In 1981, a group of former football coaches and players attend a funeral.
Ten years earlier in July 1971, at the integrated T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, an African-American head coach, Herman Boone, is hired to coach the school’s football team. Boone is assigned to the coaching team under current Caucasian coach Bill Yoast, who has been nominated for the Virginia High School Hall of Fame. In an attempt to placate rising racial tensions and the fact that all other high schools are “white” only, Boone is assigned the head coach job. He refuses, believing it unfair to Yoast, but relents after seeing what it means to the African-American community. Yoast is then offered an assistant coach’s job by the school board and initially refuses but reconsiders after the Caucasian players pledge to boycott the team if he does not participate. Dismayed at the prospect of the students losing their chances at scholarships, Yoast changes his mind and takes up the position of defensive coordinator under Boone, to his daughter Sheryl’s dismay.
Soon after, the African-American students auditioning for the team have a meeting in the gymnasium with Boone, but this turns into a fiasco when Yoast and Caucasian students interrupt it. After this, Boone takes Yoast aside and explains how he will run the team and that black and white does not matter to him, leaving Yoast with renewed faith in Boone. On August 15, the players gather and journey to Gettysburg College, where their training takes place. Early on, African-American and Caucasian football team members frequently clash in racially motivated conflicts, including some between captains Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell. However, through forceful coaching and rigorous athletic training by Boone—which includes an early morning run to the Gettysburg cemetery and a motivational speech—the team achieves racial harmony and comes out a unified team. After returning from football camp, Boone is told by a member of the school board that if he loses even a single game, he will be dismissed. Subsequently, the Titans go through the season undefeated while battling racial prejudice before slowly gaining support from the community. Gerry even has his best friend Ray removed from the team because of his racism following a game where Ray intentionally missed a block which consequently led to the near-season-ending injury of starting quarterback Jerry “Rev” Harris.
Just before the state semi-finals, Yoast is told by the chairman of the school board that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame after the Titans lose one game, implying he wants Boone to be dismissed. During the game, it becomes apparent that the referees are biased against the Titans; upon seeing the chairman and other board members in the audience looking on with satisfaction, Yoast realizes that they have rigged the game. He then marches onto the field and warns the head referee that, if not officiated fairly, he will go to the press and expose the scandal. After this, the Titans soon shut out their opponents and advance to the state championship, but Yoast is told by the infuriated chairman that his actions in saving Boone’s job have resulted in his loss of candidacy for Hall of Fame induction.
While celebrating the victory, Gerry is severely injured in a car accident when he drives through an intersection against an oncoming truck; the movie then cuts to the Titans all waiting in the hospital. Although Gerry is now unable to play due to being paralyzed from the waist down, the team goes on to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter and win the state championship. Bertier would remain a paraplegic for the rest of his life.
Ten years later, Bertier dies in another automobile accident caused by a drunk driver after having won the gold medal in shot put in the Paralympic Games. It is then revealed that it is his funeral the former football coaches and players are attending, where Julius, while holding the hand of Bertier’s mother, leads the team in a mournful rendition of Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.
In the epilogue, descriptions show the players’ and coaches’ activities after the events in 1971.