Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, Notre Dame's Famous Walk-On: The True Story

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Daniel

This Christmas I was handed a gift bearing the logo of my football team.

After tearing apart the beautifully snowflake-wrapped gift, the word "Rudy" stared me down in bold maroon letters with a certain No. 45 uniform in the colors of blue and gold, being carried off on the shoulders of his teammates.

My Christmas night, along with my father's, was then spent watching the tale of Rudy Ruettiger for the first time.

As a dedicated, yet young, Irish fan, I've come to notice the moment Notre Dame is hinted at in any circumstance, the mention of Rudy is soon to follow. However, that Saturday night was the first time I was able to watch the film that further popularized the already-illustrious university.

Everyone knows the lines, Sean Astin, and the fairy tale ending of the film.

However, who was the real Rudy Ruettiger and what was his story?

 

The Development of a Dream

On Aug. 23, 1948, Daniel Ruettiger was born in Joliet, Illinois as the third child out of 14 in his family.

He grew up in a lower-middle class household on the outskirts of Chicago, where his father worked in a mine to put food on the table every night for Rudy and his siblings.

One bright spot in the family's home would appear on the television when Notre Dame kicked-off each weekend. Rudy's father loved Irish football as his 15th child.

Because of this, Rudy dreamed of not only attending the university someday, but playing football for the Irish.

At Joliet Catholic Academy, he was a standout cornerback in both his junior and senior seasons, leading his team in tackles both years. On paper, Rudy's statistics may have been considered a decent recruit for college football programs.

However, there was one glaring weakness about the young teenager. Rudy stood merely 5'6" and weighed 165 pounds soaking wet.

While working at his father's plant one afternoon, his best friend, Pete, was killed in an industrial accident. As a result, he decided it was time to act on his dream.

Following the advice of Pete, he left his hometown after hearing enough negativity about his life ambition and began his historic journey through South Bend.

 

The Process of a Dream

After reaching South Bend, Rudy was directed to Holy Cross Junior College, where he enrolled in classes immediately.

It was here that he had learned that he suffered from dyslexia—a possible explanation to Rudy's academic struggles.

Being a below-average student most of his life, he was denied acceptance to Notre Dame for his first three semesters. That time, however, proved to be valuable to Rudy in becoming a true Notre Dame man.

Since he couldn't be a part of the actual team, he took a job behind the scenes as a stadium groundskeeper. During his employment, he was able to walk the field and travel the tunnels of Knute Rockne Stadium, which motivated Rudy even more to make his dream a reality.

Living in a spare room in the basketball arena, Rudy was running out of time to enroll at Notre Dame as the university did not accept senior transfers. Knowing this, Rudy sent in his application one last time.

This time he did not fail.

After enrolling at Notre Dame, Rudy tried out for a walk-on spot. Going up against 15 other students, he was one of two chosen to prepare the varsity team while serving on the scout team.

 

The Dream Becoming Reality

Making the scout team was the first step to succeeding in Rudy's eyes.

The second step involved playing in an actual game.

Day-in and day-out, the pint-sized defender battled, displaying the true meaning of heart, passion, and hustle. Thanks to Merv Johnson and his teammates, Rudy was inspired enough to take his proposal into the office of Ara Parseghian.

Parseghian promised Rudy that he would dress in his final season at Notre Dame. However, he hadn't promised that he would still be in South Bend. He stepped down following the end of the 1974 season.

Dan Devine, the former coach of the Green Bay Packers, took over for Parseghian and became Rudy's head coach in his last season donning the blue and gold.

On Nov. 8, 1975, Devine decided that Rudy was going to dress for the first and last time of his football career. On this sunny Saturday afternoon, playing against a powerful Georgia Tech team, Rudy stepped onto the Field of Rockne.

While it may not seem like a lot to many, he saw action in two plays. The first, he was stopped and unable to get to the Yellow Jackets' quarterback, Rudy Allen.

However, on the second play, Rudy broke through the line full of 300-pounders and brought Allen down to the ground for the final play of the game. After an uproar in the crowd and smiles across Domer faces around the stadium, Rudy was lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates and carried off the field.

And so Rudy's legacy still lives on today.

Two plays. One sack. One dream accomplished.

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