For three summers, I had the good fortune to watch and listen to Tony Dungy day after day.
The practices occurred at the most scenic of settings for an NFL training camp — the serene, wooded grounds of the Rose-Hulman campus. As idyllic as it sounds, though, Dungy and his team usually worked in the suffocating humidity that comes with August in Indiana. In such an atmosphere, a player’s concentration can drain almost as fast as he sweats.
Yet, those Indianapolis Colts — almost to a man — listened each time their coach spoke. And they did so even though Dungy never seemed to come unraveled or rant at them like his hair was on fire.
Why did those guys pay such attention to Dungy?
Two simple reasons — they respected him, and he made sense. Not surprisingly, they won games, lots of them, including a Super Bowl.
So when Tony Dungy recommends something, it’s worth checking out. That applies to a new film that focuses intensely on a cause Dungy has long championed, responsible fatherhood. “Courageous” follows five men with common problems in their behaviors and backgrounds, dealing with common consequences that accompany their issues. Four of them, co-workers as county sheriff’s deputies in Georgia, give full efforts on their jobs while their families get what’s left of them.
A gut-wrenching tragedy strikes one family and jolts all four officers into rethinking their priorities. A fifth guy serendipitously wanders into the mix as a hired hand who battles unemployment but leans, significantly, on his spiritual faith.
Together, the men make a pact to become fully involved in the lives of their kids.
“As men, we could all take a lesson from them and ask ourselves, ‘What can I do to be a more involved dad?’ ” Dungy wrote in a USA Today essay after watching “Courageous.”
Dungy has worked since 1997 in the All Pro Dad program operated by the nonprofit Family First organization, and many of the same cultural realities that group confronts are not-so-subtlely explored in “Courageous.” Kids who have little or no contact with their father are more likely to live in poverty, struggle in school, and experience health and behavioral problems, Dungy wrote. Likewise, the characters in “Courageous” — especially lead actors Adam Mitchell (played by co-writer and director Alex Kendrick) and Nathan Hayes (played by retired Marine Ken Bevel) — enumerate societal ills connected to children growing up without an involved father.
To be sure, the film carries an overt, faith-based message. That’s no surprise, because “Courageous” is the fourth independent movie produced by brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who are pastors at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. Bevel is also a pastor there. In fact, many of the cast members are church volunteers. Alex Kendrick and Bevel also played roles in the church’s three previous movies — “Flywheel” (2003), “Facing the Giants” (2006) and “Fireproof” (2008). With each of those releases, the Kendricks surprised Hollywood with the response of moviegoers. “Fireproof,” for example, cost $500,000 to make, but grossed $33.5 million as the best-selling independent film of 2008.
“Courageous” is on pace to top those numbers. It drew more fans on its debut weekend (beginning Sept. 30) than any other film in the nation.
Dungy’s endorsement isn’t an obligatory gesture. The film is solid, stirring and funny in places. More so, it’s a gut-check for anybody who sits down in the theater, especially fathers. It’s not perfect; some characters use a “Dragnet”-style, just-the-facts-ma’am delivery. But the situations portrayed are poignant and heart-rending. A scene in which Adam Mitchell — once too busy and too detached for his family — finally makes good on a simple request for his time by his young daughter is one of the most gripping moments in a family movie in years.
Dungy connected with the Mitchell character. “I think that was me for a long while,” he said in an interview with LifeWay Christian Resources. “I was into my job. I wanted my kids to do great, but I knew I had some issues and I recognized I needed to be able to spend more quality time with my kids.”
Fellow cast members may offer connections for others. Deputy Hayes never knew his father. Another officer sees his son only a couple times a month. Another has a daughter he’s never seen. Javier, the hired hand, fights to maintain faith and home life with his wife and two young kids despite the hardships of a job layoff. They fail. They succeed. They commit to doing better.
The value of their efforts is rarely so distinctly depicted on cinema screens. In that respect, and many others, “Courageous” lives up to its name.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For three summers, I had the good fortune to watch and listen to Tony Dungy day after day.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
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Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
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MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MARK BENNETT: Steve Martin keeps Terre Haute on burner
If insults are a form of flattery, Steve Martin still likes us.
Better yet, he hasn’t forgotten us.
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I’ll admit, I worried about Paul McCartney during the blistering intro to “Helter Skelter.”
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MARK BENNETT: Time for surf, sand and a good book
I can read a book on the beach. Until I start sweating. Then it feels like exercise, minus the fitness perks. My brain shifts into neutral as the waves roll in, blissfully washing away footprints in the sand and my inclination to think. Better put, I enjoy starting a book on the beach, and finishing it later, elsewhere.
Police: Mom, son conspire to kill witness
The Clay County Sheriff’s Department seems to have prevented what it believes was a mother-and-son conspiracy to commit murder.
Banks of the Wabash Festival is more than just yearly entertainment
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MARK BENNETT: After running for 28 hours straight, what’s another 5 miles?
Some phrases can only be uttered by a few people, or none at all.
MARK BENNETT: Glitches show limitations of high-stakes testing concept
The dog ate my homework. That age-old excuse — based on a shockingly unforeseen complication — rarely works for a kid who didn’t finish yesterday’s math assignment. Yet, in a role reversal, Indiana school children, along with their teachers and administrators, are left to accept an explanation for a disruption best described as the mother of all ironies.
MARK BENNETT: One step at a time to save lives
Remember that name.
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The era seems quaint now, almost like a fable. When people left their house doors unlocked. When the sight of a police officer in a school meant it was Career Day.
MARK BENNETT: New reality steers Nashville singer to Crossroads for Historical Society concert
People pass through the Crossroads of America for lots of reasons.
Business trips. College campus events. Federal prison sentences. Visits with relatives. Gas pitstops.
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Ty Brown makes his first stop in downtown Terre Haute as the headliner of a multi-band Sweet Sensations Country Jam concert May 4 in the Ohio Building — a fundraiser for the Vigo County Historical Society.
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“You could hardly walk by here,” John Hochhalter said, pointing toward the sidewalk outside the window.
The bustle has faded since the early 1960s. Hochhalter remains. He’s still barbering in the same shop he and late business partner Kenny Thomas opened a half-century ago this week.
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