When Daniel seen the film Rocky after graduating from the University Of Notre Dame, followed by Rocky II a couple of years later, it brought Rudy back to a time feeling he conquered the world just like Rocky. Rudy had his Rocky moment in his REAL life. Stories like Rocky & Hoosiers made Rudy think about his own story of perseverance. At this time, Daniel was an insurance agent. Today, all these years later, Rudy the film has had its own Pay It Forward movement. What Rudy offers isn't a "How-To", but a story filled w/ insurmountable odds. He was 10-yrs-old when he got his first glimpse of hope and determination. A Little League field trip to a White Sox game in Chicago. The opportunity to catch a ball from a Louisville Slugger. With a full set of kids around w/ the same chances, Rudy could not believe his luck. That ball was directed right towards him. He never took his eyes off of it - not for a split second. He paid NO ATTENTION to anyone else. That ball was his FOCUS. After struggling along w/ everyone else, Rudy GOT the ball. While the other kids were struggling to look for it, it made Rudy feel good to have succeeded. He was bolstered by the feeling that ball was his. Capturing proof for Rudy that ANYTHING WAS/IS POSSIBLE!
I guess you could say that dreaming was something Rudy adapted from his mother. She had dreamed of becoming a singer. While in the midst of running household dailies, you could hear her dream as she hummed. A sense that gave her peace. When she sang, she was relaxed and joyful. An energy that flowed through the household. In a house of 14 kids, peace wasn't easy to come by. As far back as he can remember, order & discipline ruled in the Ruettiger house. Mom was in charge and order. Breaking that, Dad was the one to dole out discipline. Daniel was the oldest in a family of 7 boys and 7 girls. Order and discipline were never Rudy's strong suits.
Daniel Ruettiger was born on 8-22-1948. A birthday always forgotten but celebrated the next day (8-23). Daniel was born in the working class Chicago suburb of Joliet, IL. A town expected to live as those before them. Nothing to excite. Rudy's childhood memories revolve around the 1-or-2 mile radius of their home. The aspect of a working class neighborhood. The family's first house was a setting where they played football together and laugh together. One bedroom for the boys, one for the girls. Bunk beds crammed together in each. Constant but controlled chaos. For as many kids as there were in the Ruettiger household, Dan & Betty were THERE for ALL of their children. Their dad was concerned and modified that the Ruettiger kids had honor and respect. Rudy and his brother, Francis, were the main culprits and deemed troublemakers. They both dealt w/ their same issues in school. ALL of the Ruettiger kids grew up to be GOOD people.
Dan was always covered grease. He loved fixing & building things in an era of "just-get-it-done". Naysayers around town would quietly comment on the quantity of children Dan & Betty had. Another one for them and much less for us. Dan worked a 2ND-or-3RD job in order to provide the best way he knew how. Job #1 was the oil refinery, Union Oil. Most nights after he got home from work and ate, Dan would work at his brother's gas station. Dan taught his kids to live by the motto: work now, play later. The New York Yankees, The Green Bay Packers & Notre Dame football was Dan's escape. They were his forms of relaxation. Sports were his outlet and relief. Not only was Rudy listening to the games, before long, he was reading up on the players and memorizing stats. He was grooming himself to KNOW a teams stats. The history and ALL of it ONE-BY-ONE. Bonding w/ his dad in the process.
Growing up in the Midwest, you start hearing about a place called Notre Dame before you can talk. The idea, the myth, the legend of it looms large. If you went to Notre Dame, you were somebody. The closest anyone ever came was broadcasting replays on TV on Sundays during football season. For Rudy and his dad, watching those replays was like a second religion. A love that ran deep. For Dan, it was deeper than the Yankees. For Daniel Ruettiger, Notre Dame seemed like a far away kingdom. The idea of Notre Dame was mystical & mysterious. The school & the team felt like a fairy tale. Due to his interest in football and a proud eligibility to play, Daniel attended the same high school as his father. Football was a major part of Joliet culture, in a "Friday Night Lights" way. Games resided at Joliet Memorial Stadium. Like any big town divided by tracks, there was a good side and a bad side. Something that persists to this day. Down past the bad side of town, just past the line that crosses into the town of Rockdale, the town atmosphere let young men KNOW concrete jobs await them RIGHT OUT of school.
School DID NOT get ANY easier for Rudy as he entered high school. He pushed back against learning even more than as a young kid, with good reason. Dan was called in by the school principal, a widely respected priest, to be informed that his son, Rudy, was not that smart and would be put in slower learning classes. Dan was informed w/ Rudy sitting RIGHT THERE! Being said SO MATTER OF FACT. Having it said in private is one thing, but in the face was another that angered & hurt Rudy. When you're that young, why believe different from authority? A manner handled differently at a different time. After that comes the stigma, ridicule & self-esteem problems. How and why excel further if you're pegged at a young age by authority? It was embarrassing for Rudy to be placed in "certain" classes while everyone else was placed in classes bound to excel them to college. At times, Rudy would just sit there and cry his eyes out. It would destroy him leading to nothing but problems.
