Woodlawn Documents Former Dolphins Player Tony Nathan's True Story

Tony Nathan in action
Tony Nathan in action
Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

The uttering of the name Tony Nathan strikes a chord in most all Miami Dolphins fans; after all, the former all-pro Dolphins starting running back in Super Bowl XVII and Super Bowl XIX will forever go down as one of the greatest players in franchise history. However, what might not come to mind for most Phins fans reminiscing about Nathan is what he accomplished much before the Dolphins selected him in the third-round of the 1979 NFL Draft — feats he achieved through a football team, but not necessarily for a football team. 

Those accomplishments will be documented in the film Woodlawn, set to release this October. The film includes much of Nathans' experiences detailed in his own book, Touchdown Tony. The new motion picture, starring Jon Voight (Ray Donovan) and Sean Astin (Rudy),  tells the true story of Nathan's journey from Woodlawn High School, a school that in 1973 integrated for the first time, leaving a football team divided to Nathan's racially tense college career, playing for legendary University of Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. 

The film's trailer contains a scene where Nathan asks about the status of the Crimson Tide team make-up when he meets with Bryant before coming to Alabama. 

"How many black players you got?" Nathan asks Bryant 

"Not nearly enough,'' Bryant says.

"Why the change?" Nathan asks

"Because it's time," Bryant says

Woodlawn Documents Former Dolphins Player Tony Nathan's True Story
Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Nathan explained to the New Times that the cooling of racial tension in-and-around Woodlawn High and their newly diverse football squad all started as the result of a speech the team received at the urging of their coach. 

"As a team, our coach was looking for a way to bring us together — and at this camp we had a minister come by and speak. He was preaching unity, and just about everyone on that team showed up and listened. Eventually — I guess it spread throughout the city — people started coming to watch out games, white and black"

Did they ever. 

Later that season Woodlawn would face their rival two-time defending state champion Banks Jets in the 1974 Alabama state championship game; a game that remains the most-attended high school game in state history. Over 40,00 people came out to witness Nathan's team take on a Banks team that was riding a 34-game winning streak at the time. Nathan would score Woodlawn's only touchdown in the 18-7 loss. 

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Some 40 years later Nathan — who also suffered a Super Bowl defeat with the Miami Dolphins — remembers the game well; but not for the reasons you might think. 

"You know, the more I talk about some of these games I played in, my career not as good as I thought it was — I seem to have always come out on the wrong end of those games." 

Nathan has decided to wait and watch the movie with his family. Family and cohesiveness seem to be a theme in Nathan's life, and he hopes that's what kids playing football right now might take from the film. 

"You gotta believe in the guy next to ya, you have to become a family. You have to be a unit, and I think this movie will teach that togetherness and being a family is the way to go." 

Woodlawn hits theaters nationwide October 16.


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