Underdog. It is a word that anyone who has watched or played sports is very familiar. Webster’s defines the word as “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.” Instead of the definition, Webster should just have a picture of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. This film tells the true story of this great Underdog. How he overcame dyslexia, money issues, bad genetics, and the negativity of a small steel mill town to attend Notre Dame University and play for the famed “Fighting Irish” football team. The film is directed by David Anspaugh. The script was written by Angelo Puzzo of “Hoosiers” fame. It stars Sean Austin as Rudy, along with an all-star cast of Jon Favreau, Robert Prosky, Ned Betty, Charles Dutton, Jason Miller, and a young Vince Vaughn.
It is the late 1960’s. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger grows up in the poor steel mill town of Joliet, Illinois. Although undersized, Rudy has been a standout in football for Joliet Catholic High School. He dreams of one day playing Division 1 college football for the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” and famed coach Ara Parseghian. Rudy lacks the money and grades necessary to attend Notre Dame so he takes a job at the local steel mill with his father and two older brothers after graduating high school. Rudy never loses his dream of playing for Notre Dame. When his best friend Pete dies in a mill accident, Rudy decides to follow his dream of playing for the Irish. In 1972, Rudy travels to the Norte Dame campus but is academically ineligible. With the help of a local Notre Dame priest, Father Cavanaugh (Robert Prosky), Rudy enrolls at Holy Cross College. While at Holy Cross Rudy befriends a Notre Dame head groundkeeper named Fortune (Charles Dutton) who becomes his mentor in all things Notre Dame. He gives Rudy a place to stay never letting Rudy lose focus of his dream. Rudy also hooks up with Dennis “D-Bob” McGowan (John Favreau). D-Bob is a graduate student at Notre Dame and a teaching assistant at Holy Cross. He begins to tutor Rudy and uncovers that the root of Rudy’s academic problems stem from his dyslexia. Rudy overcomes his learning disability and begins earning high grades at Holy Cross. After two years at Holy Cross and three Notre Dame rejections, Rudy Ruettiger is finally accepted to the University of Notre Dame in his final year of eligibility. Rudy is not satisfied with just attending Notre Dame. He leaves for school early to “Walk On” the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” football team. Rudy does not have the size and talent but does possess an undying will and heart to play. He convinces coach Ara Parseghian (Jason Miller) to add him to the practice squad. Practice players do not dress for home games and are not listed as a Notre Dame player on the roster. Rudy now has a goal to “Dress” for one game in his Notre Dame career. Rudy shows heart and grit every day, running competitors plays and getting punished by the bigger and better starting players. He earns the respect of his teammates and coach Parseghian. Coach decides that Rudy has earned his spot to “dress” for the last home game of the season. Unfortunately, Coach Parseghian retires at the end of the 1974 season and is replaced by Coach Dan Devine. Coach Devine agrees to keep Rudy on the practice squad but will never put him in a game. Rudy, distraught and disappointed, quits the Notre Dame football team. Fortune and his family convince Rudy to go back and finish what he started no matter what the outcome. “You’re 5ft nothin’, 100 nothin’ and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. You are gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself.” Rudy decides to go back to the Notre Dame football team, knowing that he will never play in a game. The film’s conclusion is one of the greatest tear jerking moments in sports movie history. It shows the bond between teammates and that if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything.
“Rudy” is one of the most inspirational movies of all time. If you coach sports like I do, it is a must watch for any team. It is based on a true story, so it is not some fictional Hollywood impossibility. I still get chills thinking of the films climactic ending. “Rudy” teaches us that nothing is impossible. That the “never say die” attitude is real. Dreams ARE attainable when you put in the hard work. It also shows that you are never alone. There are many people that are in your corner and are rooting for you to succeed. Life is a team effort. In the words of D-Bob “Having Dreams is what makes life Tolerable.” No truer words have ever been spoken. I always think of the late great Jim Valvano’s riveting speech at the Espy Awards days before his death when I watch “Rudy.” “Don’t Give Up….Don’t Ever Give Up!” Watch it with your family tonight. Even if you are not a sports fan you will not be disappointed. I recommend this great sports movie for all ages and give it a standing ovation 4 out of 4 stars.