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OPINION: Unlikely footballer’s tackle made history 45 years ago

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If you’re a fan of U.S. college football, you’re lucky to live in Sarnia.

Ann Arbor and Lansing are less than two hours away for fans of the Michigan Wolverines or the Michigan State Spartans. Hundreds make the drive each weekend in football season.

But some travel even further. For many of us, South Bend, Indiana is not too far to catch a game featuring the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame.

I was lucky to be there one weekend when a noticeable stir went through the campus. Long lines formed in front of the bookstore, and excitement was in the air.

“Rudy” was on campus and he was signing autographs. I rushed to the bookstore, bought a gold Notre Dame football, and joined the queue.

If you haven’t seen the 1993 movie “Rudy,” the story’s hero, Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, may seem an unlikely one.

Rudy Ruettiger signs a football purchased in the Notre Dame bookstore for a Journal columnist in the early 2000s.
Laurie Egan Photo

He played his first and only game for Notre Dame against Georgia Tech in 1975, and was on the field briefly. Just getting there seemed an impossible feat for a 5-foot-6, 165 lb. defensive end, yet he became a legend.

When Ruettigger sacked the quarterback on the final play of the game, his teammates picked up the diminutive player and carried him off the field in triumph.

He became the first player in Notre Dame history ever to be carried off the field.

And he deserved it. So inspiring was Rudy’s story that it led to the 1993 movie. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it still makes me cry.

Rudy Ruettiger was one of fourteen children born to a blue-collar family. His father worked three jobs to put food on the table.

Rudy was dyslexic, but didn’t know it. His teachers didn’t either. They considered him slow.

But Rudy Ruettiger had the spirit of a lion. His one ambition was to play football for Notre Dame and he pursued that dream with an indefatigable drive.

Notre Dame has high academic standards. You don’t play football unless your marks are good. Despite his learning disability, Rudy attacked his studies the same way he attacked every problem in life – with vigour, perseverance and determination.

When he made the team as a walk-on, his energy at practices made the stars of the team look like they weren’t trying. And when his perseverance drove the coaches to finally send him unto the field at the end of the game, something memorable was about to happen.

Forty-five years later, celebrated for an unconquerable spirit, Rudy remains a legend at Notre Dame.

 

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