3 Stars – Thoughtful

How do we deal with grief when it is so deep that you feel as though  your soul is crushed?  Or when you can’t breath because of the pain?  Sometimes the only answer that seems to work is to emotionally shut down in order to protect ourselves.  What do you do next?

“We Are Marshall” tells the true story of the airplane crash on November 14, 1970 that killed the Marshall University football team on their way home to West Virginia, and what the community had to go through in order to put their lives back together.  Although the school and the team never captured ongoing national attention, the aftermath of this tragedy had a profound impact on the lives of thousands of people in this small town on the Ohio River.

Like many small communities, local sporting events captivate the cultural and emotional life in Marshall.  Football and basketball games dominate the conversations at the local diner and at the Barber Shop.  The star football player, Chris Griffin (Wes Brown), was the son of Paul Griffin (Ian McShane) the School Board Chairman.  Everyone loved someone on the team, whether he was a son, a husband, a fiancé, a teammate, or a brother. 

Often in tragic circumstances, those left behind suffer survivors guilt:  One coach chose to drive home instead of fly;  One teammate didn’t make the trip because he overslept;  The sense of guilt that they feel overwhelms them.

Marshall University President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) made the unpopular decision to let the football program continue.  The community struggled with the question, what honors those who died?  Does closing down the program dishonor the team?  Or, does putting together another team of lesser talent only serve to remind everyone of their loss?

Everyone on President Dedmon’s list for a replacement coach turned down the job.  At their darkest hour, a homespun, unsophisticated, plain-speaking coach from another state stepped in and offered his services.  Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) was no one’s idea of the kind of guy who would bring hope back to Marshall.  His only reason for taking the job was because he was a father of three children and he knew how much he loved them.

What follows is a story of redemption born out of hard work.  It is a reminder that while we are in pain the temptation to give up is profound and ever-present.  It also highlights the fact that not everyone makes the transition from pain to hope, but those who do become stronger in the process.

When the new team emerged for their first home game, they won back the hearts and the soul of the community while winning the game.  In the end, the message of the team changed from “winning is everything” to “being in the game is everything.”


  1. The tragedy of loosing so many precious people in a moment is overwhelming to the emotional fabric of Marshall.  Do you believe this is the same or different when a nation looses so many in a war?
  2. Many small towns find their identity in their sports teams.  Why do you believe this is so?  Is it a good thing?
  3. The process of grief is seen in all its varying forms.  How do you grieve?
  4. The existence of survivor’s guilt is only now being understood.  What do you believe causes this in some people and not in others?  Have you every experienced it?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHTFUL.