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Story for the ages: Los Angeles film festival to stream Northern Michigan University 1975 football team’s ‘worst to first’ story in documentary

This is an image from the 1975 Northern Michigan University football season after the NCAA Division II championship game victory that accompanied press materials for the film “Put Your Hand on the Line” to be shown at a Los Angeles film festival next week. (Courtesy photo)

MARQUETTE — An award-winning documentary about the 1975 national championship football team from Northern Michigan University is scheduled to stream online at the 2020 Dances with Films Festival in California next week.

Normally the film festival shows 14 documentaries at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be held virtually, meaning people everywhere can watch the movies, including the 1975 NMU football team-inspired “Put Your Hand on the Line,” remotely and have a chance to vote for the Audience Choice Award.

To be eligible to vote, a ticket must be bought for the festival, which costs $11 through Thursday or $15 after that, online at https://dwfla.com/ 2020/movies/put-your-hand-on-the-line/.

The festival’s showing of the film will be at 8 p.m. EDT Monday and 8:30 p.m. EDT next Wednesday. Those showings will be followed by a live question-and-answer session, according to an NMU news release about the film.

“Put Your Hand on the Line,” about the amazing turnaround from the previous winless season into the 1975 NCAA Division II national championship, won awards earlier this year at the Central Michigan International Film Festival and at WorldFest Houston.

This is an image from the 1975 Northern Michigan University football season during the playoffs that led to the NCAA Division II championship game victory that accompanied press materials for the film “Put Your Hand on the Line” to be shown at a Los Angeles film festival next week. (Courtesy photo)

Its grand premiere took place during NMU’s 2018 Homecoming celebration when a standing-room-only audience filled Forest Roberts Theatre, according to the university release.

“The initial reaction to the final edit was very positive,” said the film’s director, Scot Fure of Marquette. “That reaction was from an audience composed primarily of those connected to the team. The film festival jury is comprised of 14 industry experts from throughout the world.

“So when the documentary was selected, it really validated that this remarkable story can appeal to a worldwide audience.”

It features interviews with players from the 1975 season, including quarterback Steve Mariucci. The Iron Mountain native and former NFL coach went on to be the head coach of the NFL’s Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers and now is a commentator on the NFL Network. His colleague, NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen, narrated the film.

“As I traveled throughout the country gathering the 25 hours of interviews, it became apparent that the players’ passion for this accomplishment had not waned,” Fure said. “There was laughter and tears as 37 players and coaches retold their stories. Their words helped tell one of the greatest underdog stories of all time, one that few people had ever heard.”

This is the publicity poster for the film "Put Your Hand on the Line," a documentary about the 1975 Northern Michigan University national championship football team. Part of the story's appeal is the turnaround from the Wildcats' 1974 winless season. (Courtesy photo)

Producer and Escanaba native Jack Hirn conceived the idea for the film while discussing memories of the championship season with a former teammate. Hirn was a freshman punter on the squad.

“We had no inclination that we would go on to win the national championship,” Hirn said. “We were happy to win three-fourths of the games. Four new freshman were starting on defense that year.

“This is not just a sports story. It’s a human-interest story about overcoming odds when they are against you. On paper, there was no way that we should have won those games, but we did. We just never gave up.”

Hirn spoke positively about the cohesive team culture that season, and the significant impact of Wildcat assistant coach Carl “Buck” Nystrom.

“Nystrom was a catalyst who changed the whole landscape of the football program when he came on board in the spring, following the 1974 season,” Hirn said. “He changed our whole thought process.”

It took the late head coach Gil Krueger only two seasons to develop a championship program at Northern. In his first year at the helm, the Wildcats went 0-10, losing seven of those games in the closing minutes.

Fortunes reversed in 1975, when the team garnered several come-from-behind wins at the end of the regular season and through the playoffs to post an 13-1 overall record. The Wildcats downed Western Kentucky 16-14 in the national championship game in Sacramento, California. NMU had advanced by defeating Livingston (Alabama) 28-26 and Boise State 24-21.

The trailers for the movie can be seen online on YouTube.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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