Iron Lions: The Story of PSU's 2012 season
“Iron Lions” is a documentary film about the remarkable story of Penn State’s 2012 football season featuring many of the coaches and players who made it possible. It will be completed late this year. For a recent installment of The Obligatory PSU Podcast, Kevin Horne, Chris Buchignani, and Mike the Mailman sat down with Penn State alumnus Bob Morgan, one of the movie’s executive producers, to talk about the project — its process, goals, and future. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the entire episode below.
CHRIS BUCHIGNANI: So let’s start out with you giving us an overview of the project — what you’re doing, where it’s at.
BOB MORGAN: Sure. I’ve done a lot of cool things in my life since I graduated from Penn State. This ranks up there. A couple of years ago, sitting in L.A., having a cocktail with Michael Nash, the producer and director of the film, we started chatting about college football, and he’s a Florida State grad, so we were kind of commiserating about Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, and the old school days of football and how life had changed. I started sharing the stories of what those young players went through, and the more Michael learned about it, the more he got enthralled. He goes, “Bob, I know you Penn Staters, you’re kind of cultish, and you guys just bleed Blue and White… but this is a really phenomenal story that, kind of like ‘We Are Marshall’ and ‘Rudy,’ that if you just look at the core of the story, this is a story that the world needs to hear.” Over time, we just kept having more conversations, and there was a point when the HBO movie “Paterno” came out that we were like, “Ok, we have got to tell just a real, true story, straight from the horse’s mouth, straight from the players.”
KEVIN HORNE: You’re saying that wasn’t a true story? HBO’s “Paterno??”
BOB MORGAN: Hollywood has a tendency to embellish a little bit, right? But we thought if there was going to be the last word said about that whole era, let’s have it come straight from the players; let’s have it come straight from the people who were there. And that’s where we jumped into it. As we started doing interviews, you just started learning more and more, and it became a much more powerful story. So we spent the last year interviewing Matt McGloin and Zordich and Mauti and Jordan Hill and other different players. We got Bill O’Brien. We’ve got Saquon Barkley in the film as well, and primarily because Franco Harris had said early on, “These guys had the history of the program on their shoulders, but they also had the future of the program on their shoulders.” But for this 2012 team — if they wouldn’t have gone 8-4, if they would have went 0-12 or 2-10 — there probably would be no Saquon Barkley, no Trace McSorley. So it’s a great story. We’re about to get it wrapped up and then submit it to the Sundance Film Festival, which would be fantastic if it got picked up, but that’s a long shot. But after that, we’re getting ready to talk to some of the streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon and Apple. We want to get this out to the broadest audience possible.
MIKE THE MAILMAN: So if Sundance doesn’t pick you up, then you can go to these other outlets?
BOB MORGAN: Yeah. We have to wait for them to make a decision, but that’s December, so it’s a couple of months. Interestingly, without us even trying, we’ve had people reach out to us from across the country to show the movie in their theatres. Penn Staters, we’re everywhere, right? We’re in every major city across the country, and we’ve got some strong alumni chapters, and we’ve had some theatres reach out to us and say they’d love to have a showing.
CHRIS BUCHIGNANI: One of the most powerful moments in the 10-minute clip reel you released is when Bill O’Brien gets emotional during his interview.
BOB MORGAN: We have so much footage and such great interviews, and we can’t put it all in there. You run across people who are upset that Bill O’Brien left when he did, and that’s not what we’re trying to get into, but I will say this: That emotion is real. His love and admiration for Penn State is still very, very much real. He had to make some life decisions, like we all do. There’s a lot of backstory. And the same goes for Silas Redd…
KEVIN HORNE: Let’s not equate Silas Redd to Bill O’Brien. Did you interview Silas?
BOB MORGAN: Yes, we did.
KEVIN HORNE: Wow. Now I’m even more excited to watch this. That’s incredible.
BOB MORGAN: He’s in the film, and he probably gave one of the more powerful, emotional interviews that we had.
CHRIS BUCHIGNANI: You said that if there was going to be a last word on the story, why not let the players have that opportunity? Because they really are the story, those kids. How were the players from that team involved in the process of making the film?
BOB MORGAN: To be honest with you, they started it. The day Zordich and Mauti walked out and spoke to the reporters, that’s when this all started. Those guys said, “You know what? No one else is saying anything. We’re gonna take the lead, and we’re gonna go out and say it.” So when we approached Michael Mauti and Zordich, McGloin, they had already had ideas about doing something. Jordan Hill came in as well. So the four of them were really open, not just about sharing what they went through, but showing the emotion on their sleeves. When you see the film, it’s kind of gut-wrenching that, seven years later, they’re willing to show those emotions… So that was key, to get those people energized about the project. The other thing is we made a very big strategic decision early on not to take this story to a network, to HBO, to Showtime, or Netflix, because if they were to finance the film, they would have most likely driven us to make the film that we didn’t want to make, focus on some of the things that we didn’t want to focus on. So we decided we’re going to raise this through donations.
CHRIS BUCHIGNANI: I always have great sympathy for anyone who takes on a story like this, especially in film, because you’ve got a very limited amount of time and resources. There are all these strictures on you, and then you’ve got an audience that is just desperate for you to tell the story the way they wish you would tell it. That’s a pretty heavy burden, I would think.
BOB MORGAN: We’ve had over 100 hours of video that Michael and his team have had to cut, move around, insert in different spots. I’ve seen six iterations now, and every time, he finds a better segment to put in. And the story that Michael originally came up with, that he sent me and I edited and commented on, has shifted. The beginning is completely different than what we ever thought it was. But that all comes out because you’re getting the actual honest, real story, and you have to flow with what they’re saying… When we show footage in front of a live audience, the biggest reward is having alums come up, give me a big hug, and say, “Thank you. Thank you for saying something positive.” So at the end of the day, if nothing else, we’re going to make a lot of people happy that we are actually portraying the true culture, and “Success with Honor,” and all those things that this community stands for.
“Iron Lions” is produced and directed by Michael P. Nash with Executive Producers Bob Morgan and Scott Henry and Co-Executive Producers Jay Jablonski and Will Browning. Learn more about the film and view the 10-minute teaser at: ironlionsmovie.com.