The 5th Quarter
Though plenty of fictional athletic tales exists, an unusually high number of movies in the sports genre come from true-life events. Maybe that’s because the athletic arena is a kind of microcosm of life. Within the span of a career, a season or even a single game, characters face highs and lows, failures and successes. And they must find the drive to overcome adversity.
So it is in the independent film, The 5th Quarter, based on the life of football player Jon Abbate (Ryan Merriman). A terrible blow strikes the Abbate family in 2006 when Jon’s 15-year-old brother Luke (Stefan Guy) accepts a ride home from practice from another teen. Despite the protests of his passengers, the driver pulls a dangerous stunt that results in a catastrophic accident and massive brain injuries for Luke.
At Wake Forest University in North Carolina where he plays fullback, Jon receives the devastating call from his older brother Adam (Matt McGrath). Rushing back to Georgia, Jon keeps vigil with his family at his younger sibling’s bedside until they must accept his impending death.
However the loss of one so young puts the family in a tailspin. After the funeral, their father Steven (Aidan Quinn) isolates himself in his work while his wife Maryanne (Andie MacDowell) sinks into a lethargic depression. Even Jon finds it impossible to walk onto the practice field, at least until a fellow player (Josh Smith) orchestrates an intervention.
Finally back in uniform but still emotionally fragile, Jon asks to wear the number five on his jersey in honor of his brother. Coach Jim Grobe (Michael Harding) readily agrees. As the season progresses, Jon and his parents (in the stands) begin raising an outstretched palm heavenward at the beginning of the fourth quarter of each of Jon’s games in memory of Luke. Within weeks, the gesture takes on a symbolic meaning for the entire Demon Deacon team, their fans and even the opposing players.
The painful process of personal grieving and the desire to do something good in the face of calamity are both explored in this script. (The Abbate family has formed a foundation to speak out against reckless driving and to encourage organ donation. Five people received life-saving organ transplants from Luke following his passing including a young mother played in the film by Anessa Ramsey.)
Feeling invincible isn’t uncommon for teens. However the images of a blood covered victim, a scene of open-heart surgery and the heartache of those left behind may be a wake up call for youth eager to push the limits of common sense. More than merely a football story with the expected locker room motivational speeches, The 5th Quarter blends tragedy with triumph in a family saga that champions faith, courage and the importance of community support.