CBS' tear-jerker, 'Triumph of the Heart,' hits pay dirt

April 02, 1991|By McClatchy News Service

You don't have to be a football fan, and you don't have to have seen "Brian's Song," the milestone 1970 TV drama about the life and death of the Chicago Bears' Brian Piccolo, to know how CBS' Tuesday night movie comes out.

Nor should that stop you from tuning in "Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story" (9 p.m., Channel 11) for a triumph of a TV tear-jerker.

In 1977, University of Southern California running back Ricky Bell was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first-round draft pick. He became the sixth-leading rusher in the NFL in 1979 -- the same year he led the Bucs to their first playoff appearance.

But by 1981, Mr. Bell was giving less and less to his sport. That's when he was introduced to Ryan Blankenship, a young fan struggling with physical challenges of his own. As a small child, Ryan suffered seizures that left him with speech and physical disabilities. At age 10, Ryan could barely read, speak or catch a ball.

"Icky" Bell (as Ryan called him) said he'd help the boy. But as these types of stories traditionally turn out, the child proved an equal inspiration to the adult.

This is an actor's movie in which every tear turns on the honest performances of its leads. Mario Van Peebles delivers a sensitive portrayal of gridiron hero Mr. Bell. But it is for 14-year-old Lane Davis as Ryan that this picture represents a most impressive triumph.

In 1989, he was set to appear in the movie "She-Devil" when he was hit by a car. He sustained severe head injuries and spent nine days in a coma. He has undergone two craniotomies and more than two years of intensive therapy to overcome speech impairment and partial paralysis of his right arm.

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