Freddie Steinmark’s story finally coming to the silver screen

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engel It was more than bizarre to see the football field at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium dressed up to be the home field for Texas Tech. Equally off-kilter was to see one half of the locker room at Amon G. Carter Stadium painted with Texas Tech’s double-T logo, while the other half served as the locker room at the Cotton Bowl.

Following a shoot at the Cotton Bowl itself, filming for the movie My All American came to Amon G. Carter Stadium to serve as the sets for the inspiring story of Freddie Steinmark.

The story of the University of Texas safety, who lost his leg to cancer just before the 1970 Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame, is finally being made into a major motion picture by the very best man for this wonderfully moving, and sad, tale.

No one does sports movies better than Angelo Pizzo.

Pizzo, who wrote and produced Hoosiers and Rudy, is making his directorial debut for My All American, which he also wrote.

“Nobody who read the script for Rudy cried,” Pizzo told me this week on TCU’s football field. “Everybody who has read the script for this cried.”

I was allowed to observe and talk to some of the main principals involved, in the three days of shooting at Amon G. Carter.

A lot was made when Aaron Eckhart was cast to play Darrell Royal.

“They asked me because they couldn’t get [Matthew] McConaughey,” Eckhart told me.

It was a joke, but it was the right call. Despite McConaughey’s fierce loyalties to Texas and the Longhorns, he’s already been a football coach in one football movie ( We Are Marshall). Eckhart can be Royal whereas the viewer is going to see McConaughey playing Royal.

“The only thing I had known about Texas football was Jordan Shipley and Colt McCoy; I had seen them in the national championship game,” Eckhart said. “This has been a total education for me about Texas football and the cultural significance it has here.”

When production was announced, it was sold as more about Royal and his relationship with Steinmark, but it’s apparent this movie is about Steinmark’s ultimately tragic tale. Played by Finn Wittrock ( All My Children), he is a dead ringer for Steinmark.

“It’s a great role. It’s definitely big shoes to fill,” Wittrock said. “His spirit seems to have transcended the time. I have the benefit of talking to a lot of people who knew him. A lot of people said he was the best guy ever. Never did anything wrong. I wanted to find the humanity in that; not make him an angel or perfect, or a paragon of doing everything right. He’s a person doing the best he can.”

It is difficult to imagine this movie, despite being funded by an Austin businessman with no distributor, is going to be a dud.

Steinmark’s story is a tearjerker. Pizzo does tears quite well.

Lightly recruited from a Colorado high school, Steinmark was offered a scholarship by Royal and became a starting safety at UT.

Six days after playing in the immortal “Big Shootout” between No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas in Fayetteville in ’69 (BTW — those scenes are being shot at the Alamodome), Steinmark was hospitalized. Doctors found a bone sarcoma, and had to amputate Steinmark’s left leg a few weeks before the Cotton Bowl game.

Steinmark died in June 1971.

One of the scenes shot in the Amon G. Carter Stadium locker room was Steinmark’s unexpected arrival at the ’70 Cotton Bowl, where he met the team on crutches. Standing behind the production crew, and merely watching the many takes of this scene, was emotional because it felt real, and so sad.

“The reason why I think we have a strong shot [at being successful], the emotional experience that the audience will have is not dependent on football,” producer Paul Schiff said. “Football is the backdrop. It’s a movie about a young man who succeeds beyond everybody’s imagination.”

The quarterback of that team, James Street, is being played by his son, Juston Street.

“He looks exactly like his dad,” said Steinmark’s teammate, Bobby Mitchell.

Juston Street swears he does not sound like his dad, so he had to work on perfecting a higher-pitched East Texas accent.

Jordan Shipley, who said he has retired from football, has a role in the movie, including a few lines.

“Everybody who played at Texas knows Freddie’s story,” Shipley said.

About 60 former football players were hired to play the various players for teams UT faced that season. Shooting is scheduled to go to San Antonio before it is completed in Austin. Once they find a distributor, which they will, a release date will be set.

Don’t expect My All American in 2014.

Do expect, given the nature of the story and Pizzo’s involvement, it will be good.

One more thing on Richard Durrett

The recent passing of ESPN Dallas reporter Richard Durrett hit a lot people in this area for a variety of reasons. The primary reason was that he was just 38, and had a young family, a wife and two kids.

Richard and I were roommates on road trips for the TCU women’s basketball team from 1996-98. We did the broadcasts together. We also covered the Dallas Stars for a couple of seasons, as well, for competing newspapers. He was decent to the core.

It’s often jokingly said of married couples, “I don’t know how he got so lucky to marry such and such.” Having known Richard since 1996, it’s not hard to say his wife, Kelly, was the lucky one, too.

Prediction

The U.S. men’s national soccer team will reach the knockout stage of the World Cup.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof

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