Rudy began hanging out w/ a tough crowd in high school. Groups of reckless troublemakers. It gave Rudy a sense of belonging in a sense to be feared. He was considered a bad boy who would get into a brawl w/ kids from another school from the south side of the tracks. 2 handful fights in 4 years. He may have been scrappy, but he usually won. He may have taken HARD hits, but football was an outlet for aggression. NO ONE in the family noticed a difference. Even shocking news about a friend's demise from a gang didn't stop Rudy. He kept hanging w/ the same crowd. With more than an acre of land to themselves, the Ruettiger's were able to stretch their activities outside more than ever. With 14 kids, there was ALWAYS something going on. Money was still tight. Their dad would use a do-it-at-home free logic than spend. Christmas gifts were things to be needed. With growing boys, food itself became a challenge. Cooking BIG meals wasn't enough. They were still hungry and still snacking. Betty would have to hide food in her bedroom to hide it from the boys. An even bigger challenge was the school losing track of the Ruettiger boys (Which one was whom?) As time went on, they gave up. Calling them by their last name: "Hey, Ruettiger." That even seemed a bit too much. So, everyone, outside of family, shortened their name to Rudy.
For ALOT of years, Rudy would ALWAYS have a comeback, a complaint or an argument for his dad. A typical smart-ass. One night during his senior year, he had plans to hit the town w/ some friends, Ralph & George, whom Ralph was driving and it was late. Rudy was waiting on him longer than usual. After calling his house, Ralph's dad informed Rudy in a shaky voice that Ralph had died in a car accident. Rudy couldn't believe it as he lost his voice. He had been in the accident on the way to Rudy's house. Rudy may have missed the sign the first time around, but this one hit him like a bullet in the back. After that, Rudy GOT THE MESSAGE to be FOCUSED on his life. He HAD TO CHANGE. It wasn't the people in his life, it was the molded constant negativity throughout town. After receiving this news, Rudy was done w/ that life. Up until that point, going to Ralph's funeral was the most surreal and profound moment of his life. There were NO MORE fights for Rudy after that. Anger and frustration would now be released through football. For some kids, the sport was an after school activity. For Rudy, football TRULY was his salvation in high school. He was relentless on the field - especially his senior year. Academically, Rudy was "uncoachable" or "untrainable". He couldn't do things their suggested or taught way. But, in sport physicality, Rudy played as hard as he could. ALL of his aggressions were put out on that field, taking hits like no one else and coming back for more. Football allowed Rudy to utilize aggressions in a way that baseball didn't. An attitude. A different concept. EVERYTHING!
It made Rudy feel like SOMEBODY when you were on the team. People paid attention. After growing up ignored in school, it filled Rudy w/ a sense of PRIDE. NOTHING mattered as much on the field; his size and abilities. As much as he sank in school, Rudy FLOURISHED & EXCELLED on the field and was rewarded accordingly. He was All-Confidence Guard & All-Confidence Linebacker. NOTHING could him! Rudy TRULY loved & valued the game. He would try to go in even when he wasn't supposed to! He truly tried to play the game - even if it DID make trouble.
Rudy was COMPLETELY hard-headed. After getting his cast taken off and was told by the doctor, very specifically, to take it easy and rest, Rudy went down the street and wound up playing touch football w/ the neighbors and broke his collarbone all over again. Dan gave his son a look, after getting home, of disappointment that Rudy NEVER FORGOT! Rudy KNEW there was no future in football for him. That was the enjoyment. NO MATTER what the game BROUGHT TO HIM, it was clear he wouldn't play professionally. He would NEVER play w/ Notre Dame. A logic that said: Why dream? It won't happen. It was just to be for fun. When it came to Notre Dame, it was a LITERAL fairy tale land, so why try? Until, Rudy's senior year. He went along on a religious retreat w/ the rest of his class to the Fatima Retreat Center in South Bend, IN. Right on the edge of the Notre Dame campus.
|Notre Dame stadium|
All of a sudden the Notre Dame football team was walking right in front of them. Just coming off a practice. Rudy and his friend piled into the group and followed them right on inside. Rudy couldn't believe the TRUE size of these BIG players. They were so swept up in the excitement and just went w/ the flow. They were ACTUALLY in the locker room! They were giddy fans. It had hit Rudy these guys who looked like him went to Notre Dame. NOTHING of the type he thought they'd be. He couldn't get over it. They were caught off-guard. The voice came booming from the doorway was Coach Ara Parseghian, the greatest coach Notre Dame has seen since. Leading the team to the National Championships in 1966. Daniel Ruettiger was in awe, somewhat starstruck. Making no sense in his words. After apologetically slipping outside, they made their way towards the end of that famous tunnel. They were so excited & pumped at what just happened. After that, they went back and snuck their way back to Fatima House in time for dinner. Thankful NO ONE noticed. As time went by, Rudy thought back on that day, taking a walk on that campus is what moved him. Being there and just that experience alone, Daniel didn't feel like an outsider. He felt he belonged. Cleansing and clearing away the negativity. A profound and positive seed had been planted that day. Rudy finished his senior year w/o any REAL drama. Graduating 3RD in his class w/ a G.P.A. of 1.73. For a moment, Daniel Ruettiger didn't think about what was to come.
