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'My All-American' Remembers Forgotten Story Of Heroic Texas Football Player


If you think about the great movies about sports, "Rudy" and "Hoosiers" are probably on the list. And now the writer of both of those movies has done a legendary Texas football story. "My All-American" hits theaters this Friday. It's about Freddie Steinmark. If you haven't heard of him, reporter Laura Rice of Texas Standard says, you will.

LAURA RICE: Freddie Steinmark was like Rudy in that he was an undersized football player with enormous heart. But Rudy wasn't a football star. Freddie Steinmark was, as portrayed in the movie.


FINN WITTROCK: (As Freddie Steinmark) We will not lose this game. This streak ends now. We have 57 seconds to go 82 yards.

RICE: Steinmark helped lead the University of Texas to a national championship in 1969 in what was then dubbed the game of the century.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jubilant Longhorns from Austin, Texas.

RICE: But it's after that game that Steinmark's real challenge and real legacy begin. Angelo Pizzo wrote and directed "My All-American."

ANGELO PIZZO: Every sports movie that you can think of, the penultimate or ultimate moment happens on the field of play or the big game or the big fight, and this doesn't.

RICE: Steinmark biographer Bower Yousse explains, Steinmark was diagnosed with bone cancer.

BOWER YOUSSE: Six days after he had been in the national championship game, they wheeled him in for his biopsy and they said, Freddie, if it's malignant, we're going to remove your leg at the hip.

RICE: People were shocked, the defensive back who had just shown such prowess on the football field was now literally fighting for his life.

PRESTON KIRK: I think the reason so many people identified with him - it was truly a story about courage and tragedy.

RICE: Preston Kirk covered the drama as a young reporter.

KIRK: This story had so much attention from the country that we were compelled, not just by our editors, but by the public, we want to know every detail that they could get.

RICE: Freddie Steinmark's cancer battle even got the attention of President Richard Nixon. In 1969, Nixon met the Texas football team after the big game.


RICHARD NIXON: For a team to be behind 14-0 and then not to lose its cool and to go on to win, that proves you deserve to be no. 1. And that's what you are.


RICE: Richard Nixon was so moved by Steinmark's diagnosis and attitude that he was inspired, in part, to declare a war on cancer at the White House in 1971.


NIXON: And I hope that in the years ahead that we may look back on this day and this action as being the most significant action taken during this administration.

RICE: Today, Freddie Steinmark's story is all but forgotten, even at his alma mater at the University of Texas. At a recent screening of the film on campus, Vindo Huang and Brandon Sperling said he's just not well-known.

VINDO HUANG: You see the picture around campus.

BRANDON SPERLING: Sort of. I work in the football stadium so, like, I've seen his name a lot.

RICE: Today, there are some people who do know the Freddie Steinmark story - the football team.

CASE MCCOY: Coming in as a freshman, you learn two things. You learn the fight song and you learn the story of Freddie Steinmark.

RICE: Case McCoy played quarterback for U.T.

MCCOY: When you ran out of the tunnel before a game, you touched Freddie Steinmark's picture and the words around him, of courage and pride.

RICE: The idea is that when "My All-American" hits the big screen, people will be reminded why Freddie Steinmark and his short life are worth remembering.

For NPR News, I'm Laura Rice in Austin, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.