"There seems to be no end to beating-the-odds football movies these days, and if they all peak with a breathless moment of anticipation during a clutch play, then We Are Marshall, based on a true story, has plenty of (mostly good) company. Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, who becomes head coach--more or less by default--of Marshall University's rebuilding varsity football team in Huntington, W. Va., after the school's 37-member team and coaches (and a number of others) die in a plane crash in the Appalachian Mountains on Nov. 14, 1970. Facing an indifferent college president (David Strathairn) ready to shut the football program down, a morose assistant coach (Matthew Fox), and a charged-up player (Anthony Mackie) who missed the doomed flight due to an injury, Lengyel is faced with fielding a new team and putting the players through their paces. There are the usual, perhaps too-familiar, training montages and field action, but screenwriter Jamie Linden and director McG (Charlie's Angels) also draw some very good performances from the likes of Kate Mara and Ian McShane, contributing to an emotional tapestry conveying a powerful sense of how such a sizable loss affects a small community."
Surprisingly, I did not pick up the movie this past Tuesday at Best Buy -- I was headed over to pick up James Blunt's "All the Lost Souls" instead. Marshall will come later.
Perhaps my selective shopping on Tuesday was not simply a result of watching my money, but somehow I did not think that anything could compare to my personal favorite, "Gridiron Gang." This past week in New York I suggested the movie to many members of the Packer organization. In fact, I hope that on a longer flight this year, we might be able to show this on the plane.
What I like mostly about 'Grid,' and 'Marshall,' I assume, is that these stories actually have little to do with football -- rather, it's all about playing fair and looking out for one another's good in the game of life. That was the sobering message I was exposed to this past weekend out in the Meadowlands.
Many of you saw some great power plays on the field as you watched the game from home. But there was another scene out East that caught my attention and the attention of other members of the travel party as well. As our plane was about to land at the Newark, New Jersey Airport, I noticed a huge billboard adjacent to the highway that read plainly from a distance, "Help Wanted." As we taxied closer to the sign, I could finally read the rest of the billboard. In its totality it read,
Stop the Senseless Killings in Newark!
As you are aware, I was not headed to Newark for some sort of vacation getaway or spiritual retreat. Rather, together with the Packers I would be there for one overnight -- getting in and getting out: in this weekend's case, with much excitement and victory! But as we were bussed from the airport to the hotel, I could not help but imagine what the typical traveller would think when he or she landed at that airport and saw such a sobering message. Checking for my wallet seemed to be the least of my worries!
I had dinner at the team hotel on Saturday night, so I did not have an opportunity to check out the neighborhood on my own; I'm not complaining! But as we travelled to our hotel from the airport, and then on the next day from the hotel to the stadium there was no confusion, I was not in DePere -- and further, "there's no place like home!"
This week, now back at home, the memory of that billboard has haunted me ever since. It conjures up all sorts of thoughts -- and prayers, quite honestly. First, I cannot help but think of how blessed we are here 'in our neck of the woods,' as Al Roeker would say. Many of us are shielded from the violence and senseless killings that are a part of other major communities. What helps? Well, I do not know what is happening in other communities, but I am aware of what we do here that seems to help: We have an excellent school system in Green Bay and DePere -- and not just Catholic or Norbertine schools, our public schools here are very good; our teachers are second to none. ..... We have excellent police forces here in our area that deal quickly and effectively with crime and violence. ..... In our area it seems as though our churches are thriving -- many good people in our community choose to attend Mass or other religious services that seem to have an effect on the faithful the whole week through. ..... And then there is our sense of family. Beyond Mom and Dad, Grampa and Grandma, Sons and Daughters, we seem to live in a community where neighbors are considered extended members of the family. I am aware how many of you keep an eye on your neighbors, especially the elderly, caring for the common good of one another. That billboard reminds me of these blessings.
But second, I cannot help but think of the folks of Newark -- especially the children, and what sorts of obstacles they must face simply on their way to or from school. What a different life! Can you imagine a billboard on US41 that would read, "Stop the Senseless Killings in Green Bay?" "...In DePere?" How different would our lives become?
And yet, while we are often spared from such intense violence on a consistent basis, we do have issues that need to be confronted, nevertheless. Perhaps we need to read the GB Police Blogger to see the adolescent crime that is a part of the Ss. Peter & Paul neighborhood between 4 PM and 7 PM. Perhaps we should take a drive past St. John The Evangelist Church in City Center to see the ministry these good folks and neighboring congregations have extended to the homeless. Or I am told of the responses of some of our young parishioners as they venture out to represent Old Saint Joe's as they assist the hungry at St. Paul's Pantry or one of the other area shelters. We do have issues here. And yet, we also have good folks that are willing to do their part -- and then some -- to offer loving assistance to the poor and marginalized [that is a part of every human life]: sometimes seen quite apparently, sometimes hidden or sheltered from our consciousness.
Before the plane heads out to Minnesota next weekend, I'll probably head over to Best Buy next Tuesday -- and yes, "Marshall" will most likely find its way into the checkout. As I watch the movie and as I join you in cheering on our own team[S] donned in green and gold, I hope that the adversity, the fumbles and interceptions, the sacks and the field goals, the wins and losses will remind each of us of the wins and losses that take place daily on a much larger playing field -- at home and away. I pray that generous others will take opportunities to respond boldly and generously to life's tragedies and triumphs, for, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"
Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.