After high school, Rudy was expected to follow the lifestyle in ordinance w/ the rest of the town. Daniel was still living at home and stuck in Joliet. NOTHING changed; instead of going to school - going to work. Rudy had taken a job at the local coal-fired power plant. One generation brings in and trains for the next one to continue on. Betty had really wanted Rudy to be a priest. While working up the ladder, Nothing still hadn't changed. The same tribulations as a child evoked into adulthood. Living a life of other people's expectations. In 1969, the Vietnam War was the subject of the time. Rudy decided to take power into his own hands. He didn't tell a soul and headed to the navy recruiting office. The way Rudy seen it, the Navy was the safest choice possible. A choice w/ the traveling experience. Something Rudy felt he HAD to do! His family was supportive and COMPLETELY understood.
It CERTAINLY wasn't school or home life anymore. It was an environment that Rudy warmed up to and liked. He also liked the equality it provided and each person to their own belongings. After all these years at home, Rudy appreciated all the little things. It's the little things that mean ALOT! The harsh reality of his new lifestyle taught him the survival instinct. The same values and principles learned in the Navy, Rudy already KNEW growing up back home. When his C.O. (commanding officer) came through ordering the neatness from everyone else, he used Rudy as an example of HOW IT'S DONE! His C.O. was truly impressed! Something Rudy wasn't used to! With even a little bit of confidence, Rudy felt he could go from living life as a follower into a leader. It flipped a switch in Rudy. It gave him confidence. It lead him down a path of believing in himself. Doing your best was worthwhile! Working within the forced limitations of the structure of the Navy's teamwork brought out Rudy's individuality. A purpose & a heart. Having a football background and the ability to see the correlation definitely helped Rudy get through it!
As Rudy succeeded to the end, not one person failed. It wasn't anything like school. On graduation day, Rudy seen an odd look in his family's eye: it was a look of Pride! As if he was somebody. Especially his dad. He gave his son a look of pride. A father's look to his son. Daniel was excited about the details of his deployment. He was shipped out to Boston, serving as a Yeoman on the USS North Hampton. Rudy was excited to venture Boston w/ all the city provided. He was excited & nervous at the same time. The whole experience was about respect, homework & getting the job done! When it came time to officiate & utilize free time, while others explored the city, Rudy tried to find a way to earn extra money. He found work as a dishwasher & bus boy at the Harvard Alumni Club. Serving the who's who of the elite. After living a rigid, scheduled life, exploring Boston was wonderful! It was a true dream come TRUE!
Just that, a little encouraging word re-enlivened Rudy's possibility.The seasickness abroad and the doubts he's had washed away the moment they hit the Mediterranean sunshine. The travel, the locations they had seen were just a divine dream with endless possibilities! During the nights, Daniel's thoughts turned to Notre Dame. That one conversation turned a fantasy into a dream. Every stop they made, while others drank & partied, Rudy toured the environment he was in. Each country lead to another tour. Taking the world in. Making a point to exercise. Lifting weights became a ritual. Training courses to improve study skills. On a daily basis, that Notre Dame dream kept growing. Everyday was a reminder of the possibility. With all of the success of the working out & exercise, Rudy even thought of a shot at playing football at Notre Dame! After enough seasickness and taking up an opportunity that prevailed, Rudy KNEW it was time to go home.
Almost a year after returning from the Navy, Rudy began down a spiral where he almost felt like giving up. Daniel felt like his life was going back into a non-stop routine again going into autopilot. Trading a bunk in the belly of a ship to a room back in his parents' house. Trading important work on a communication ship fit for the President to return to the power plant. A higher-paid position w/ more responsibilities in maintenance. Rudy was thankful even w/ the added duties. Daniel had traded "swim calls" in the Mediterranean for sitting in the stands under the lights watching high school football w/ old friends from Joliet. Trading a completely exciting life for the one he'd had before. Thing is, this wasn't Rudy's life. It was his dad's life. The life of a man who did what he had to do to support his family. A good, proud & honorable one!
