‘My All American’: Football drama leaves the tears on the field

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In the late 1960s, Freddie Steinmark snared national headlines for his amazing prowess on the college gridiron as the superstar safety for the University of Texas football team, an accomplishment all the more impressive because ofhis relatively small stature. In a perfect world, Steinmark likely would have made it to the NFL — perhaps even playing for his dream team: the Chicago Bears.

Sadly, it’s not a perfect world and often bad things happen to good people — and, according to all who knew him, Steinmark was truly a good person. Two days after his beloved Longhorns defeated Arkansas to win the 1969 national championship, Steinmark discovered the pain in aleg he had been playing on was caused by a malignant tumor. Less than two years later, bone cancer took his life.

In “My All American” director and writer Angelo Pizzo, who previously brought us the much better “Rudy” and “Hoosiers,” has crafted a solid if borderline sappy retelling of Steinmark’s inspirational life. He’s aided by good performances by Aaron Eckhart as Texas’ legendary head football coach Darrell Royal, Finn Wittrock as Steinmark and Irish actress Sarah Bolger as Freddie’s devoted girlfriend, Linda Wheeler.

RELATED: ‘My All American’ taught Eckhart the realities of coaching

Wittrock, in particular, is convincing portraying a young man who seemingly had few if any faults. He conveys Steinmark’s unbridled enthusiasm with great vigor, and he clearly has the physicality to be believable as the scrappy, undersized player whose forceful determination made him outplay others far bigger and stronger.

My problem with this film is its heavyhanded approach to relating anundeniably inspirational story that ends so tragically. In the spirit of so many films created for the small screen, “My All American” works way too hard to make sure our heartstrings are pulled — and actually yanked hard from start to finish.

Don’t get me wrong; this film accurately shares a wonderful guy’s all-too-short life with us. I only wish it had been delivered in a more well-rounded way.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

Clarius Entertainmentpresents a film written and directed byAngeloPizzo, based on the book “Courage Beyond the Game” by Jim Dent. Running time: 113minutes. Rated PG (for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity). Opens Friday atlocal theaters.

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