movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by gmharris
The movie begins with a voiceover from Linda Jones (Debra Winger) saying that as the wife of a football coach in the South, falls are counted in wins and losses, but one year was a little different. James Robert Kennedy (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is collecting things in his shopping cart along wooded roads with brilliant fall colors. His character is clearly mentally retarded, but seems cheerful and carefree over the credits.
This is Radio, but you do not find that out until later. You also get a brief introduction to the Jones family. Harold Jones (Ed Harris) is the football coach and athletic director for the high school, and spends most of his time going over game film and working with the team. His relationship with his teenage daughter is distant due to his overabsorption with football. We do find out that Mary Helen went out for cheerleading, and you can see Linda trying to keep the two aware of each other and bridge the gap.
The Hanna Hornets have a good team, and the whole town follows their progress. After the first game, which they win, we see the long standing tradition of the men gathering for coffee at the local barbershop and discussing the game.
The movie kicks off at football practice one day, when a stray ball goes sailing over the fence near Radio. The star quarterback, Johnny Clay, runs over and tells him to pick up the ball and throw it over. Radio does not understand, but Johnny keeps asking him, calling him "Retard" and being very impatient. Radio hesitantly picks up the ball, but then puts it in his cart and leaves.
The next day at practice, Coach Jones and his assistant, Coach Honeycut, notice nine of the players throwing footballs at the shed. Jones asks if Honeycut has them doing some kind of drill, which he does not, so they head over to see what is going on. There is crying inside the shed. They break it up, and find Radio in the shed. His hands and feet have been bound with athletic tape, and it looks like they may have gagged him too but it came loose. He is crying and shaking and Coach has a hard time calming him enough to cut him loose without injury. Once he is loose, Radio runs out. Coach is furious but only tells the kids to tell their parents that practice will run late tomorrow. He has several calls when he gets home, evidently from parents, but it is not clear if they are questions or complaints. He does get called in to the principal's office the next day. Lou (Alfre Woodard) asks him about the incident, but he is handling it. She points out that this disabled young black man has been going around peacefully for years, and let's keep it that way.
Regular practice is held, but after the rest of the team is dismissed Coach sets the nine running laps hard. While that is happening, Radio comes over again and watches. Coach goes over and apologizes to him, but it is not clear if he understands. He tries to give the football back, but Coach lets him keep it.
Radio shows up at the next practice, and Coach asks Honeycut why he thinks he keeps coming around. Honeycut doesn't know. Coach thinks maybe he is thirsty, and sends Honeycut over with his own water bottle. Radio does not understand right away, but takes the bottle and drinks. After practice, Coach comes over and Radio gives the bottle back. Coach invites Radio in for hamburgers. They eat, and Radio plays around with an old radio Honeycut has. They let him have it, and it is the only word they get out of him at the time, so that is when they start calling him Radio. Coach gives him a ride home (where Radio does manage to give directions), and in the car he also fiddles with the Radio, showing a strong preference for dance tunes (Coach prefers country).
The next day, Coach introduces Radio to the team. He says that Radio will be helping them out, and they will not complain about it and they will be nice to him. Radio does things like manning the tackle sled and getting towels, but he also participates in some of the agility drills and field goal practice, and is really enthusiastic about it. His enthusiasm is not dampened by the team hitting a losing streak. Most of the players warm up to him, but Radio loves them. We learn that Radio's mother is a nurse who works long hours, and worries a lot when she can't be there. He has a brother who does not live with them who is normal. Radio got his love of music from his mother, and he has a large collection of radios, which he likes to take apart and put back together. Coach asks for his mother's permission to take Radio on the bus to an away game, and she allows it but the principal doesn't. Radio goes to the home field, and listening to the game on the radio, in the pouring rain, goes along with it, kicking and running as the action is announced. The next day, Coach says he is sorry Radio could not come, but they are going to make it up to him. Radio asks "How?", and the next thing you see is Radio breaking through the banner at the next home game, leading the team as they run onto the field.
Not everyone is happy with this development. Johnny's father, Frank Clay, is especially irritated by it. He is a banker and the father of the the star athlete, and he feels that Radio is distracting the team from the success they should be having. The situation is not helped at a game where in his excitement over the game, Radio shouts out the play, letting the other team know. The Hornets try to adjust but they get a bad call and Coach swears at the ref, earning several penalty flags when he does not let the matter drop. They nonetheless end the season on a positive note by beating rival Westside in the last game. Coach Jones suggests to Honeycut, who is the basketball coach, that maybe Radio could help with them, and he begins to do so.
