Some documentaries, particularly the latest batch of sports ones including the 30 for 30 series, are set in the court of public opinion. You're meant to look at an athlete or an event, and find a judgement towards them, whether positive or negative. Sometimes, it's meant to change your original judgement, others to reinforce it.
CBS Sports Network's Marching On: 1963 Army-Navy Remembered (premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET) is very much a "document," or a record of an event. There's a light thesis of an event helping restore a nation to normalcy, but much of the film is meant to shine a light on a President, his love of football and the Army-Navy game, and the spectacular athletes, cadets and midshipmen who participated in perhaps its most memorable staging.
Produced by CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford and narrated by Josh Charles, the film spends its first half portraying President John F. Kennedy's love of football, and particularly, the Army-Navy game. The President, of course, was well known for his Naval service, and also for his love of football and competition. We trump up the game every year in an attempt to never forget its importance, but it's interesting to watch footage from a time in which it truly mattered in the national college football landscape.
The commentators range from the men who played in the game (Roger Staubach is most famous, but far from most quoted), to Kennedy historians and Presidential historians, as well as Bill Belichick, whose father was an assistant on the Navy staff. Lastly, Tony Verna, the producer of the 1963 game's television broadcast is brought in to cover every angle.
While the game itself receives fair due, it doesn't necessarily dominate the entire documentary. Much of it sets the scene of how much Kennedy loved this game and cared that it stay competitive. The most extreme example is one talking head stating that JFK tried to convince Vince Lombardi to coach Army following the firing of their previous, ineffective coach. "This was Kennedy's game," it is said at least once, and the documentary fully makes that case.
The pictures from the 1963 game, including a few color shots, are gorgeous. If nothing else, this film deserves to exist as a chance to see some of that footage. Everything is extremely well put together, and even the black and white footage is fun to see within the context of the film.
Marching On's second half features a focus on the actual game, in which Army came just yards short of upsetting Navy. The idea that it was an excellent Navy squad was almost an afterthought, until realizing that the win over Army put the Midshipmen in the Cotton Bowl. It was the JFK's beloved Naval Academy taking on Texas, in Dallas, the city in which he'd been shot not long ago. Makes for wonderful storytelling.
This is an excellent film, one that simply sets out to tell a story, provide perspective, and show you some beautiful pictures. It accomplishes all of those goals in spades. If you get a chance to tune in, it won't take up too much of your time, give it a look. CBS and CBS Sports Network should be proud of this film and their entry into the ever-growing realm of sports documentaries.