Ruettiger is wearing number 45 RUDY RUETTIGER … MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER … THE MOVIE RUDY WAS BASED ON HIS EXPERIENCES ON THE NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL TEAM (HE WAS PLAYED BY SEAN ASTIN) … NOTRE DAME CLASS OF 1976 By itself, practice does not make perfect. Those of us with a ten-year-old son practicing the trumpet may understand that. DR. DANIEL HANLE Y, U.S. Olympic team physician RUDY RUETTIGER 135 Igot my work ethic from my parents. I was the third of fourteen kids, and we all had jobs to do. I saw my father working three jobs. My mom worked hard twenty-four hours a day to keep the family moving. It’s hard to see those examples and be a lazy kid. What sports did for me was to vent some anger. I was frustrated in school and did not do well. It wasn’t until I got to college that I found out I had dyslexia. I was labeled a slow learner, and as a result I didn’t feel like I was part of the class. Instead, I applied my work ethic to sports, and that was where I could vent, not just in football and wrestling, but also in baseball. I was the kind of athlete who always hustled. I was the first one there and the last one to leave. I did well in high school sports, because I had the attitude and the drive, but by the time I got to Notre Dame and tried to get on that football team, it was a different story.
What I’m saying is that when you get to a program like that, hard work is not enough. I was like, Wow, what is going on here? Okay, but it also didn’t help that Rudy’s only 5’6,” one hundred sixty-five pounds. CONFUSION Notre Dame did not want me to be part of the program, and I could not make sense of why my effort was not enough. For the first time, the struggles that I had in school carried over to the football field. I could not understand why effort would not be enough to make my dream come true. I went through a period of disillusionment as I saw kids with more talent, but who were not working nearly as hard as me, get recognized. I thought this could not be more unfair. Through it all, I refused to quit. As a walkon, you are basically invisible because you’re not on the list to go to training and often you don’t even have a locker. I often thought I was wasting my time. Little did I know my presence was inspiring the other guys. My work ethic was pushing them to work hard. 136 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME THE PAYOFF All I wanted was one chance to dress for a game, and I didn’t think this was going to be a difficult thing to happen because Notre Dame has a policy that every senior dresses for the last home game and gets a chance to run through the tunnel. But there it was, my last chance, and in comes the NCAA and they ban that practice, so it was clear that I’d have to be on the limited roster. I was still hopeful that my two years of not missing practice, coming in early, and being the last to leave would be enough to include me on the final roster for my final game. Thursday, they posted the lineup and my name, Ruettiger, wasn’t there.
I thought for sure Coach Devine would let me dress for a guy who was injured. But it didn’t happen. I was crushed and was convinced that this two-year sacrifice and lifelong dream was just a colossal waste of time, that hard work and effort do not pay off. That Friday, I had three meetings that straightened my head and life out forever, and ruined what I thought was going to be a feel-sorry-forme- day. (In the movie they made those three guys into one character.) One was with a friend who is a federal judge today. He gave me a new perspective by saying that sports was not an end-all, just a part of life, and because I didn’t dress didn’t mean that I was a loser or worthless. Instead, it was about being part of the team. The second talk was with a janitor. It was a blue-collar talk essentially saying, How dare you feel sorry for yourself, and he brought back my own words of how I used to say that just being part of the football program was good enough. He went on to say that Life isn’t fair, so get used to it. He told me how happy he was to be at the university, a place that didn’t pay him a lot, but still a place where he was thrilled to work. Last, I came across a player who quit the team because of Dan Devine and he regretted it every single day. He wanted to make sure I did not make the same mistake. He said, Rudy, I quit. Don’t you quit! As you may know, I got to play in the game. The four team captains went to Coach Devine and asked him to put me on the roster and give me a uniform for my last game. The problemsomeone had to offer his uniform up so that I could suit up. Rich Allocco did just that, and I got my chance to see my dream come true.
If you saw the movie you know I did RUDY RUETTIGER 137 dress and I did get in the game. In my only play, I sacked the Georgia Tech quarterback and I was carried off the field. Looking back now, by the time I made the play it didn’t matter because I realized I had already won over my teammates with my work ethic and that I’d done the most I could possibly do to be successful, and that was enough. IN THE NAVY I had great parents, but my years in the navy were what set me up for my successful and extremely unlikely journey to Notre Dame. It was in the service that I acquired the confidence to even step onto the Notre Dame campus. My joining the navy set up that tackle at Notre Dame, because it was in the navy where I felt for the first time that hard work was recognized and rewarded. That’s what gave me the blind faith to give Fighting Irish football a shot. Of course, there were a couple of problemsI didn’t have the money or the grades. Once out of the service I hatched a plan that included going back to work and getting into prep school at Holy Cross.
It was at Holy Cross where I found a way to get my grades up so that I could apply to Notre Dame. After a few tries I got into the university and played so hard at football tryouts that they kept me around. So between the GI Bill and staying in the athletic dorms, it worked out. I was able to overcome the academic and financial challenges. YOU NEVER KNOW Okay, so what do people get from my story? It’s certainly not Try hard and become a football player. Rather, it is work hard and you never know where it can take you. I never wanted to be a motivational speaker, but through my story and the movie it has become a career for me. When young men and women come up to me and say how my story changed their life, I realize again how important it was not to quit, even though my playing in that final game against Georgia Tech didn’t affect the outcome, and my playing on the practice squad for two years had little to no effect on Notre Dame’s final record. The only thing you can control is the effort, and you owe it to yourself to persevere and do whatever you decide 138 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME to do with passion. Don’t ask for permission to be successful. Go make it happen. MY WRAP Amazing, unimaginable things happen when you don’t quit and keep your head screwed on straight. And most of those things are for the better. RUDY RUETTIGER
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