BY MIKE LEONARD
Movie industry analysts say that despite a few notable exceptions, sports movies are rarely successful, and Angelo Pizzo already has two classics to his name in Hoosiers and Rudy.
But if prerelease audience test scores can be trusted, the Bloomington-based film writer and producer could be looking at a trifecta when his film My All American comes out the weekend of October 9. “The industry average score in the ‘definite recommend’ category is 47 for a studio release, and with Rudy and Hoosiers, we were somewhere in the 70s,” Pizzo says. “We scored in the 80s for this one.”
Pizzo wrote the screenplay and makes his directing debut with My All American, the true story of Freddie Steinmark, an undersized and charismatic football player who helped lead the University of Texas Longhorns to a national championship in the 1969–70 season. Six days after top-ranked Texas beat second-ranked Arkansas, Steinmark’s left leg was amputated when a nagging leg injury was diagnosed as bone cancer. The defensive star then defied his doctors and showed up on crutches in a dramatic show of support for his teammates when Texas defeated Notre Dame in the New Year’s Day 1970 Cotton Bowl.
Steinmark died less than two years later, and to this day, Longhorn football players touch a bronze plaque memorializing Steinmark on their way to the field before every home game. Pizzo believes the film succeeds because it’s a human story first and foremost. “Nothing was exaggerated. Nothing was elaborated for the sake of drama.”
Pizzo based his screenplay on the book Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story by Jim Dent and did his own research, verifying numerous details with Steinmark’s girlfriend, Linda Wheeler, and his best friend, Bobby Mitchell. He also met with legendary Longhorns coach Darrell Royal, who was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. “When Freddie’s name was mentioned, his face changed,” says Pizzo. “He got tears in his eyes and just said, ‘Freddie. Freddie.’ Edith Royal (his widow) told me her husband never got over Freddie.”
There were tears flowing in the Indiana University Cinema as well last March when Pizzo screened the film here. “The reason the distribution company (Clarius Entertainment) took this on is because its president saw the film and had an emotional experience watching it,” Pizzo says. “And our test scores sure helped.”