Reel Life: 'Remember the Titans'
By Jeff Merron
Special to Page 2

"Remember the Titans," viewers are told as the opening credits roll, is "Based on a True Story." This is an intentionally vague phrase, meant to suggest that most of what follows is factual. But is it?

"Remember the Titans" is based on the true story of the 1971 Virginia state football champions from T.C. Williams High School.
Should a librarian file "Remember the Titans" under fiction or non-fiction? You decide.

In Reel Life: Sheryl Yoast (Hayden Panettiere) lives with her father, coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) and is an only child.

In Real Life: Sheryl was one of four children, and lived with her mother. Yoast, in his DVD commentary, says he told producer Jerry Bruckheimer that he wasn't happy with this. "I said, 'I have four daughters. I don't like to look like I only have one daughter.' " It didn't matter -- the fiction made it into the film, partly because Sheryl's three sisters said it was fine with them. Sheryl didn't have a say in it -- she died on May 4, 1996, at 34.

In Reel Life: Sheryl is one football-crazed kid.

In Real Life: "She was not quite the football fanatic they show here," says Yoast in his DVD commentary. "(But) she was at all the ballgames, watched them and ... was always the first on the field after the ballgame."

In Reel Life: Sheryl is extremely angry when coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) is given the head coaching job, and she lets everyone know it.

In Real Life: "She was never quite as aggressive as they depict her in the film," Yoast says. "(But) she was very angry."

In Reel Life: Sheryl comes to accept Boone. She goes over to his house to watch game films and becomes friends with his daughter.

In Real Life: "Sheryl never visited my home," says Boone in his DVD commentary. "I wish she had. I wish she had spent any time with my children. Unfortunately, that didn't happen."

Training camp
In Reel Life: The team leaves for camp Aug. 15. They've yet to practice together.

Remember the Titans
In real life, the Titans insist the tension in practice wasn't racially motivated. It was just a case of players who didn't want to lose their starting spots.
In Real Life: Unofficial workouts had been held all summer, and the first practice began at 8 a.m. on Aug. 16. The team didn't leave for camp until six days later, on Aug. 22.

In Reel Life: All the black players sit on one bus, the white players on another. Boone makes them switch around, with the offense on one bus, defense on the other, integrating the buses.

In Real Life: Boone says this happened. "I forced them on each other. I forced them to learn each other's culture. I forced them to be a part of each other's lives."

In Reel Life: The camp is held at Gettysburg College.

In Real Life: True.

In Reel Life: Camp is brutal, with two and sometimes three practices a day.

In Real Life: On a typical day at Gettysburg, the team practiced from 9-11:30 a.m., from 2-3 p.m., and from 4-5:30 p.m. Team meetings were interspersed throughout the day.

In Reel Life: "If you survive camp, you will be on the team," Boone says.

In Real Life: Boone had a policy of not cutting anyone who wanted to play, as long as they practiced.

In Reel Life: Ron "Sunshine" Bass (Kip Pardue) arrives after camp begins, and is introduced to the coaches by his father, Col. Bass (Andrew Masset).

Denzel Washington
The Titans really did practice three times a day at training camp -- but there was no 3 a.m. run.
In Real Life: Sunshine had been in Alexandria, Va., before camp started, and had practiced with Rev, his rival quarterback, in the unofficial workouts during the summer. "Ronnie went down (to the Burg) every day, and he related to the kids there in the ghetto," Boone says in his DVD commentary. "This is one of the reasons they called him 'Sunshine.' "

In Reel Life: Sunshine kisses Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) on the lips.

In Real Life: Didn't happen, according to the '71 Original Titans Web site.

In Reel Life: Boone makes the team get up at 3 a.m. and run to the Gettysburg cemetery.

In Real Life: Didn't happen.

In Reel Life: At the cemetery, Boone gives an inspirational speech about the history and meaning of Gettysburg.

In Real Life: The team did tour Gettysburg, but a guide did most of the talking, Boone says. "He was an old man, in his early 90s then. Late 80s, early 90s probably, who had been the personal guide on the tours to these cemeteries probably 60, 70 years or so. He knew everything, and as we stood there in that cemetery, (we) listened to him paint the picture of the thousands of young men who just fell dead ..."

Alexandria in 1971
In Reel Life: Alexandria, Va., is depicted as a town torn apart by racial tensions, and the forced integration of two high schools -- one all-black, one all-white, forms the core conflict of the movie.

