. After Jackson is injured, he prays, "All right, God, got something to say to me?" When he doesn’t hear an audible voice, he continues, "I didn’t think so." Turning around, however, he discovers a number of baked pies from people in the community and is left to conclude that perhaps God did speak (but that’s as far as Jackson’s spiritual quest is ever developed).
sexual content: A few teenage couples kiss and hug.
violent content: Jackson and the team’s quarterback get into a shoving match in the locker room over who should wearing a certain number on his jersey. Rachel hits and punches Elvis on the arm and shoulder when she views him as "acting like a three-year-old." Hotheaded Shuler kicks equipment in the locker room and tips over water coolers. He also cuts players from his team for not mixing it up with the opposing team when a brawl breaks out.
crude or profane language: A football coach is described as someone "fifty percent teacher and fifty percent S.O.B." Schuler calls someone a "p---ant."
drug and alcohol content: When a son wears his father’s jersey for the final game, his mother remarks, "You can still see [Dad’s] beer stains."
other negative elements: When a player is hit in the groin, his teammates must lift him in the air in order for his testicles to descend ("Got to pop his nuts out"). Also, it’s really hard to root for a hotheaded, arrogant coach like Schuler—and yet we’re supposed to. He’s so much like Bobby Knight that one half expects an ESPN camera crew to show up for after-school practice. He’s way, way, way too hard on his players (until the end—and then it seems out of character). And like the team he’s so critical of, he’s immensely self-centered ("I am the cure to this [football program’s] curse!"). Despite a strong verbal message against on-field selfishness, infractions are rewarded as are other transgressions. [Spoiler Warning] For instance, Elvis gets into the game by lying. When he goes against his coach and calls his own play, it succeeds. He also makes the team by deceptively hiding a barbell weight in his clothes to make the minimum weight requirement. Still, in fairness, he’s not portrayed as a good person, not even a "gentleman"—at least at first. The most significant problem for this reviewer, however, is that in the end Rachel and Elvis wind up an item. While he’s changed and is definitely a nicer guy, there’s no indication he has become a Christian. And we know for sure that Rachel is. The unequally yoked factor is a big problem.
conclusion: Hometown Legend is a bit like Remember the Titans, but without the slo-mo scenes for added effect and mood. It’s also takes after The Rookie, The Majestic and A Walk to Remember. It kept my interest and even choked me up once (I needed a tissue; my teenage daughter, however, did not). Still, I would have liked more characters to root for besides Rachel and her dad (who’s never really developed). It’s hard to cheer for such an arrogant, tunnel-visioned coach to succeed. He really needs to learn that there’s more to it than racking of marks in the win column. On the other hand, if you view Legend as a portal into the life of Rachel Sawyer, it serves as a compelling story about football, (true) feminism and faith. And better yet, it’s a film the entire family can view together. Just don’t leave out the requisite family chat about the film’s pros and cons afterwards.