Film links Pats' first Super Bowl win, Gen. Custer

Saturday , February 04, 2012 - 2:00 PM

Lynne Tuohy

CONCORD, N.H. -- The New England Patriots' Super Bowl lore dates back well beyond the team's first win a decade ago on Adam Vinatieri's clutch kick with seconds to go.

A Dover attorney with a passion for filmmaking takes it back to 1876 and the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Alfred Catalfo's 15-minute film, "Bighorn," ties the Patriots' 2002 win to Gen. George Armstrong Custer's decision not bring his band along on what became his last stand. Band leader Felix Vinatieri was Adam Vinatieri's great-great-grandfather.

Catalfo's film opens with a staged and dramatically different outcome to the 2002 Super Bowl. A fictitious kicker named Chucky Watson misses the 48-yard field goal and the Pats lose in overtime. Fans react with shock and disgust, even burning a Chucky Watson dummy in effigy. No one had ever heard of Adam Vinatieri because Caltalfo starts with the premise that Custer had his band leader by his side as they rode into battle.

In the film, Felix Vinatieri's trumpet becomes infused with the spirit of Custer. A Harvard professor buys it more than a century later and is cautioned never to play "Garryowen," the Irish marching ballad Custer adopted as his battle charge.

He does, of course, play the tune, and he becomes Custer. This Custer instructs his band leader to remain behind, as did the real Custer. The film ends with the official NFL footage of Vinatieri's field goal, and the professor who turned into Custer dead of gunshot wounds.

Catalfo said he was intrigued by the true story of Felix Vinatieri.

"It has a lot to say about how tenuous life is," Catalfo said. "A decision or path someone takes today can have ramifications generations later."

Catalfo and Cannes Film Festival award-winning producer Glenn Gardner produced the film in 2010. The battle scenes were filmed at the Little Bay Buffalo Co. in Durham. Steve Alexander of Monroe, Mich., who has been recognized by the U.S. Congress as the leading Custer re-enactor in the nation, played Custer.

Alexander said he appreciates the historic detail Catalfo brought to the film and says it's a platform to bring Custer's controversial legend to a new audience: football fans.

Alexander said Battle of Little Bighorn was the first time Custer's band did not accompany the 7th Cavalry into battle, largely because the regiment had lost so many horses in battle that the band's mounts were needed for the soldiers.

"That's the only thing that save Felix Vinatieri," Alexander said.

Catalfo premiered his short film in Monroe, Mich. It was also shown in Concord last year, and in December it won best comedy at the Online New England Film Festival.

The film is "an ingenious and demented intermingling of the Battle of Little Bighorn with the New England Patriots," blogged author Nathanial Philbrick, who has written about Custer.

Adam Vinatieri left the Patriots for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. But there will still be a subtle nod to Custer at game time on Sunday. He is credited with starting the tradition of standing during the "Star-Spangled Banner," long before it became the national anthem in 1931.

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Online:

"Bighorn": http://www.bighornmovie.com

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