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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Michael Chiklis: When the Game Stands Tall

(This story is posted on as part of a regular supply of original content, available for sports and entertainment sites worldwide).

By TERRY LYONS (Special to DigitalSPortsDesk)

During these past few lazy days of summer, there's been a lot going on in the New England sports scene. The New England Patriots are firing up their preseason engines with coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady leading the way. The Boston Bruins and Celtics are scouring the earth for some added scoring, as each approach the 2014-15 season on opposite ends of the projected ladder. Over on Yawkey Way, Ben Cherington, the GM of the Boston Red Sox orchestrated a midseason coup, trading pitching ace Jon Lester and a slew of role-playing World Champions for some hope and home runs as a strategic first step in the re-engineering of the BoSox. One of Cherington's bosses, Tom Werner, is on the short list for consideration as Major League Baseball's new Commissioner. And, speaking of Commissioners, over in the western portion of the Commonwealth, the Basketball Hall of Fame is staging its annual tribute and the inductee of honor is former NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Actor Michael Chiklis (Getty Images)
With all of that going on, I thought it was time to step back, maybe escape a bit from the reality that I won't be watching late October baseball at Fenway. So, with that in mind, there was one reliable ole' friend I could reach out to, in order to set my mind on a clear path from the Mass Pike of the depressing local sporting news, so I could look toward the future.

My inside source to all things sports - historical and soon-to-be imagined - provided some fan-friendly perspective as a real New Englander, one with appreciation of the past and the ability to see the future. Fittingly, like Stern, he was someone who had the credentials of a Commissioner but, they were mixed with the passion of a sports fan.

I needed to speak with Michael Chiklis, the actor. 

Chiklis was born in Lowell, Mass, and gained wide notoriety as an actor when, from 1991-96, he played Tony Scali - The Commish. Since that career-breaking role, he went on to star in "The Shield," and even played Curly in "The Three Stooges.” More recently, Chiklis starred in "The Fantastic Four" and he is currently filing FXs "American Horror Story: The Freak" in New Orleans. However, it was Chiklis' previous casting that was the more appropriate subject of discussion when we spoke by phone this past weekend, catching up as though we were old friends sitting in my West Village studio watching his "Commish" reruns, but talking about his soon-to-be-released film role, the portrayal of Terry Eidson an assistant coach to Bob Ladouceur in the true story of (Concord, California’s) De La Salle High School's 151-game winning streak, the backdrop for “When The Game Stands Tall,” a SONY Pictures release, hitting theatres nationwide on August 22.

First, Chiklis was sure to set the record straight when I brazenly asked if he continued to have ample time to follow sports, and in particular, Boston sports while he was so busy with life as a famous actor and jaunts between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

"I still am, and will always be, -- until my last breath -- an avid Boston sports fan," said Chiklis with an emphasis that might've been taught in drama class by Kurt Douglas. "I think one of the single greatest things about my celebrity is that it’s gained me access to my beloved Boston teams."
Where you at Fenway last fall, I asked?

"I was there.  I was at Game 6.  My wife and I went with my dear friend and his wife.  We were there for the celebration, and we ended up going to the owner’s box after the game and had the greatest time in the world.  It’s been wonderful. And, one of the most special things was that I lived out a "Jimmy Fallon moment" (noting the motion picture, Fever Pitch) when Curt Schilling brought me out onto the field right after we won in ’07 in Colorado.  I was right on the field right after the win.  To be that close in proximity to those guys, right there. I was standing there, literally, right with Mike Lowell’s brother while they gave him the MVP trophy on the field, I mean that’s incredibly special, it was insane.  You’re right there, it’s historic stuff that’s happening, and you’re privy to it."

Chiklis then opined on the sport of football, being that the role of assistant coach Eidson was fresh in his mind.  What is it about football, anything with the Patriots that made you particularly insightful to your role in the movie?

"Look," Chilkis said. "I’ve always grown up with the mentality that I’d rather be a good player on a championship team than the "franchise" player on a lousy team.  When you see the way Coach B (his nickname for Belichick) coaches the team and the way he picks players, he’s never been about stars.  One of the goose-bump moments of my life as a Patriots fan was in 2001 at the Superbowl when they introduced the (St. Louis Rams) 'Greatest Show on Turf' player by player.  And then, after all of that fanfare, they went 'introducing the New England Patriots.' and they came out just as the Pats team. Every hair on my body stood up and I thought, 'we are winning this game.' Something about being a New Englander, we love the idea of a team, as opposed to the individual. 

"We don’t like blow hards much."

"It’s about the way we’re raised, I guess," he continued.  "In New England, if you get too far ahead of yourself, you’re going to get brought down to earth really quickly.  When I was growing up, it was really instilled in me that it’s just a better experience in life to be yourself and not be a narcissist, but rather to be a part of a community.  And our teams are like that.  You look right and left of you and you feel that bond between the people. It’s an incredibly special thing, and you’ll get a feel for it in this movie, When The Game Stands Tall.  You’ll see that camaraderie, that brotherhood that happens on a team.  And you can see that in real life with the Patriots and Belichick when he speaks to the players coming into this team he says, 'You want to succeed? You want a ring on your finger? Then, you’re gonna plug into this system, we’ll all pull our weight, we’ll all do this together.'"

Chiklis was quick to put two-and-two together.

"Of course, superstars have emerged (in the New England Patriots' system) due to their level of commitment and play," said the actor. "Tom Brady couldn’t be a better example of a guy who’s all class, who never would say disparaging words about another player.  But, it’s not about the other guy.  It’s about his personal execution as it relates to the guys right and left of him and his commitment to them as a team.  He knows that they can be relied upon.  These guys can rely upon each other.  They have each other’s backs.  And that’s the kind of thing that makes your chest swell when you’re watching this movie.  You can see that in the context of the picture.

"When you’re watching movies like 'Remember the Titans' or 'Rudy' or 'Miracle,' you’re always threatened by that fine line between too corny and something that doesn’t make a mark. But, what I love about this movie is that it's not about 'the cliché version of 'two seconds left on the clock and he scores and the game’s over and we win.'  The film we're so proud of doesn’t take it from that place. The De La Salle high school football team won 151 games in a row in twelve years which for anybody who knows sports, that’s ridiculous.  It just doesn’t happen.

"There’s a reason why their formula was successful and they kept winning," noted Chiklis.  "Sure they want to win their games, but the onus and the focus wasn't on winning games. It’s on making these boys into young men.  They are conscionable, responsible, credible human beings and you rely upon them.

 "I’m very passionate about the movie, I’m a supporting player in this movie, When the Game Stands Tall, but I love what it says."

You will too.

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