There’s no doubt that bigger is often better when it comes to smashmouth football. But even on the gridiron, it’s still what’s inside that matters the most when it comes to being a true winner. The composition of a player’s heart outweighs the force of his bulk. And in the late 1960s, nobody had a bigger heart than Freddie Steinmark.
Growing up in Wheat Ridge, Colo., (a Denver suburb), Freddie is always at a disadvantage, size-wise. “He has to work harder,” his mom says, “because he’s always the smallest.”
And work harder he does.
With the tireless encouragement of his dad, 145-pound Freddie trains constantly as he chases his dream: playing college ball for Notre Dame and then turning pro for the Chicago Bears. He breaks every scoring record in football and basketball at his high school, leading the Wheat Ridge Farmers to a state championship in the former sport. Along the way, he meets a sweet girl named Linda who steals his heart. A deep bond grows as well with his best friend and fellow athlete, Bobby Mitchell, who is as physically dominating as Freddie is diminutive.
Freddie’s grand goals hit a major roadblock when he starts getting rejected by colleges across the country for being too small, despite his spectacular skills. But then his high school coach tells him that Coach Darrell Royal at the University of Texas may be interested in him (and Bobby too).
Faster than you can holler “Hook ’em Horns!” Freddie and Bobby don the orange and white for University of Texas Longhorns and become key components in the storied program’s quest for another national championship. Freddie’s football fairy tale looks like it’s back on track, especially after Linda gets accepted to Texas, too.
But as the Longhorns’ storybook 1969 season comes to a triumphant close, Freddy is struggling with a nagging knee injury that just doesn’t seem to be healing. If anything, it’s getting worse. And when the bantamweight champ with a heavyweight heart finally gets his leg X-rayed, he learns that he has a new foe to fight, one that’s fiercer than any on-field opponent he’s ever faced.
[Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Freddie works hard to improve. He’s the first one to practice and the last one to leave. He gives his very best effort to every play, every tackle, every catch, every run. He’s similarly devoted to his studies and to Linda. He goes out of his way to encourage his teammates and push them toward better performance. One coach says of Freddie’s efforts, “The more I push him, the more he answers the call.”
When Freddie gets the bad news about his knee, he bravely faces each new traumatic step—even the amputation of his leg. His teammates, coach, family and girlfriend all support him, of course. But Bobby goes even further, spending hours helping him learn how to walk with crutches. Freddie works so hard at his rehabilitation that he’s able to attend the Longhorns’ Cotton Bowl appearance just 19 days after his surgery.
(To this day, there’s a wall of dedication telling of Freddie’s tenacity in the tunnel from the players’ locker room at the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.)
Coach Royal is shown to be a man of integrity and kindness. He tells the young player, “Freddie, you and I have been through some tough spots together. Both of us have been behind in life, and we’ve come back, we’ve never given up. You can’t give up now.” Then, in his later years, we see the coach tell a reporter that Freddie Steinmark was the player who made the greatest impact on any of the teams he coached. And even though Steinmark was not one of the 30 All-American players Royal mentored through the years, he says, “But he was my All-American.”
Freddie’s father is devoted to his son’s progress. He’s at every practice and every game; he oversees individual training sessions. And when it’s suggested that Dad is living vicariously through his son’s exploits, Freddie rejects the idea, saying, “He just wants me to give everything I have in whatever I do all the time. School, sports, it’s all the same to him.” That seems to be true, as Freddie boasts a 4.0 GPA in school to match his game-day prowess.
Freddie’s commitment to excellence is clearly bolstered by his Catholic faith. Several scenes show Freddie in church, both at mass with others and on his own praying. We glimpse a crucifix, a picture of Jesus and a statue of Mary and Child on a shelf in the Steinmarks’ home. One friend jokingly calls the squeaky-clean Freddie an “altar boy.”
Bobby, on the other hand, isn’t a believer. But when he hears that his brother has been killed in Vietnam, he talks to Freddie about God. “He had such great plans for his life. He was everything I wanted to be,” Bobby says. “Tell me why God takes my brother so young, with such a great life ahead of him?” Freddie wisely responds, “I don’t think anybody can answer that question.” Then he adds, “You know, just because you’re not a religious person doesn’t mean you can’t pray at a time like this.” Bobby shoots back, “Well, if I did pray, it would be to ask God to bring my brother back.” Freddie responds by telling Bobby how sorry he is, then he crosses himself and begins silently praying. A moment later, Bobby clasps his fingers together and begins to pray silently, too.
Freddie and Linda kiss several times. As their romance deepens, they’re repeatedly shown lounging together on a blanket in a secluded field. They cuddle and embrace, with Linda rolling playfully on top of Freddie in one scene. (There’s no implication that their physical relationship goes any further than that.)
As a prank, a football player pulls his pants down and moons his teammates. (He’s wearing only a jock strap.) Other scenes show shirtless guys. Linda and a friend use binoculars to spy on a shirtless Freddie during a workout.
Hard hits, in practice and during games, are depicted throughout the movie. We see nasty bruises all over one guy’s torso. Bobby vents anger by pounding his fist on a table. He nearly picks a fight with a war protester (but is talked out of it by Freddie). We see an effigy of Coach Royal that’s been hanged.
One use of “bulls—” (and another of “bullcrap”). Approaching 10 uses each of “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is abused three or four times (once, after a pause and under someone’s breath, it’s paired with “d–n”). “A–” is uttered twice, “son of a b–ch” and “b–tard” once each.” A football drill is dubbed the “nutcracker.”
A banquet features wine. Bobby asks Freddie to join him in getting beer from a priest (who reportedly serves it to University of Texas football players at a gathering once a week); Freddie isn’t interested. An assistant coach often has a lump in his cheek, a telltale sign of chewing tobacco.
We see a player vomit during practice.
If you’re a fan of Hoosiers or Rudy, you’ll love My All-American. One big reason? It was written and directed by the same filmmaker who wrote the screenplays for both of those scrappy classics, Angelo Pizzo.
Just like those two films, My All-American is an underdog story. Freddie Steinmark has to battle for respect in an environment where he’s often deemed too small to play. And when he’s diagnosed with cancer that’s almost certainly terminal, he begins an even tougher battle.
Flaws in this film include some profanity and a mooning. And you could also think that it rolls out the red carpet for Freddie in a way that makes him seem so good, so pure that he’s hard to take as a realistic role model.
But as for that last downside, Pizzo insists it’s exactly who Freddie was, and that the film accurately depicts the Longhorn legend.
“I talked to his teammates, his girlfriend of four years, and his family, and I was desperate to find a flaw,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “But he was almost too perfect. He was humble. He was a leader. He went to mass every day. Nothing intimidated me more than writing a character and having people say, ‘Well, this guy is just too good. He’s too perfect.’ But that’s who he was.”
Pizzo also noted, “The principal financier [UT alum Bud Brigham] asked me from the get-go, ‘How much of Rudy was true?’ I said, ‘Maybe about 70%.’ I had to composite characters. I had to compress time—because Rudy actually joined the Navy for three years out of high school—just to make it work as a movie. And he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t want 70%; I want 90%. I want to say, ‘The following is a true story.’ But the other thing that was important to [Brigham] was to create a role model, to create a hero that could be an inspiration for his own team. So there was nothing false or made up about the Freddie character. Freddie had a lot of confidence in himself, but he was extremely humble. He was very deferential. He was very giving. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy. He led by example more than by speech. That’s just who he was. He impacted everybody that he came in contact with.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.