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The 5th Quarter

As Yogi Berra said, "it's deja vu all over again": Hollywood, football, a tragic death, and a big part of my life have once again come together and a great movie is the result. "The 5th Quarter" joins "Brian's Song," "Radio," and "We Are Marshall" as a product of all those elements. Take out the "big part of my life" and you can add "Rudy" and "The Blind Side" to the list of movies where men are allowed to cry.

"The 5th Quarter," which opened in limited release (only in the Southeast) on March 25, is ostensibly the story of Wake Forest's magical 2006 football season--their best season ever (11-3, ACC Champions, Orange Bowl appearance), but of course is about much more than that. It is really a story of family, faith, fortitude, and, above all, love.

In February, 2006, a Georgia teenager, Luke Abbate, was on his way home from lacrosse practice when his teammate crashed the car into a ditch at over 90 mph. Two days later, in an Atlanta hospital, Luke's family, including his older brother Jon (the star middle linebacker for Wake Forest) made that most difficult decision a family can make: the decision to discontinue life support so that Luke's organs could be harvested for transplant. They made that decision because Luke, who had only a few weeks earlier applied for his driver's license, had enthusiastically signed the donor card. It was what he wanted.

The Abbate family was left to their grief and getting on with their lives. It would be difficult for them. Yes, they were successful, Christian people, but Luke was their youngest and, in many respects, the glue who held them together. Steve Abbate, Luke's father, often traveled on business. Adam, the eldest, was a senior at the U. of Georgia, looking to law school. Jon, of course, was off to Winston-Salem. This left Maryanne, Luke's mother, home to bear her unspeakable grief and care for their handicapable daughter Rachel. Maryanne saw it as her role to now be the glue that Luke had been.

For his part, Jon struggled mightily, also. Luke had been one of his best friends and inspirations and Jon now questioned practically everything in his life, especially his desire to play football. With the help of his family, his coaches, his teammates, his girlfriend, his personal trainer, and his faith, Jon re-committed himself to being the best he could be.

Football would require Jon to make changes, both internal and external. He would no longer be playing for himself--he was now playing for Luke. He would somehow stop being angry and now honor Luke rather than trying to avenge him. And he asked and received permission from Coach Jim Grobe to ditch his jersey number 40 and wear Luke's football jersey number: 5.

Above all, Jon decided there would be no fourth quarter in Wake Forest football in the 2006 season. The fourth quarter would now be the fifth quarter. And so, at the end of the third quarter in the first game that season, Jon turned to his family (seated on the first row of Grove Stadium section 5) and held up his right hand, with all 5 fingers extended. They flashed the sign back to him--5 fingers to #5 from section 5 to honor another #5, whose 5 vital organs had given life to 5 other people. As the season progressed, Jon's teammates and coaches, the people sitting near the Abbates, the students and band, and, eventually, all the Wake Forest fans and community joined in the tribute. ESPN picked up on the story and featured it on "College Game Day." More and more people joined in, and, at the ACC Championship Game, even the Georgia Tech players, coaches, band, and fans were honoring Luke with the 5-finger salute. As a personal note, it was moving to stand with my right hand up at the Orange Bowl and see 75,000 others, half in Louisville red and white as well as those in Old Gold and Black, doing the same.

The movie tells the story well. The script is well-written and the acting is superb. Ryan Merryman ("Pretty Little Liars") is very good as Jon. Andie McDowell turns in the best performance of her career as Maryanne. And Aidan Quinn is nothing short of astounding as Steve. Were this more of a major motion picture, Mr. Quinn would be receivng a lot of early Oscar buzz, IMHO.

Because of its low budget (est $6 million), the production is uneven. The movie is riddled with continuity errors (e.g., the beautiful autumn colors in February, the lush green trees in Winston-Salem during the first week of December, and the WF jersey colors changing during the course of one game). But the photography is very good and the music is beautiful. On the whole, it is a very easy movie to watch, especially if you aren't a Wake alumnus who is going to notice all the mistakes. The run-time is 1:41--a nice length.

"The 5th Quarter" has won numerous awards and honors: Best Feature and Golden Crescent Award -Charleston International Film Festival; Best Screenplay - Boston Film Festival; Best Music and Best Actor - California Independent Film Festival; Official Selection - Heartland Film Festival; Official Selection - Sedona International Film Festival; Best Feature - Louisville International Film Fesetival; Best Feature - Long Island International Film Expo; Official Selection - Hollywood Film Festival; and Official Selection - Omaha Film Festival. It is receiving generally good reviews. Andie McDowell and Maryanne and Steve Abbate were on "Huckabee" on FNC last night t discuss the story and the film. The film is not doing big box office so far, but it is in limited release. I hope more folks will see it.
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