Rudy, Notre Dame Football, and the Allure of the Fighting Irish

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 08: The "Golden Dome" at Notre Dame University is shown before the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium on September 8, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 08: The "Golden Dome" at Notre Dame University is shown before the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium on September 8, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Notre Dame football season opener will be sandwiched between two showings of the classic movie, Rudy, in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary.

I have seen Rudy more times that I can count. I watch it on the Friday before the first game of every Notre Dame football season, and I find myself getting sucked into it anytime it is on television. But before I discuss what the movie has come to mean to Notre Dame fans specifically, I want to talk about what it has come to mean to the non-Irish fan or even the non-sports fan.

Not all movies get re-released nationwide just because they are 25 years old. Movies that get re-releases are the ones that have resonated with such a wide audience for so long, never losing any relevance or potency as the years go on.

When I talk to fans of the movie, they talk about being inspired by Rudy’s determination and resiliency in the face of the great odds stacked against him. His fully overcoming those odds in the final scene of the film is the stuff that sends chills down their spines. The ultimate underdog wins as a stadium full of cheers engulfs him. I have only seen my father cry a handful of times in my lifetime. The majority these times were while the two of us were watching Rudy.

I got cut from my high school baseball team my freshman year. Baseball was the only sport I played for the duration of my life, and I was devastated. I remember watching Rudy around that time. I always took away from the film the same lesson that so many others do about determination and resiliency.

Maybe it was me being a bit older at that time. Maybe it was the circumstances of being cut that brought me to the film at that time. But I took something from the movie that I had never before, and it is not really talked about when people discuss the movie. Rudy did not just succeed because he was determined and resilient. Rudy also succeeded because he knew his limitations.

He may have not known his limitations in the beginning of the movie. However, he comes to know his limitations both as a player and as a student. He succeeds the moment he realizes that he must have the highest of expectations for himself within his limitations, not outside of them.

There is nothing wrong with having limitations. I would assert that some of the most successful people throughout history identified their limitations early in their lives and found the best way to use the gifts that fell within the confines of those limitations to their fullest. Sure, this takeaway was not as flashy as resiliency and determination, but it was a big one for me.

I spent that offseason learning how to play baseball within my limitations. I was never going to be taller than 5-4. I was never going to be the fastest guy on the team. I was never going to hit home runs. But I could hit singles. And I could play great defense. And I could have a high on-base percentage. So I worked on things within those limitations.

Long story short, I made the JV team as a sophomore, started at second base as a senior, won a district championship, made the state semifinals, and came back to coach the JV baseball team at my alma mater. The upperclassmen actually nicknamed me Rudy. Sure, I was determined. But I think it had more to do with the Notre Dame jacket I wore every day to practice.

As for us Notre Dame fans, Rudy is simply filled with so many things we can relate to. The Ruettiger family room on Notre Dame game day reflects our family rooms on Notre Dame game days. Rudy’s dad is reminiscent of all of our dads as they watch Notre Dame football games. But most importantly, Rudy himself shares all of the same passions that we do.

He loves Notre Dame. He holds the university in the same high regard that we do, even if we did not attend the university. We are obsessed with all things Fighting Irish that he is obsessed with. And as we watch the movie, we feel a little less crazy for being so obsessed. Because we know there is something to it. There truly is an allure of the Fighting Irish. Us Notre Dame fans know this feeling, and this feeling is manifested through Rudy on the screen as he goes on his journey.

To a true Fighting Irish fan, the Notre Dame obsession we share with Rudy goes beyond the aesthetics of the Golden Dome and the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. The obsession even goes beyond Notre Dame stadium and winning football games. The allure of the Fighting Irish is accentuated by these things but is not determined by these things. The allure of the Fighting Irish is rooted in things much deeper than these.

We love Notre Dame because of its commitment to excellence and to creating an atmosphere that fosters good people. We love Notre Dame because for so many of us, it means friends and family. I don’t just mean a family of fans. I mean our actual families. Yes, Notre Dame football might be the reason all of our friends and family get together every Saturday in the fall. But being together with each other is what makes those Saturdays special.

Some of my greatest memories with my family and friends occurred with a Notre Dame football game on the television screen in the background. I don’t always remember the score of those games. I always remember the moments with the people I love, though.

I received a voicemail from a number I did not recognize during my bachelor party last summer. Later that evening, my friends asked me to listen to it on speaker phone:

“Paulie, this is Rudy here. Yes, the real Rudy Ruettiger.” I could not believe what I was hearing. Mr. Ruettiger ended the message telling me, “and remember: play like a champion, today.”

My friends had gotten in touch with Rudy’s manager. She said that he would have no problem leaving me a voicemail saying congratulations on my upcoming marriage. And he took the time out of his busy schedule to do just this.

I know that the movie took many creative liberties. I know that Hollywood does what it needs to in order to make money. But calling some obsessed Notre Dame fan to congratulate him before his wedding? That is a pretty “Rudy” thing to do if you ask me.

Fast forward to October of last year, and I had the opportunity to attend the USC game in South Bend. And as the fates would have it, Rudy was there doing a book-signing. I had to thank him in person for leaving me that voicemail.

I waited in line for quite some time. When I reached his table, I said, “thank you for calling me during my bachelor party.” He said, “YOU are Paulie? Is your wife here now? Let’s get her in the picture.”

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In that moment, it was hard not to see Rudy for all that the movie made him out to be. It was just another example of the allure of the Fighting Irish bringing people together. And for so many of us, that is what Notre Dame means: togetherness.