“We are the Titans, the mighty, mighty Titans.”
That was the battle cry of the 1971 T.C. Williams (Alexandria, Va.) football team, a group forced together by the courts, unified by a demanding coach, motivated by a will to achieve and ultimately glorified by Hollywood.
On Sept. 17, at Joe Thiesmann’s Restaurant not more than a mile from the school, most of the team members gathered for a reunion and to watch a local TV broadcast of “The Original Titans,” a tribute to the real life stars of T.C. Williams.
“We talk, we laugh, we lie -- everyone’s a superstar,” joked Rufus Littlejohn, a starting linebacker in 1971 and organizer of the reunion.
The obvious question Littlejohn, and the other Original Titans face, “Is the movie true?”
“The atmosphere and tone, and the spirit being communicated is true,” Littlejohn said. “When I saw the movie, it pretty much put me back in 1971.”
Although schools 20 minutes north of Alexandria, just over the state line in Maryland, had been desegregated for a decade, it took legal action in the form of the K6-2-2-2 plan in 1971 to use busing to bring about racial equality in the Alexandria school system. Ultimately T.C. Williams, which had been 75 percent white, became the sole high school for seniors, adding students from Francis Hammond and George Washington to T.C. Williams (three schools merged, not two like the movie indicates).
“This dramatic, sudden change caused a lot of tension and apprehension,” observed a former player who operates a T.C. Williams Web page (www.71originaltitans.com). As the movie depicts, the once hated rivals now battle for starting spots on one team. Boone, hired to coach the team instead of local legend Yoast, must contend with racism -- both from the community and within the team. He gets the players to work out their differences. The team wins all of its games, including the state title, and the city celebrates its new heroes.
“The message was simple, and in 1971, it’s the same things kids today face as well -- that is this: how people talk, how people dress, what music they listen to and how much money they have,” said Bobby Luckett, the team’s starting center. “What we proved was that even though we are different you can meet people on even ground. It wasn’t about skin color, it was about a common goal -- winning a football championship.”
True to Life
In addition to the team winning the state title, the following episodes, according to players, were properly captured in the movie:
1. “The [team bonding] trip to Gettysburg (Pa.),” Littlejohn said. “That really happened.”
2. “The tension,” Luckett said. “I don’t think, for me personally, there were as many racial issues as the movie, but we generally didn’t like each other when we got together. It wasn’t a black-white thing. We grew up hating those from other schools. We had to overcome the hate.”
3. The nickname “Rev” or “Reverend” given to Jerry Harris, the quarterback. Harris has been an active member of the Jehovah's Witnesses for 24 years.
Separating fact from Hollywood
The following were the most noteworthy discrepancies noted by former players regarding real-life experiences and the movie version:
1. “Louie Lastik was not white trash from New Jersey,” Littlejohn said. The movie shows Lastik, a lineman, as arriving from New Jersey and fitting in with black students. Truth is, Littlejohn said, Lastik, whose name is used in the movie, grew up in Alexandria and attended George Washington before the merger.
2. The car accident sustained by Gerry Bertier did not happen before the state title. It happened, in fact, the night of awards banquet following the season. Bertier had just received the “Defense Player of the Year” award by the football team, and returning home that evening he wrecked his 1971 Camaro that left him partially paralyzed. As the movie states, and is accurate, he later won a Gold Medal in the wheelchair Olympics shot put.
3. The playoffs were not nearly as dramatic as the movie portrayed. In fact, T.C. Williams outscored three playoff opponents 91-14, which includes a 27-0 victory over Andrew Lewis for the Class AAA title. Needless to say, the game did not hinge on a last-seco