As Rudy and a girlfriend made a trip to a Notre Dame football game in IN, heading towards the campus, Rudy seen a sign by the side of the road for something called Holy Cross Community College. They were just down the street from Fatima House. It was basically right across the street from Notre Dame. Rudy realized that Holy Cross was the answer to Notre Dame. There was a connection. A pathway. Daniel had heard of community college, but knew nothing of them. Other outsiders were becoming tired. The thought/idea NEVER left Rudy. Rudy's girlfriend was getting angry. She could see Rudy changing life plans with or without her. Rudy sensed something in the air. Example: When you get out of bed and FEEL it going to be a good day. Thing was, for Rudy, it was a typical, normal day for him. A month had passed since coming upon Holy Cross, Rudy really hadn't done anything about it. At work, Rudy was an equipment attendant at the time - making sure things were going & running right. If there was a problem, it was up to Rudy to shut things down - if necessary. The biggest part was taking things one step at a time.
On a particular afternoon, after eating lunch, Daniel was adding hydrogen to a low-pressure unit. While waiting for things to get done, all of a sudden, Daniel gets a call on his radio from the control operator. Rushing into a fast mode to fix the problem. It was HOT. Rudy seen a co-worker motionless lying flat on his back being carried toward the crusher. Daniel ran over and pulled him off as fast as he could. He radioed for help and followed procedure, giving mouth-to-mouth, which was covered in blood. Rudy had never seen a dead body before. His friend was gone. His life was gone. Nothing more they could do. It made Rudy wonder why he was there at the plant? He didn't want to be. He certainly didn't want to die for it. It was like an inner voice and instinct. Something told him/Rudy HAD to take the initiative change. He felt it right then & there! Leave. That conscious voice was telling him to go! So, he did! Emptied his locker at the mill and went. It was becoming a reality. What happened was a message to GO FOR IT! The dream. Walking out that afternoon, That was it! Rudy's friend's demise gave him the courage to walk away and say goodbye to simplicity.
When he got home, Rudy made a plan and set out for Holy Cross College. His mind switched a complete 180*. He turned all negativity into something positive. I can't became I can! He hopped into his car in the morning out onto I-80 heading towards South Bend, IN. He didn't care to fail. It was ALL ABOUT the mission AT HAND! He HAD to get to Holy Cross. An amazing thing happens when you take the road you were meant to be on! It's not the road you take. It's the journey you take in getting there! That is the faith in which Rudy is discussing. That belief. That is something powerful. After officially arriving at Holy Cross, the atmosphere felt comfortable. When he got to the office, Daniel stated his name and interest in the school. He was then directed to see Brother John Driscoll. Brother John was the head of the school and founder of Holy Cross in the mid-1960s. It made Rudy feel GREAT to reach the HEAD PERSON IN CHARGE! Within 10 seconds, Rudy's prayers were answered. Holy Cross was/is in affiliation w/ Notre Dame. To receive a transfer, the hierarchy of the school would recommend a certain number of students to transfer to Notre Dame each year. If applicable, the Notre Dame reputation made Daniel Ruettiger nervous due to his professional student record. He told Brother John his entire story anyway. After listening, Brother John told Rudy what he would need to attend their school. By driving and getting from start-to-finish to get there, Rudy showed what they look for in a Holy Cross student. He was then enrolled to attend in the fall semester. Rudy couldn't believe it! He wasn't about to let ANYTHING stand in his way of getting there!
A major miracle landed in Daniel Ruettiger's lap. His tuition would be paid by the Navy. It was covered by the G.I. Bill. Rudy felt he had won the lottery. But, the G.I. Bill didn't cover room & board. But there was the St. Joseph's Hall, a place that housed a mixture of Holy Cross & Notre Dame students. The place was a well-kept secret that Rudy felt privileged to discover. Father Bayness asked if Rudy would be willing to do some maintenance, mowing the lawn & kept the place looking good, in order to earn his stay. Rudy loved to do it! That was that. Rudy's tuition was covered. All of his bases were covered. All he had to do was tell his family and put in his resignation at the power plant.
Of course, that brought in skepticism from family and friends. They were surprised that Rudy KNEW what he was doing. It wasn't something done on a whim. It was something they hadn't experienced before. Daniel Ruettiger was the first in his family to attend college. They were all nervous, proud & excited at once! The time had come for one ending to create a new beginning. With something so new & exciting, there was no room for negativity. Working hard to get there . . . . Now busting your ass to get farther. Rudy was so set on getting into Notre Dame, he didn't doubt it anymore. A man on a mission. A fantasy was becoming a reality. Coach Parseghian was the first coach in Notre Dame history to actually encourage walk-on players to tryout for the team.