In Real Life: Adrienne T. Washington, who attended T.C. Williams when it opened in 1965, wrote in the Washington Times that there was resistance to federally-mandated desegregation in Alexandria in the 1960s, "But the opening of T.C. Williams High School in the fall of 1965 -- not 1971 -- forced whites and blacks to attend school together for the first time. ... The movie's red-letter year -- 1971, when the high schools were consolidated after even more federal pressure -- came half a decade after many of us forged a path for the harmonious interracial relationships the film highlights."

Denzel Washington
As portrayed by Denzel Washington, coach Herman Boone was a disciplinarian and a perfectionist.
In 1971, three high schools -- T.C. Williams, George Washington and Hammond -- merged, with T.C. Williams accepting only 11th and 12th graders, and G.W. and Hammond accepting ninth and 10th graders. Before they merged, they were not strictly segregated. Says Yoast in his DVD commentary, "There were quite a few blacks in George Washington High School. T.C. Williams had a few, and the school where I was (Hammond), we had very few, maybe three or four black students altogether."

Bass told the Greenville (SC) News that the racial tensions were much exaggerated. "They (the movie) had a community divided down black and white, and it really wasn't like that in 1971 Alexandria," he said, although he admitted that the Titans' championship run did help bring the community together.

"My friend Bill Yoast ... told me Disney had taken liberties with the facts, suggesting an overheated atmosphere of racial animosities and fears at the school and in the community that just hadn't existed," added Patrick Welsh, who taught at TC Williams in 1971, in a Washington Post article.

In Reel Life: On the first day of school, there are protesters outside the high school.

In Real Life: There were no protests at the high school, although there were a few fights and rock-throwing incidents at a junior high school. Things quieted down pretty quickly, though, according to the Titans' Web site.

In Reel Life: Conflict at the high school continues through the football season.

In Real Life: According to Joann Patton, who dated Yoast and taught English at T.C. Williams, students "adjusted pretty well to (the integrated) situation. The kids behaved a whole lot better than most of the adults."

The coaches
In Reel Life: Coaches Boone and Yoast meet at the beginning of the film.

In Real Life: "Herman had been in the city for a year," Yoast explains. "We had met earlier, but on the football field, maybe after the game shaking hands or something."

In Reel Life: Boone tells Yoast that he has won four or five championships down in Carolina.

Will Patton Denzel Washington
Coach Bill Yoast, left, (as played by Will Patton) had to cope with being passed over for the head coaching job.
In Real Life: Before coming to T.C. Williams in 1970, Boone coached at E.J. Hayes High School in North Carolina. Hayes was 99-6 under his tenure, and won four state titles.

In Reel Life: Coach Boone is a hardass, seemingly devoid of warmth and humor.

In Real Life: "(Denzel Washington) did come across as a disciplinarian, which coach Boone was; he was a perfectionist, which coach Boone tried to be; and he had a temper and was in your face a lot," Bass said. Boone admits, in his DVD commentary, that he was a disciplinarian, but adds that he has a warm side that doesn't come across in the film.

In Reel Life: Coach Tyrell (Brett Rice) takes issue with the idea that Boone could be head coach. He says that Coach Yoast has been nominated to the Virginia High School Hall of Fame. Also, throughout the film the "Hall of Fame" is a recurring theme; if Yoast isn't head coach, apparently he can't make it into the Hall.

In Real Life:There was no coach Tyrell, and there was no "Virginia High School Hall of Fame" in 1971, although one exists now.

In Reel Life: Yoast decides against taking the assistant coach job, and says he's going to take a year off. Then, the players start a petition to get him named head coach, and he reconsiders.

In Real Life: "My players were very upset," Yoast says in his DVD commentary. "They did bring petitions to me, as in the film. I tore up the petition, told them they didn't want to give up football their senior year. So they did have something to do with me finally agreeing to go with Herman ... I've never been sorry."

In Reel Life: It's implied (though stated only through bigoted coach Tyrell) that there's as much racial conflict among the coaching staff as among the players.

Denzel Washington, Kip Pardue
Ronnie Bass (as played by actor Kip Pardue) wasn't the only Titan with long hair in 1971.
In Real Life: As screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard knew, the conflict among the coaches wasn't primarily about race; it was about ego and ambition. As Howard himself wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Alexandria had a seniority system; senior coach automatically got the head job." But Yoast was passed over for what he thought was the best high school coaching job in the country -- and it hurt. "I had to get over the ego trip -- and that's what it was -- of being head man," Yoast recalled.

