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GO TIGERS!

Review by Michael Jacobson

Director:  Kenneth A. Carlson
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Docurama
Features:  See Review
Length:  103 Minutes
Release Date:  September 24, 2002

“This is what high school’s all about!”

Film ***1/2

I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida.  We’re a town that loves its football.  We happen to be right in the crux of two of the greatest year in and year out college rivalries, between Florida State and Florida, and Florida and Georgia.  The latter game is one we’ve been home to for many years, and it’s a week when the city goes completely insane.  All of this finally came to fruition in 1993, when after a long hard battle, the National Football League awarded us our own franchise…our beloved Jaguars.

I thought we were a football town.  But I’d never been to Massillon, Ohio.

Go Tigers is a documentary that took me there.  It’s a small, typical blue collar town with a population of about 32,000.  And a weekly high school football game attendance of about 20,000.

Yes, I said high school football.  The Massillon Tigers are the town’s pride and joy.  The residents live, eat and breathe football every day of the year, then for ten weeks, they indulge like starving men at a buffet.  The kids who play the game are celebrities…teenage giants walking the earth among mortals.

This is one of the best sports documentaries I’ve ever seen.  Director Kenneth A. Carlson chronicled the Tigers’ 1999 season, one year after their heartbreaking 4-6 run that not only shook up the players, coaches and fans, but seemingly put the very school in financial jeopardy.

For there are two battles being waged in Go Tigers.  One is the weekly grind of football life, the other is the proposal of a levy to increase taxes to help the school out.  Without it, they may lose teachers, books and other resources.  Some of the town’s residents who aren’t so blinded by the Tigers’ orange and black pose an interesting question…since so much of the school’s money goes to the football team, why not simply cut the sports budget a little to make up the deficit in education spending?

They might as well be asking Enron executives about business ethics.  No, the money is not going to come from the football team, so the team finds themselves under the added pressure of winning games to build the town’s morale for the levy, and even speaking out in favor of it whenever possible (something they don’t seem comfortable with, but they’re good sports about it).  They have the unfortunate task of stressing the importance of education to a town where football is everything, and where boys are regularly held back in the 8th grade for the sole purpose of having better football careers in high school!

The drama centers around the team’s three captains.  Ellery Moore is a stalwart defensive end who actually spent his sophomore year in prison when he was accused of rape.  He may not have committed that crime, but his other questionable activities made him accept his time and come out a better man.  He seems to be the Tigers’ heart and soul, and could maybe go on to a dynamic college career…if he could only pass his entrance exams.

Dave Irwin is the quarterback, who has a lot he wants to accomplish in his senior year…but what happens when he almost loses a finger during the week of the school’s biggest game?  And linebacker Danny Studer also has high aspirations, but suffering his first ever football injury could be a major stumbling block.

The film takes us into the locker rooms, the pep rallies, and onto the field for some serious football action.  The moods are plentiful and vibrant.  There are halftime speeches, comebacks, personal crises…everything you’d expect from a sports movie, except it’s all there for real.  When the Tigers spend their week getting ready to face their greatest rival, McKinley in Canton, it’s an amazing phenomenon to experience.

So great is their rivalry that it’s said theirs is the only high school football game in the country to get odds in Vegas.  The senior Tigers have never beaten their hated foes, and this is their last chance to do it…not to mention that McKinley is the only hurdle standing between them and a perfect regular season.  Do you begin to see what a great film this is?

The best overall aspect of it is its lack of judgment.  These people are football crazy, and of course, one can only wonder if such passion for a high school team is always good.  We even attend a party where the players and their friends get drunk, chug beer, and even get atrociously sick, and think to ourselves:  these are high school kids!  But these are questions we have to ask ourselves…the film doesn’t pick sides.

The amazing thing about documentary filmmaking is that the people who do it have no idea how their subject is going to turn out, which is what makes a film like Go Tigers such a terrific accomplishment.  Real life can knock the wind out of you, but here is a film made with courage and vigor that proves the best just roll with the punches and keep on coming.

Video ***

Though shot on video tape (a few film segments notwithstanding), this is an impressive, though non-anamorphic offering, from Docurama.  The colors are vibrant and natural looking…you probably won’t ever see so much orange and black outside of Halloween!  The picture suffers none of the usual drawbacks of tape…I noticed no haziness, no lines, no softness.  It’s mostly free from grain and anything interfering.  A solid job overall!

Audio ***

Though the box purports 5.1 audio, it’s actually a 2 channel surround mix, but it serves the purpose nicely.  You expect dynamic range and you get it, from the powerfully loud football sequences to the quieter, more thoughtful one on one moments.  It’s a serviceable sports film soundtrack all around.

Features ***

A few good features are included, starting with 9 deleted scenes and the complete 1951 newsreel footage that makes a brief appearance in the film.  There are also updates for the three main players, a hall of champions gallery for Massillon greats, three trailers, an interview with Massillon native Chris Spielman, original music, a bio for Carlson, and some promotional material for Docurama.

Summary:

If you love your football, A) you probably don’t love it as much as the folks in Massillon, and B) you should treat yourself to this documentary.  Go Tigers shows what’s great about the game, what’s wrong with the game, but mostly, just the game itself and what it means to one tightly knit community.  This is sports entertainment at its very best…recommended.