When it comes to the genre of sports movies perhaps the most overrated football movie is Rudy. Rudy is the story about a human blocking dummy getting to suit up during the last game of the season his senior year in college. Yes they made a movie about that. It was only made a movie because Notre Dame was one of the biggest college football programs back then. Enter the Christian film Greater, the true story of Brandon Burlsworth.
The story starts off at the backdrop of a funeral, indicating that the main character’s life was cut short. I won’t spoil this movie, but it’s a well-known true story in the college football world. The movie largely takes place from the prospective of Brandon’s brother Marty who is 17 years older than him. The first interaction we see is Marty’s disgust with Brandon being a fat and lazy child. But Brandon has a dream that he will play line for Arkansas and pursues that dream.
During high school, he visits the University of Arkansas and is told by the coach that he needs to be 300lbs to play line in the SEC. So Brandon decides to put on 85lbs and show up to University of Arkansas as a walk-on. Brandon is a walking tub of lard but makes the scout team because the coaches recognize his work ethic. For those unfamiliar with college football, Brandon is redshirted which means the school owns the rights to him and he can’t play until the last game of the season, but the season doesn’t count against his four years as a student.
So Brandon works with the line coach to no longer be a walking whale and to put on muscle and he earns a scholarship. From there he becomes a successful student athlete who plays a pivotal role as a team leader. So he has to navigate coaching changes because in case you didn’t know, Arkansas is an SEC doormat. Eventually he is drafted in the third round by the Indianapolis Colts. But before he even signs the contract he dies in an accident.
The way that Brandon Burlsworth’s death was handled was about as good as the movie could do. Alternatively, they could have not foreshadowed the death and shocked the viewer for the sake of depressing the viewer. But instead, they baked his death into the cake to not take away from an inspirational story. With his death we see Marty wrestle with his faith and his grief throughout the movie. This works because there was a lot of tension set up between Marty and Brandon earlier in the movie.
Brandon himself is a socially awkward, probably OCD, standup guy. In the beginning he’s an outcast because he is a fat walk on. But he eventually earns the respect of his teammates and becomes a leader. Throughout the movie, Brandon’s faith in God is the impetus for his actions. And it seems like the only director’s liberty taken in the story is his brother Marty dealing with grief.
The legacy of Brandon Burlsworth stands on its own as he is remembered as one of the best walk-ons in college football history. The movie, Greater does an excellent job at adapting this true story to film.
Overall, Greater is a sad yet inspirational story and a rare example of faith-based films being superior to comparable secular films of the same niche genre.