De La Salle’s game stood tall in 1997
Posted on August 27, 2014
The De La Salle High School football team gathers on the field during a game against Antioch at De La Salle High School in Concord, California on October 17, 1997. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
The football program at De La Salle High School in nearby Concord, California has been in the spotlight lately, thanks to the nationwide release of the major motion picture, When the Game Stands Tall. The movie became a reality thanks to a pair of great journalists whom I am proud to call friends: Neil Hayes and Bob Larson. The writer (Hayes) and the photographer (Larson) teamed up while they were co-workers at the Contra Costa Times to cover the fabled east bay football team unlike anyone ever had, before or since, back in 2002. Larson had photographed the squad, led by head coach Bob Ladouceur and his assistant Terry Eidson, since the 1990’s. He documented the team’s national record setting 73rd consecutive victory in 1997, the school’s 100th straight a few years later, and their loss to Bellevue High School in Seattle in 2004 that ended their streak at 151 . Hayes dove in head first and basically lived with the team for the duration of the 2002 season as they continued their incredible winning streak. The results were compiled in a fabulous book, When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football’s Longest Winning Streak, published in 2003.
I can still remember going to see Neil and Bob at a book signing in November on 2003 at the high school before a game. I even wrote a story about it for SportsShooter.com. I was so thrilled for these guys. Neil is a fabulous writer and the book was a joy to read. Larson’s photographs inside the book and on the cover added so much to the coverage. The teamwork between these guys was remarkable. The book was over too fast when I read it. I wanted more, especially because I was so familiar with the De La Salle program myself, having covered them for Sports Illustrated back in 1997.
I was super excited when picture editor Jimmy Colton gave me the assignment in October of 1997 to work on a story with legendary SI writer Ron Fimrite. The team was going after the alltime high school record of 72 straight wins, set by Hudson (Mich.) High from 1968 to ’75. I knew coach Lad was not a fan of having a media hanging around his team, but luckily for me Larson already had a good relationship with coach and convinced him to let me spend time with the team. I was not going to be able to spend a long period of time with the Spartans, but I would get to shoot several days over two weeks, including many off the field team activities, a home game, and a road game.
I was thrilled that coach Lad allowed me to spend time with his team, and I did my best to document all that went on with these kids as they went after another undefeated season. My dad Al Mangin was a varsity high school basketball coach at San Lorenzo (California) High School from 1959-1991 so I had plenty of experience being around high school athletes and coaches. It was a cool experience seeing the kids prepare for a Friday night game. It was more than just practice. It was a prayer meeting after school on Thursday. The backyard spaghetti dinner that some of the parents hosted on Thursday night, followed by the legendary after dinner team meeting held in the garage (see above). The parents have to rent a bunch of folding chairs for this weekly event that rotates to a different home each week. Being able to host this dinner is a huge honor and and event not to be taken lightly.
The first game I shot was a home game against visiting Antioch High School, and the DLS Spartans won 44-17 for their 70th win in a row. The following week I visited campus at lunchtime to photograph the dedication the players have for their team. Every day at noon each and every player brings their lunch into the coaches offices for either a defensive or offensive meeting. They watch game film (video on a television screen in 1997) as they dedicate every spare moment during their day to the team.
Looking back at these pictures I shot of the De La Salle football team 17 years ago I cringe at the quality of some of the images shot at night and indoors. This was in the age of film, and that means I had to shoot Fujicolor 800 color negative film inside (sometimes pushed to 1600 or higher) resulting in grainy pictures with weird color casts. The outside stuff I shot during practice was all on beautiful Fujichrome 100 and looks great. If this story was shot today it would all be digital, and the quality would look so much better from inside the locker room.
The second and final week of my assignment concluded with the Spartans taking a trip to Brentwood to take on Liberty High School on October 24, 1997. It was fun getting a chance to shoot in a different locker room with the team wearing different color jerseys (white instead of green) to give this set of pictures a different look. By the time the game was over the Spartans had won their 71st game in a row by beating Liberty 53-7.
By the time I was done shooting I was happy with the pictures. I also shot action, but for this blog post I wanted to concentrate on the moments off the field. The story Fimrite wrote for the magazine was terrific, and I was happy with the pictures they published.
My set of pictures could never measure up to the incredible body of work Larson produced about the team. He even went to Hawaii to cover them in 2002! Larson’s tremendous work and loyal personality entrenched him as a trusted member of the De La Salle family. When he told me that the book was going to be made into a movie a few years ago I was thrilled for him, especially when he told me his photographs were being used for research, and that several of his pictures would make the final cut of the film shown with the credits at the end.
I have not seen the film yet, but I can’t wait to watch it on the big screen. I will be the guy yelling at the people who leave before the credits. “Sit down! Look at Larson’s pictures!”