Nothing of his settings mattered except for one: Daniel Ruettiger was on the Notre Dame campus. His location made everything so accessible. It was all there! Everyone else may have been unhappy w/ the living quarters situation, Rudy, thanks to his upbringing was just GRATEFUL! Meeting students similar to Rudy's, having to earn and work for their education. His first class at Holy Cross was math. Rudy dreaded it. He felt a recurrence of high school all over again. All of that disappeared once in class, ALOT of students shared in Rudy's Notre Dame determination. A plus to this was the math credit earned at Holy Cross counted in existence w/ the credits at Notre Dame. If he took the math head on at Holy Cross, he wouldn't have to worry about the math portion once arriving at Notre Dame. It was already taken care of. It was a completely different course than Rudy thought it would be. It was ALOT easier. They, the staff, wanted success from their students. NOT bog them down. It was more fun than LEARNING.
But still came the setbacks within the work itself. Rudy was NEW and found it was a GIFT to literally ask another for help and receive it. Making it real simple for him. Daniel had to learn to remember the IMPORTANT facts and not EVERYTHING in class. That made the difference. Life was so much easier after. School work was as well. It was a shock to Rudy that his mental ability w/ the work was distressing due to being dyslexic. Teachers gave Rudy techniques to help make the work easier for him. Rather than find a way out due his disability, Rudy received help as a way to work around it. He turned his study habits around, as well as his relationship w/ learning in general. Before he knew it, Rudy's first semester at Holy Cross was over! It created an endzone w/ possibility. His first report card in college was ALL A's & B's. Something Rudy wasn't used to!
Despite the good grades, it was clear to Rudy that the only way he could get to Notre Dame was to complete 4 semesters of Holy Cross. Walking across the campus every day, interacting w/ students, getting out there, even w/ his job duties at hand, got Rudy more-and-more excited about being a Notre Dame student. With his very first report card in hand, Daniel filled out his application transfer & dropped it off at Admissions. Walking down those halls and seeing that history & legacy, Rudy couldn't help but feel a part of it. The feeling of GREATNESS that excelled throughout Notre Dame. With the positivity, light & energy that flowed, Rudy fed off others and began living like a Notre Dame student in every way possible! He was becoming one of the Notre Dame student body. After checking his mailbox one day at St. Joe's, he found a letter with the Notre Dame seal in the corner. A thin envelope of regret. That really stung. Rudy felt beat down, but he got back up!
Daniel was hurt, but not too bad. He KNEW he had applied too soon. All he had to do was work harder to exceed his progress. He put his foot on the petal on the petal and worked twice as hard. Acing tests, slaying assignments, listening to and absorbing the lessons and ignoring the rest. Schoolwork became NUMBER 1! He did socialize and mingle around school. Daniel and his schoolmate, Freddy, would go out once in a while to blow off steam. Freddy had NO IDEA how to talk to girls, so Daniel helped him out in that department in exchange for Freddy's academic help. Rudy wasn't a threat and just a friend to the girls. He didn't want anything from them and they could trust him. They could see that unbreakable drive Rudy had to succeed in his goals. He was a guy the girls could come to! Whenever he could, Daniel would try to set Freddy up. They would hit the town now & then w/ a guy Rudy met at Holy Cross; Dennis McGowan, whom others affectionately called "D-Bob". Rudy & D-Bob hit it off immediately. Dennis & his family lived right there in South Bend, where D-Bob owned a sporting goods store. He was a little older than Rudy and married w/ kids. Embracing Rudy as one their own and vice versa. Rudy & D-Bob helped each other. Supporting one and each other through daily life. D-Bob and Freddy gave Rudy that balance of a life outside of a school strictness. D-Bob & Rudy had a way of "a gift" that gave Freddy dates all the time. But, Rudy pressed forward and stayed focused on the football portion of the Notre Dame dream.
Rudy would stay active by working out. He would walk through campus and utilize the weight room at the civic center and bulked up. The second way was to get as close to the team as he could. He couldn't get tickets to games on account they were sold out. So, Daniel picked up an extra job with the stadium maintenance crew. It was a real easy job. Rudy had explained his story of Holy Cross to Notre Dame and was hired on the spot. The kind that would be dubbed as "grunt work", but it didn't feel like it. He felt like he was a part of making something happen. One day Daniel happened to notice a crew in the locker room painting the players' helmets, so he joined in.It was a group of Notre Dame football managers, those who care for uniforms & logistics for the team. It was a REAL treat for Rudy. Being in the locker room that had ALOT of history, for Rudy, was on a WHOLE 'NOTHER level. He never let the fear of being caught get in his way. He felt like a integral part of the Notre Dame community. Doing things as if he were a student. To keep his head in the game, Rudy actually got out to play football on the campus. Notre Dame had a MASSIVE interhall full-on football league. The interhall teams were divided by their dormitory. Holy Cross was on the Notre Dame campus. It felt good to have the gear on after all these years. Rudy alternated between middle linebacker and fullback at their first practice. After all these workouts in the Navy, Daniel was like a ROCK! Or so he thought. . . He was tackled by someone from Holy Cross w/ the same goal in mind. They later became friends. Other tryouts were also using Holy Cross as a stepping stone. Living the life of Notre Dame wasn't that great w/ fear of getting caught. Those practices and games were a GREAT way to blow off steam. Skepticism wasn't far behind! Rudy & D-Bob were sitting in the bleachers. Rudy was assured of his football dream. He wasn't kidding. Rudy felt insulted by D-Bob when he challenged him that if Rudy ever played football for Notre Dame, that was the day D-Bob would quit drinking. To quit drinking was a BIG deal for D-Bob. It became a BET right then!
