How bad do you want it? This question drove Brandon Burlsworth (Christopher Severio) to something Greater. Despite no natural talent on the football field, Brandon wanted more than anything to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Coach after coach told him he would never make it but Brandon proved them all wrong and became known as the greatest walk-on in college football history.
Faith and family
Greater’s hero starts off as a pudgy 12-year-old (Ethan Waller), sitting on the couch eating chips and cheesecake. Sixteen years older than Brandon is his brother, Marty (Neal McDonough). Because their mom, Barbara (Leslie Easterbrook), doesn’t do anything to staunch the flow of food to Brandon and their dad (Michael Parks) is a drunk, Marty takes it upon himself to be the father figure, occasionally getting Brandon out of the house to throw a baseball around. The perfect family the Burlsworths are not but they are devoted to their faith. Barbara teaches Brandon to always trust in God. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and a dog-eared Bible accompany Brandon on his journey.
How bad do you want it?
While his faith journey progresses, Brandon’s football journey stalls, or rather never gets off the ground. In high school, Coach Tice (Peter Lewis) tells Brandon if he wants to play he has to work harder than everyone else. Even when he arrives at practice first and leaves last Brandon still fails to get a scholarship offer from the University of Arkansas. A smaller school grants one but Brandon turns them down. Opting for the University of Arkansas, with enough tuition for one year only, Brandon follows his dream and becomes a walk-on with the Razorbacks. In order to stay, he has to improve enough to go from walk-on to scholarship.
Power of good example
There have been inspirational football movies in the past, such as Rudy, but what sets Greater apart is the subtlety and power of its faith message. “How bad do you want it?” becomes Brandon’s rallying cry. He wants it bad and he gets his strength for the journey from God. Rolling out of bed at an ungodly early hour, he lands on his knees, praying and reading the Scriptures. He endures the bullying of his teammates with a smile. When two of them trick him into drinking strawberry daiquiris, he jogs the alcohol (and anger) out of his system in the driving rain rather than getting back at them. Brandon’s almost too-good-to-be-true virtue eventually wins over his former detractors. I love the montage where, attracted by his goodness, more and more of his teammates start to follow him to Bible study.
Trust in loss
Also worthy of consideration and reflection for thoughtful moviegoers is the film’s central question—which we all ask at one time or another—why do bad things happen to good people? Having progressed from a walk-on to All-American, Brandon tragically dies in a car accident just 11 days before signing with the Indianapolis Colts NFL team. The film flashes back to the funeral several times, where Marty, Brandon’s biggest fan, struggles with this question. A strange farmer (Nick Searcy) voices Marty’s interior thoughts, railing against a good God in his efforts to make sense of Brandon’s death. Marty’s struggles will be familiar to anyone who has suffered seemingly senseless loss. It is only through faith that we are able to trust God enough to journey through the pain. Brandon would say, “Just because we don’t see the point doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”