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A new Christmas Day tradition for the Walkers?

I telephoned my 83-year-old aunt in North Carolina on Christmas night to wish her a "Merry Christmas." When she asked what my family did that day I told her I did something that I had never done before.

"I went to a movie today," I said.

I could hear her gasp into the telephone. "You've never been to a movie before?"

"Of course, I have been to a movie before, but not on Christmas day," I explained.

She chuckled in relief to know that her nephew from Georgia was not as culturally deprived as her sons, my cousins, had always accused me of being. And they are from North Carolina. Ever heard of the pot calling the kettle black?

I seldom go to movies because I do not appreciate make believe or phony baloney. My family went on Christmas afternoon to see We Are Marshall. It is a true story and well worth seeing. I was shocked at the throng of people that was turning out to see the phony baloney shows. I'd always heard Christmas day was a big day for theatres, and now I believe it.

We Are Marshall is the story of how the Marshall University community in Huntington, W. Va., recovered from the shocking plane crash in 1970 that killed their football team as it returned from a game at East Carolina. The school had to decide if the right thing to do was to rebuild the football program or allow it to die on the fiery hillside where the plane crashed. The movie did a fantastic job in detailing the emotional turmoil that those involved had to face.

I was 12 years old at the time and remember the incident of some college team up north perishing in a plane crash. We don't too often hear of such tragic plane crashes, and for it to involve an entire sports team, college or professional, is unheard of.

I never recalled this tragedy until Marshall became a Division 1-AA national power and often faced Georgia Southern during the 1980s and 90s. Their coach then, Jim Donnan, came to the University of Georgia in 1996. Donnan was not involved with Marshall until 1990.

Not wanting to spoil the story for those of you that have not seen the movie, I won't go into all of the details. If I bother to see a movie it usually has to be of the sports variety, but there is actually less than 10 minutes of football game action in this movie. It centers mostly on dealing with grief and decision-making during tough times.

I don't think it will win many awards because it is likely too real for Hollywood's taste, but the production of the movie itself was first rate. Fortunately, there are still enough folks alive to be great resources to have researched the intimate details and conversations that took place so long ago. I don't know why it took this story so long to get to the screen.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was the coach at West Virginia in 1971 and is portrayed in a wonderful light in the movie. Former Georgia kicker Billy Bennett and former Georgia Tech and NFL running back Dorsey Levens have brief and relatively obscure parts in the movie. Bennett plays the Marshall kicker and Levens is the Xavier University coach on the sidelines with the dark-rimmed glasses. You can look for them both.

As we left We Are Marshall, I wondered what parts of the movie were historically precise and which parts were cinematic license. Too much license turns me off. My wife told me it was Christmas and not to worry about it. Since it was Christmas, I took her advice. Every day should be Christmas.

Web posted on Thursday, January 04, 2007

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