Former NFL player Ed Cunningham never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, but he's in the running for an Oscar as one of the producers of “Undefeated,” which is nominated for an Academy Award in the category of documentary feature.
The 113-minute documentary follows the Memphis (Tenn.) Manassas High football team through the 2009 season, chronicling an inner-city school that has never won a playoff game since its founding in 1899.
For Cunningham, who has steered far clear of football in his previous critically acclaimed documentaries, this story was too compelling to ignore. “Undefeated,” which opens Friday in Los Angeles and New York, is directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, and produced by Cunningham, Seth Gordon, Rich Middlemas and Glen Zipper.
“Because of my day job, I’ve kind of shied away from direct sports material as a producer,” said Cunningham, 42, an ESPN college football analyst who spent five seasons as a center for the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. “But I just kind of had a sense, along with my partners, that this would see beyond the field and really dive into the lives of these young men and the volunteer coach profiled in the film.
“It shows sports for what they should be about in the amateur level, which is learning how to be a better person through effort and failure, correction and criticism, and teamwork. I think that’s why we all aspire to be around sports so much. There’s so much more to it than just the on-field or on-court competition. And that’s what I’m so proud of with this film: You don’t have to be a fan of any sport, football or otherwise, to really engage with this story and the idea of people struggling and finding something in their lives positive and constructive to focus on.”