My All American, the most recent bottom of Aaron Eckhart’s careers, is really two movies. There’s the movie that’s onscreen, and there’s the movie that’s in your head. Both are poorly written and badly directed and not worth watching.
(Real-life and movie spoilers)
The movie onscreen is the real-life inspirational story of Freddie Steinmark, a Rudy-like figure who was the heart and soul of the University of Texas Longhorns football team, who prayed hard, dated his doting high-school sweetheart, and took his team to the 1969 National Championship Title and won, in spite of having a cancerous tumor in his leg the size of a baseball. That tumor would cost Steinmark his leg two days after winning the national title. Steinmark died of bone cancer a year and a half later, defying the odds that suggested he’d died within a year.
Steinmark still serves as an inspiration for the Longhorns. A giant picture of him remains on the wall outside the Longhorns locker room, and all the football players touch the photo for luck as they head onto the field.
That’s the movie onscreen; here was the movie in my head:
A short, good-looking guy convinces a smart high-school girl who doesn’t know anything about football to focus everything in her life around him and the sport and his efforts to become a college and subsequent NFL star. He plays for a college football team with zero black players (this is actually true; the Longhorns first black player didn’t join the team until 1970). Moreover, he and his coach apparently prioritized football and winning so much that they ignored the fucking baseball-sized tumor growing on his leg that was so huge doctors thought it was a goddamn miracle that Freddie Steinmark’s leg didn’t snap during the game, and they ignored it for an entire season. Steinmark refused to see a doctor for fear of missing a game. In spite of constant prayer, Steinmark lost his leg two days after the national championship and died a year and a half later.
So much for the power of prayer.
Is it an inspirational tale, or a cautionary tale about listening to your fucking body and going to the doctor when leg hurts so badly you can barely walk? I mean, I don’t know what the survival rate for bone cancer was in 1969, but today, it’s about 70 percent. Obviously, I don’t know all the details, but it seems to me that, if Steinmark had not placed such a huge priority on football, he’d have gone to see a doctor earlier and they might have caught the cancer before it cost him his leg and later, his life.
Point being, I hope no one sees this movie and thinks it’s more admirable to ignore and play through the pain than to get yourself checked out. I suspect that Freddie Steinmark would’ve exchanged that national title for a few more years of life.
As for the girlfriend, Linda Wheeler: There was no title card before the credits telling us what happened to her, and I was concerned that she’d been fabricated for the story. She was not. She was real. In fact, she and Freddie met in the eighth grade and stayed together up until Freddie lost his leg. They broke up briefly when Freddie thought he was going to die, but reconciled and got engaged. Unfortunately, Steinmark died before they could marry.
There’s not much out there about Linda Wheeler today, other than the fact that she did serve as a consultant on the film and, presumably, she did marry, because her daughter, Mackenzie Meehan, is not only an actress, but she played a nurse in the film.