In Reel Life: Before the first game against Haywood, Boone throws up.

In Real Life: Boone would get so nervous that he threw up before every game, he says in his DVD commentary.

In Reel Life: Early in the season, Sheryl's watching game film with coach Boone at his house. Someone throws a brick through his window, calling him "Coach coon."

In Real Life: "There wasn't a brick thrown through my window," Boone says in his DVD commentary. "It was something far more devastating to any human being than a brick could be. I guess Disney, being the family movie production company that it is, felt that to depict a toilet stool coming through your window was a bit much ... I've never gotten over that incident that particular night, because I could never understand how anybody could feel so bad about another human being as to throw a toilet commode through a window."

In Reel Life: After the brick incident, Boone picks up his rifle and goes outside to confront his attackers.

In Real Life: This didn't happen. Boone didn't own a gun.

The players
In Reel Life: Many of the players have military haircuts, and most have fairly short hair.

In Real Life: "By 1971, almost all the boys at T.C. Williams had long hair, even the football players," Mark Jenkins, who attended T.C. Williams in 1971, told National Public Radio.

In Reel Life: At the start of camp, the team is clearly divided by race, and there's (diminishing) racial conflict throughout most of the season.

In Real Life: Both coaches and many players say that there was conflict, especially during training camp, but that it was because of competition for positions, not because of race. With three teams merging into one, many who had started at their old schools would be benched.

Denzel Washington
In real life, the Titans celebrated a much easier victory in the state championship game.
"In real life, it was more about jealousy," Doug Schneebeck, the son of a woman Yoast was dating, told the Albuquerque Journal in 2000. "Every player was worried about (his) position on the team. Everyone wanted to play. I think the kids were portrayed in a less positive light than was the circumstances."

Bass agrees. "I wanted to make the team," he said. "I think that's where most of the kids' minds were. We were just trying to play football."

Howard admitted he made some big assumptions when writing his script. "They didn't care if it was a black guy or a white guy taking their spot?" he asked, rhetorically, according to a 2000 article in USA Today. "Yeah, right. Who wants to say, 'I hated (black people)?' Who wants to say, 'I hated white people?' Who wants to say, 'We hated each other.' "

In Reel Life: Some teammates brawl, especially during training camp.

In Real Life: Opinions differ on how much fighting there was -- some say a little, some say a lot. Boone, in his DVD commentary, says, "On the real team, there'd be fights, but sometimes it'd be black vs. black or white vs. black, the normal thing you'd see on any football team. Because of competition for positions."

Carl Turner, a running back for the 1971 Titans, told Sports Illustrated there was a lot of fighting. "Black guys fighting white guys, black guys from G.W. fighting black guys from T.C., white guys from Hammond fighting white guys from G.W."

In Reel Life: In training camp, and again during the season, Ray (Burgess Jenkins) intentionally misses blocks, because he wants his black teammates to be taken down. Gerry (pronounced "Gary") Bertier (Ryan Hurst) chews him out for this, and later has Ray kicked off the team.

In Real Life: Ray is a fictional character, and the scenario is fictional.

In Reel Life: Louie Lastik (Ethan Suplee) is the first to break the "color barrier." He gets up in front of everyone in the camp and tells them he just moved to Alexandria from Bayonne.

In Real Life: Lastik was born and raised in Alexandria, and, according to Boone, Lastik was a bridge. "Louie grew up close to the black neighborhood, and he knew all of the black kids, particularly from G.W., and they knew him. He had played with them, and he related with them."

In Reel Life: Louie is enormous and has a great sense of humor.

In Real Life: Lastik "wasn't as big as this kid in the movie," Boone says. "He was big, but not as big and not as funny."

In Reel Life: Bertier is a team leader, and an All-American.

In Real Life: Bertier was a team leader, and an All-American. If anything, he's slighted as a football player in the movie, said Schneebeck. "He should have been bigger in the movie. He was fast and powerful, like no high school player I've ever seen."

In Reel Life: QB Ron "Sunshine" Bass is a long-haired, California hippie.

In Real Life: "I was never quite like that," Bass told the Greenville (SC) News. "But that's Hollywood. I'll say for the record my hair was never that long."

In Reel Life: During the Hayfield game, Alan (Ryan Gosling) can't stick with his man. Coach Yoast sends Pete in to replace him at linebacker. Alan's father, Fred (Tim Ware), who's in the stands, yells out, "Don't you take out my son." He later goes to Boone's office and chews out the coaches.