|Father John Cavanaugh|
Before he knew it, Rudy was asked to be a camp counselor. He took them up on it! He was a hockey camp counselor for the summer. The details weren't important. It didn't matter. It was important for him/Rudy to be on campus. Rudy was soon making making a name for himself synonymously around campus becoming recognized. While knocking on the doors of administrators may have been embarrassing, it was Rudy's audacity that got him noticed. Although implementing a regimenting schedule, Rudy still had plenty of bottled-up anxiety & frustration heading into his second year. ALL of THAT sat waiting to be vented out. He also learned that the odds were stacked against him even further that year when Notre Dame merged w/ St. Mary's and began admitting women for the first time in it's history. It made Rudy work harder. He had NO CHOICE. But, he also wanted it to leave an impression for admissions. They would see what kind of candidate Rudy TRULY was. Never underestimate the power of a personal relationship. Sometimes forging a relationship is ALL you've got!
Daniel poured himself back into interhall football that fall. Their uniforms and equipment were worn hand-me-downs. Rudy decided to pour some PRIDE into those uniforms and wound up designing a whole-new getup. Ordering new white shirts similar to away uniforms that he ordered at a discount through D-Bob. Enliven the spirit w/ NEW uniforms. The whole experience kept Rudy bonded to his St. Joe housemates. It increased camaraderie. A bonding experience. Labeling themselves The Rat Pack w/ a logo and T-shirts. Coming off the field, that camaraderie SHINED THROUGH! Rudy kept his grades up w/ ALL A's & B's. Re-applying to Notre Dame after his 3RD semester. A thin envelope. He kept up his maintenance job. He stayed in shape all winter. He kept working out at the ACC, staying in shape for the day his shot came to join the team. He soon found a new outlet for his frustration: boxing.
Rudy took to weights and boxing in the gym as a GREAT & POSITIVE way to vent & release frustration and stayed out of trouble. It was also a way to derail ANY distractions. The unwavering support Rudy had in his corner meant everything. As the second semester drew closer, Rudy began filling out his final application for Notre Dame. Even with ALL the help, support, success & name he was making, there was still uncertainty. Daniel Ruettiger had graduated that May from Holy Cross w/ honors. Cum laude. Walking away w/ his Associates Degree. He didn't feel complete w/ success because he hadn't heard from Notre Dame. He made a stop at The Grotto and prayed before having to move back home. He went w/ the feeling of being confident is different than KNOWING. Giving him NERVES daily going to the mailbox.
It was now late June. Rudy nervously checked the mailbox. He recognized the Notre Dame signature in the upper left hand of the envelope. This envelope was thicker. Daniel's heart began racing. He didn't open it. He went home and went for some privacy in the bathroom. He took a deep breath and opened it. He closed his eyes. This was it. Rudy was a COMPLETE NERVOUS WRECK! Daniel Ruettiger's application for transfer to Notre Dame was APPROVED! Rudy's face had tightened and his eyes welled up! He bawled like a baby. He opened an emotional foodgate. Everything that was done, thrown or negativity, all voices were silenced! It felt like a dream. An impossible dream come TRUE!
Rudy went home. Betty had begun to start dinner. She could tell her son had been crying. He handed his mom the letter. She couldn't believe what she was reading. She gave the BIGGEST smile. When he told his dad, he sensed the same feeling as his wife. Rudy handed him the letter. Dan spread the news to the family. Everyone was EXCITED! Dan felt a relief, due to the haranguing he got from his co-workers. The next day, Rudy shared his joy w/ others. It felt good to share and be in that positivity. Next was the plan to go out for the Notre Dame football team. Rudy was then SET to prove them all wrong w/ a new mission: Notre Dame football.
Rudy was so determined to get back on campus and be prepared for summer football tryouts that he lived in a closet his first few days at Notre Dame. In a tight situation, since he could not return to Holy Cross at this point, he made the best of a bad situation w/ what he had. That leap of faith into the unknown made a path that Rudy seen to follow. He found out pretty quickly that only Notre Dame students who were already a part of the team the previous year, or new recruits for an upcoming season, were allowed on the field. Daniel would have to wait until August before he would have a shot.
