Before he shot his first frame in 2006, renowned filmmaker George Butler envisioned a definitive and intimate picture of Bobby Bowden, the man behind one of college football's elite programs.
He got more than he could have imagined.
"Most sports film are built on the Rocky theory," said Butler, referring to an underdog overcoming the odds for an improbable outcome. "I just happened to pick probably Bobby's biggest struggle ever … and you can see that large across his face."
Bowden had his toughest season in a generation. Not just on the field where the Seminoles were 7-6, their worst mark in a generation, but off, where oft-criticized offensive coordinator, Jeff Bowden, the coach's son, announced his resignation in mid November, a move that led to an unprecedented staff shakeup shortly after the 2006 season.
"All of that is in this film," said Butler, who has earned critical acclaim for such projects as Pumping Iron, a classic sports film that featured a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, a documentary on John Kerry in 2004, and an IMAX feature on the Mars rover. "But as Bobby says, 'No character was ever developed at FSU by winning seasons; it's always the losing of games that build character.' You'll hear him say that."
As is the case with many independent projects, Butler is facing challenges with financing that he insists won't derail this one. He's screening a cut of his work in progress, The Good Fight, at the Gasparilla Film Festival on Friday at the Channelside 9 Cinemas in Tampa.
He and his team shot about 300 hours of film, receiving unprecedented and virtually unfettered access.
That includes at Bowden's home at 3:30 a.m. so he could film the 78-year-old coach's morning ritual of reading the Bible with wife Ann. That includes in Bowden's meeting with the offensive staff on the eve of the Boston College game. That includes a camera in the Clemson locker room before the Labor Day opener where he captured Bowden's son and Clemson coach Tommy screaming at his Tigers to "hit 'em in the face; knock 'em off their feet." That includes Bowden's fiery speech before the Florida game.
"My job is to make a movie," Butler said, "that will be a portrait of Bobby Bowden unlike anything ever done on a football coach before."
DARLING UPDATE: Devard Darling couldn't believe that Tuesday marked the seventh anniversary of the death of his twin, Devaughn. The promising freshman linebacker collapsed and died after a grueling offseason workout. He was 18.
"It's crazy; seven years," said Devard, who just finished his fourth season as a receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about Devaughn Darling."
Devard's parents, Wendy Smith and Dennis Darling, settled a wrongful death lawsuit with FSU for $2-million in June 2004. Each parent received $100,000, but the remaining $1.8-million must go through a claims bill process in the state Legislature, and the Darling bill hasn't even made it out of committee. Given the state budget crunch, the chances don't look any better this year.
"We're just going around in circles and it's hard for us," Smith said. "It's always there. It's always hanging over us. I cry myself to sleep so many nights."
Devard is frustrated, too, but said Tuesday that he "thanks the Lord for every day." He and his wife, Cicely, welcomed a baby boy, Devard Jr., on Dec. 26. They hope to have another son, one they plan to name Devaughn.
IN THE RUNNING: The men's track and field team enters the ACC indoor championships in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Friday looking for a sixth consecutive title, and coach Bob Braman sure likes his team's chances. But the bigger prize is the NCAA indoor championships March 14-15 in Arkansas, and if the Seminoles, who were second in that meet last year, are to make a run at that title, the key is to be healthy and ready. That's why Braman is resting star sprinter Walter Dix. "We want to win conference," Braman said, "but we have to be careful. There's a fine line there."
Brian Landman can be reached
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