Radio is also attending school now. He helps reads the morning announcements, stops people from running in the halls, and is having a blast. The prinicipal is still not sure this is a good idea, and the school board is also investigating, probably at the request of Frank Clay. Two incidents cause concerns. Johnny, who is also the star basketball player, and is already getting attention from colleges even though he is only a junior, thinks it would be funny to send Radio into the girls locker room. He tells Radio that the girls coach needs him to pick up some equipment. Radio is reluctanct, knowing he is not supposed to go in there, but Johnny says all the girls are gone and that the coach will be disappointed. He goes in, sees the girls and freaks and runs away, but when Coach Jones asks who told him to do it, will not confess. Coach goes and suspends Johnny from playing for awhile anyway. Johnny assumes Radio ratted him out, and says "Tell your boy, Thank you!" Coach says that Radio did not tell. In another scene you see Coach showing Radio how to write his name. When Radio tries to copy it, all he has are squiggles, but Coach still tells him that he did a good job. When Johnny comes back, there is a little transistor radio and a note with the squiggles for Johnny. He comes to Radio, who is sorry Coach got so mad. Johnny seems touched.
The other incident occurs at Christmas. On Christmas eve the Jones family takes Radio to the town Christmas tree, and he is given dozens of presents, filling the back of Coach's pickup truck. A brief exchange between Coach and Mary Helen reveals that they are still distant, and she feels he does not make time for her. He takes Radio home. Mrs. Kennedy has gotten home and they look at all the presents. Radio is very excited. Coach convinces him to unwrap one, which is a radio from the Jones family.
The next morning Radio has filled his shopping cart with gifts and is leaving them on neighbor's doorsteps. A cop pulls over and asks him what he is doing. Feeling that it is suspicious, he arrests Radio who becomes very frightened, and takes him down to the station. Back at the station, two regular officers ask the new guy what he was doing. Surprised to learn that there is someone in the cell, they run around the corner and find Radio crying. The scene quickly switches to the new guy typing up reports while the other two are eating and watching a game with Radio. Coach Jones comes in, and they end up making the new guy take Radio to finish his gift-giving rounds and take Radio home, while Coach goes to retrieve the shopping cart. When they both get back to Radio's house, Coach tries to tell him that it was still a good thing that he did, despite the arrest, but you can see he is worried about the future.
These fears come to a boiling point one night when Coach comes home and an upset Mary Helen is on the phone saying she has not been able to find either of her parents. She sees him and ends the call. Mrs. Kennedy had a heart attack and Radio tore up his house and won't come out of his room. Coach asks if Mrs. Kennedy will be okay, but she has died. They go over to see Radio, and Coach helps calm him down.
His mother will always be in his heart.
Later on, when Coach and Mary Helen goes home, he says he wants to tell her something he has never told anyone else. When he was about ten he had a paper route with a wide territory, and he would cut through the woods a lot. One day he heard a crying sound. He thought it was an animal, but he saw that under a house, fenced in with wire and boards, was a boy about his age. He did not know what was wrong with him, but something was. In all the two years he had that route, he never did anything about it. He just wanted her to know, and she thanks him and it feels like a step in the right direction for the two of them.
The school board is on the case again. The two incidents (the girls locker room and resisting arrest) both occurred when Radio was unsupervised, and now he no longer has his mother's supervision and they feel he is a danger. Honeycut tells Coach that Frank called a town meeting and asked for the Honeycut and Lou to attend, but they did not invite Coach Jones. Coach thinks they don't want to hear his opinion. Coach tries to talk with Radio about graduating and moving on, but Radio does not want to. He loves how he gets to help and does not want any change.
While the meeting is in progress, the entire Jones family enters. Coach talks a little about how much he loves football, and how he had a coach who always said to decide what was important and stick with that. He tells them about his visit with Radio, and how the more he tried to explain, the less Radio understood (several people nod at that). He says that this is what is important. The young man who could barely talk and now helps read the morning announcements. The young man who earned a football letter but can't afford a jacket to put it on. So he announces that he is resigning from the athletic department (though he will continue to teach) to remove himself from the conflict and to spend time with his family. The family walks out united, while everyone else is really mad at Frank.
The next scene is at graduation. Mary Helen is helping Radio with his tie. He has a cap and gown on. Johnny comes over, and presents Radio with an letterman's jacket, because some of the guys heard he needed one. Radio is thrilled. The ceremony starts, and Radio is made an honorary graduate, but is also allowed to remain at the school for as long as he likes.
Fast forward to the future. Radio still helps the team and goes to every game. They show the real Radio, and the real Coach Jones whom he is still close to. Coach was recently inducted into the hall of fame (it is not clear whether he went back to coaching after the meeting, or if it was just for previous accomplishments). They show Radio running through the banner again, like the previous scene in the movie.
Note on the movie: They recently ran an article in the local paper on the movie. The real Radio has seen it twice (with the Jones family) and really liked it, and is encouraging everyone to see it. He lives with his brother and sister-in-law now, and they are planning to use some of the profits from the movie to arrange for his continuing care as he ages.