Rudy couldn't even watch the practices. Fences were blocked out to prevent spying from the competition. Once he got over the hurdle of being accepted at Notre Dame, starting school just felt natural. He KNEW he could make himself a success academically now he could focus his attention on football. While one side of the dream was taken care of, now it was time to focus the other. For insurance and safety purposes, the ACC had to have a security guard/maintenance guy in the building. Both Rudy and the school were in a jam. They both helped each other w/ Rudy being given the job. One thing leads to another in life. It's important to have a/some connection(s). You never know where they could lead. The room Rudy was given, although small and sharing w/ a roommate, was just what he needed. It was a situation that fit Rudy and fit the school simultaneously. He took advantage of the perks Notre Dame had. This time as a student. Using the gym and weight room. Finally in August, Rudy got his chance.
Rudy passed his physical thing w/ the walk-on tryouts. Next thing he knew, he was out on the field standing shoulder-to-shoulder w/ 15 other guys vying for a spot on the scout team. It was made clear that they were NOT on the team. They were merely human tackle dummies. These new guys including Ruettiger had to EARN their stripes and see what these new guys were in for. It was amazing to see how hard players hit each other w/ so much force. ALL of it was so much harder than high school football expectations. There stood Coach Parseghian whistle in hand, barking orders and doing his job. After watching the others, it gave Rudy doubts to wonder if and doubt himself. Did he have what it takes to be on the team?
Rudy had black out the negativity and focus on the mission at hand. He thought after what he had gone through in the Navy, this should be easy in comparison. At the end of Day 1, Rudy seen it as a guidebook. He had to succeed. Others counted on him. He took each day as a learning lesson for the next one. This same hard-knocked routine lasted for days before being told to suit up and go head-to-head w/ the varsity. Now, this is where fun begins for Rudy. Rudy may have been the shortest guy on the team, but he felt taller and was built like a rock. Rudy used his shortcomings and used them to his advantage. He liked playing defense! Other guys may have been at practice. But Rudy's attitude and playing mobility was as if he were in the NFL. Why? His heart. He played w/ his heart. Taking hits and still standing! It was awesome!
Rudy had done it. He succeeded Day 1. Coming back the next day, Daniel Ruettiger was now a walk-on player for Notre Dame. Rudy couldn't wait to share the news with his family. To Rudy and his family, this was a major accomplishment. After giving the news to D-Bob, Rudy reminded and held D-Bob to his end of the deal. If rudy made the Notre Dame football team, D-Bob would quit drinking. Progress was and had been made! Waking every morning at Notre Dame was a dream come true! He BELONGED there! It was something uplifting and powerful. Daniel Ruettiger savored & cherished every second of it. He seen other kids take it for granted! Rudy was dab in the middle of accomplishing his dream. Rudy's dream and positivity had an effect on others. Rudy's parents came out to visit toward the start of the fall semester. Their faces were in awe and said EVERYTHING! They were so proud. They were all breaking free of the life set up on in Joliet. It made Rudy want to keep on going.
Thanks to life and education at Holy Cross, the academic side of Notre Dame was fun and exciting. He built a routine and study habits. Sociology was his major. ALL of his MUST DO classes were done at Holy Cross, now Rudy had the classes of his choosing. Rudy's time at Notre Dame was spent knee-deep in his chosen field, working on his degree. It was smooth and easy. It wasn't a breeze. It just wasn't as hard as he thought it would be. Getting through his junior and senior years would be entirely manageable academically. that allowed Rudy to focus on 2 really BIG goals: giving his ALL to the football team to earn a chance to dress for a game and going home w/ a Bengal Bouts jacket. To say his days were FULL at Notre Dame would be a MAJOR understatement. Football practices stretched on for hours daily. They practiced through it ALL HARD! Rudy also contended with his work and w/ the grounds and maintenance crew at the Stadium. Although EARNING his keep, Rudy just appreciated the opportunity to be a part of it all.
The ACC was a major concert circuit stop. Rudy worked security for Elton John, the Doobie Brothers, Kiss, Neil Diamond & Kenny Rogers. The biggest concert moment was Elvis Presley on one of his last tours. Rudy tells a story of happenings within Elvis being there prior to being onstage Elvis - even kept a Notre Dame T-Shirt. A Souvenir. Elvis gave him a Hound Dog souvenir. A little bonus that came w/ the result of the efforts to make his dream come true!
Rudy never got hurt on the football field. He may have taken his share of hits, but not injured. He played it smart and stayed low. Other guys weren't hurt because they didn't play as hard. Rudy would go FULL FORCE EACH & EVERY time. When Rudy would go ice up after a practice, there were times when they didn't have his name on the list of players. They would ask his name. Even though he kept his composure, Daniel thought how could they not know who he was by name already? It made him think about life back in the Navy. They were recognized. EVERY team member was IMPORTANT. They were made to feel they MATTERED. They weren't used as a commodity to get bloodied and bruised. Coach Yonto showed his players that they were respected. They mattered. He was a TRUE leader. Reminding Rudy of a Navy guy. He would show moments of caring. The J.V. (Junior Varsity) coach was great too. They valued all 130 players. The GREATEST of them ALL was Coach Parseghian. He just had that way about him. He commanded respect because he got results. He pushed THE BEST out his players. An acknowledgement from him TRULY meant something. Little things done by the football players became a mission at hand for Rudy. What they did on a daily basis. Rudy hoped to someday achieve.
