Virgen: ‘Touchdown Newport’ very entertaining

The poster for the documentary, “Touchdown Newport,” which is about the 1970 Newport Harbor High football team.
(Courtesy of B.P. Films)

There are sure to be plenty of memorable moments produced during and after the viewing of the documentary, “Touchdown Newport,” about the 1970 Newport Harbor High football team. Probably none can be as poignant and heartwarming as what occurred at Lido Theater on Saturday, when the film made its debut for a private audience.

Shortly after the documentary ended, the director Randy Hamilton introduced the central figure of the movie, Coach Ernie Johnson. The old man stood up from his seat and the crowd did the same, giving him a standing ovation.

It was a fitting honor for Johnson, who coached the Sailors during that 1970 season when Newport Harbor won its first league title in 28 years.

Johnson changed the losing culture for the Newport Harbor football team. He also changed lives, Hamilton said, as did the producer Tony Horvath. Both Hamilton and Horvath were on the team and worked on the film for the past three years.


They are hoping to get the film into the Sundance Film Festival and, later, the Newport Beach Film Festival. After the movie makes its rounds, there are plans to release the film on DVD.

While Johnson is the central figure of the documentary, the film also highlights the team, as well as the nickname for the players, a derogatory nickname that adds to the humor of the movie.

I was told to give little detail about the documentary. I can say this: it is very entertaining. And one of the main reasons for that is the narrator: Kyle Chandler, the Emmy-award winning actor who plays Coach Eric Taylor in the TV series, “Friday Night Lights.”

Hamilton said he sent Chandler an email, pitching the idea of his narrating the documentary. After watching the documentary, Chandler was on board, Hamilton said.


In addition, Ed Clements joined the project too. Clements is also known for his work as a football announcer on “Friday Night Lights.” He provides his call on some of the memorable plays during that Newport Harbor season.

Hamilton and Horvath and their staff did a tremendous job of gathering film, photos and newspaper clippings from that time. Some of the newspaper stories are from the Daily Pilot.

Jeff Brinkley, the current coach of the Sailors, provides an interview in the documentary, as does defensive coordinator Tony Ciarelli, who played for Huntington Beach during that season. Brinkley played for Johnson, when Johnson coached at Cerritos College.

Billy Whitford, the director at Newport Aquatic Center, also appears in the documentary as he was on the 1970 Sailors team that were co-league champions with Anaheim.

“I’m really pleased,” Hamilton said after the film ended. “It was a great turnout. I thought the crowd enjoyed it from where I sat.”

Hamilton did offer that the documentary is more than just a football movie.

“We’re still impacted by this guy,” Hamilton said of Johnson. “So many people have been impacted by him. It goes back to where it really wasn’t about football. It was about how to live life. That’s what we learned from him and that’s what stuck with us.”

Horvath certainly used the lessons and strength from that 1970 team over the past year. He endured bouts with chemotherapy, as well as two operations dealing with a brain tumor.


“It’s been rough,” Horvath said. “I went through chemo, two operations and the brain tumor and here I am. I feel pretty good.”

The documentary made Horvath’s day extra special. He was excited to see the crowd’s reaction to the film. A night camera was put in place at the front of the theater to capture their reaction.

Both Horvath and Hamilton enjoyed the crowd’s reaction to certain parts of the movie.

Alvin White, the quarterback of the 1970 team, who was in attendance, certainly enjoyed the documentary.

“What a glorious time it was for all of the people that got to experience that,” White said. “Not only the players but the parents. It was a great moment when you look back.”

Twitter: @SteveVirgen