You know about “Hoosiers,” you know about “Rudy,” and soon enough, you’ll know about “My All American,” which comes out Nov. 13. The film, written and directed by Angelo Pizzo, tells the inspiring story of former Texas safety Freddie Steinmark.
And to think, if not for a Facebook message, it might never have happened.
“I was contacted through a Facebook message by someone who had bought the option to a book called ‘Courage: Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story’ by Jim Dent,” Pizzo explained on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I normally turn down inquiries through Facebook, but I happen to know Jim’s writing and really liked him, so I said I would read the book.”
So Pizzo did. He had tears running down his cheeks.
“I was so moved and I was so impressed with Freddie Steinmark and his story that I said I wanted to do it,” Pizzo said.
As Pizzo explained, Stenmark’s leg began hurting at the beginning of the 1969 season. He figured it was just a bone bruise and played through it.
“It got worse and worse and worse,” Pizzo said, “and he resisted all urgings to go see a doctor because he wanted to be part of that team. The big game at the end of the year was before the national championship game with Arkansas. He played with a limp. Coach (Darrell) Royal so believed in him that he only took him out of the game for one series. Then the next day, he went in to see a doctor and that’s when they found a tumor the size of a baseball on his femur. Two days later, he had his leg amputated at the hip.”
Needless to say, it’s a moving film – one that marks Pizzo’s directorial debut.
“Well I wrote and produced (Hoosiers and Rudy), and my best friend and college roommate directed,” Pizzo said, referring to David Anspaugh. “So we were kind of like the two-headed monsters on the three movies we did. We shared responsibilities. David had the set and he had the actors and he had the camera, but we shared decision-making. So I was prepared. I was ready to go. And I can tell you not sharing responsibilities and making decisions just doubles up the responsibility and the number of decisions on a day-to-day basis, especially in production. It was a great opportunity, a great responsibility, and I would say the most exhilarating yet most exhausting thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Many of the actors on the team are former college players, including Jordan Shipley, who still holds the Longhorns’ single-season receptions record.
“Authenticity in sports is so critical,” Pizzo said. “For anybody who knows those sports, if you have one wrong move – if you have one player, one actor, who just doesn’t look like they belong out there – well, the audience or the football aficionado will be turned (off by) the movie. So credibility and believability is everything for us, and we spent a lot of time, a lot of effort, to get it right.”
Gottlieb of course asked Pizzo which of the three sports films is his favorite, but that of course is an impossible question to answer. Pizzo said Hoosiers, his first project, was “like my first son in a sense,” while Rudy was “such a surprise” because growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, he “just loathed Notre Dame and Notre Dame football.”
“I didn’t really go in initially with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm,” Pizzo admitted. “But once I kind of embraced it, I got it. I got the whole Notre Dame sensibility and mystique and aura.”
And then there’s “My All American.”
“It became so much a part of me both writing and directing,” Pizzo said. “The total immersion, I have a different relationship (with it), and it’s of course the most intense because it’s most recent.”