In Real Life: That replacement was made between games, not during a game. But when it happened, says Yoast in his DVD commentary, "We had quite a discussion. It was a bad scene ... the parent didn't stand up in the stands, but he had me in the office and coach Boone, and pretty well read me the riot act."

In Reel Life: Gerry becomes friends with Julius and other black players, and his girlfriend, Emma (Kate Bosworth), disapproves strongly. She refuses to shake Julius' hand, and Gerry and Emma break up early in the season because of her attitude.

In Real Life: Gerry's girlfriend was named Becky, and she lived next door to Yoast. "She and Gerry broke up about (the time of the accident, described below)," he says in his DVD commentary. "They did break up. I don't know if Gerry's attitude and his association with his friends had anything to do with it. She told me it was because he had too many girlfriends." According to the Web site, "Emma is, at best, a composite of bad traits of a lot of people."

In Reel Life: Gerry gets into a terrible car accident before the championship game, and is paralyzed.

In Real Life: Bertier did get into an accident, but it was after the season had ended -- he was driving home from an awards banquet, and was paralyzed from the chest down. He died March 20, 1981.

In Reel Life: On the bus going to Gettysburg, Boone gives the coaches their playbooks. "I run six plays," Boone says. "Split V."

In Real Life: Six plays with many variations, and, as the name "Triple Option Veer" implies, lots of options.

In Reel Life: It's implied that the Titans were underdogs.

In Real Life: "There were more than a few times that I felt genuinely sorry for the teams we played," said Charles Mitchell, a backup running back. "We would have won the state championship without the coaches, in my opinion. We were that dominating. We were that deep." In fact, at the end of the season the Titans were the second-ranked team in the nation.

In Reel Life: The Titans' first game is against Haywood, the second against Herndon, the third against Groveton ...

In Real Life: The Titans played Herndon in their first game, Hayfield in their third game, and didn't face Groveton until their sixth game.

In Reel Life: Before the first game, Coach Boone gives the team a pep talk: "Like all the other schools in this conference, they're all white. They don't have to worry about race. We do."

In Real Life: All the teams the Titans faced were integrated.

In Reel Life: The Titans develop what becomes a trademark song and dance routine when they come onto the field for pregame warm-ups.

In Real Life: The Titans did sometimes sing during warm-ups, and when they were introduced did some rhythmic clapping and pad-slapping. But they didn't dance.

In Reel Life: Before the Northern Virginia Regional Championship game, someone who wants Yoast to get into the Hall of Fame tries to arrange a Titans loss, so that Boone will be fired and Yoast will get the head coaching job. A referee is involved in a plot, and he calls penalties against the Titans when there is obviously no infraction, until Yoast threatens to tell the papers of the plot.

In Real Life: Pure fiction. "We got our share of bad calls, and I'm not sure, to this day, that some of it was not racism," Boone says in his DVD commentary. "But it was not as overt as appears in the film."

In Reel Life: In the championship game, the Titans face Marshall in Roanoke Stadium.

In Real Life: In the championship game, the Titans faced Andrew Lewis High School at Victory Stadium in Roanoke.

In Reel Life: In the championship game, the Titans trail 7-0 at the half, 7-3 at the end of the third quarter, and are still behind 7-3 with less than two minutes remaining and Marshall holding the ball. Even though Marshall can run out the clock and win, a Marshall player takes off on what appears likely to be a long TD run. He's tackled from behind by Julius, and fumbles. Rev picks up the fumble and runs in for the winning TD.

In Real Life: The real championship game was much less dramatic. Williams beat Lewis 27-0, with Lewis netting minus-5 total yards on offense.

The Titans did play against Marshall, and it was their closest game: 21-16. But that was the fifth game of the regular season. T.C. Williams had a pretty easy time of the postseason, beating Annandale 28-0 in the regional playoffs, knocking off Woodrow Wilson 36-14 in the state semifinals, then trouncing Lewis for the title.



Jeff Merron Archive

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Reel Life: 'Jerry Maguire'

Reel Life: 'Raging Bull'

Reel Life: 'The Hustler'

Reel Life: 'Rocky'

Closer Look: Old-time hockey indeed

Closer Look: Lost in a 'Field' of imagination

Closer Look: 'The Rookie' in reel life

Closer Look: 'Bull Durham' in reel life

Closer Look: 'Hoosiers' in reel life

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