NO ONE worked harder than Coach Parseghian. Seeing the workload and heart that Coach put into it made Rudy work harder. If they acknowledged each other, that was enough. If he got hit hard during practice, Coach would wonder their status. He made sure the little guys on the team were acknowledged. Just that, Rudy felt appreciated. The greatest motivator Coach Parseghian had was his word. His promise. At this point, Rudy was a junior. He had a whole year to wait for his shot. He began to see himself as an example for his younger siblings. He thought it could change their worldview. In 1974, Rudy was taken aback and felt sucker punched by the TOP story of The Observer that Coach Ara Parseghian was retiring. Rudy was devastated. All that time & work Rudy had gone through had frustrated him after the football season finished. After hearing that news, he put it into training for the Bengal Bouts. The Bengal Bouts were like an ENTIRE sports season put into a single weekend. The energy on campus was intense. They had to be IN THE ZONE! The place went wild. It was awesome. Feeling like the whole student body knew his name. The fact that Daniel Ruettiger defeated a football player was HUGE!
|Coach Dan Devine|
The scout team for Notre Dame doesn't travel to away games. The only shot Rudy had for dressing for a game in the fall of 1975 was at a home game. Despite the dream, Rudy hadn't moved up the chart. Despite his official status on the team, there was still no indication of Rudy ON the team. After his name had officially been added, it may have been way down at the bottom, but it was something. Either way, Rudy was happy. Being friendly w/ the people surrounding and on the team paid off ALOT. You do for me. I do for you. Rudy wasn't forgotten. Because he was involved back early for fall practice, Rudy wasn't treated as a walk-on player anymore. He was given a varsity locker w/ his name on it. Rudy's name began showing up in other places too! The story of Rudy's journey through Holy Cross and Notre Dame caught on as a human interest story across campus. A big article was printed on basketball brochures that were handed out. Talking about his journey through the Navy and Holy Cross and on further. Rudy was becoming a fixture around the ACC. One story in one paper lead to one in another. The newspaper played Rudy up as the ultimate underdog. He was seen as an odds-on favorite to win. All Rudy cared about that fall was football. It would be his LAST season. Rudy didn't make fuss about ANY of this and he didn't want to seem he was. He would kick himself for even dreaming about it. The best way for Rudy to block out ANY negativity was to vent it on the field. He played every game like it was his last. Coach Devine had taken notice. He began using Rudy as an adjective for other players. Why can't you play more like Rudy? Be more like Ruettiger.
It embarrassed Rudy to be used in that stature. He was just doing his job. Rudy would listen to away games on the radio. When the team returned, the coaches would have the team travel to a big stadium to run sprints. Rudy would greet them. He heard something in his gut to join them. They were ALL in this TOGETHER! So he grabbed his uniform and suited up. He was exhausted and his legs hurt! The coach commended Rudy, LOUDLY in front of everyone to hear, "for being a real man to do what he did." It bothered Rudy to be singled out as an example and not one with the team. Tensions were running high and practices were running long. Rudy finally got sick of players bitching. So he called them to quit complaining. He was being confronted by a player. The team backed up Rudy due to seeing his progress on the field. "If you worked as hard as you do bitching, you would get somewhere." The whole us vs. them mentality was catching up with Rudy inside.
The old janitor assured Rudy of the BIGGEST regret he would have if he quit. Rudy had to let it sink in. Meanwhile, he told his family of his plans to quit and of the foreseen future plans. His brother, Francis, told Rudy that due to his accomplishments, Francis was like him in school. Francis seen Rudy as a GREAT example of success out of struggle. Rudy inspired Francis to excel further and become a police officer. Francis had set up a weight room and business out of their parents garage: Rudy's Gym. It was awesome. Rudy's mind was spinning, but the anger and confusion seemed to overwhelm the very argument of going back. The next morning, he woke up a little less stressed. Rudy had given EVERYTHING he had to that team. It hurt to think he wasn't appreciated by the other players. Four team members came by giving Rudy a pep talk before practice. They DID NOT want Rudy to quit. They have ALL been there w/ their struggles. They were bummed and disappointed about the team as well as the new NCAA rule that kept so many seniors from suiting up for the last game. The team showed their appreciation and value for Rudy. They were blown away by how hard he has had to work.
Rudy was a bit embarrassed and dressed in an empty locker room. He walked out toward practice w/ his helmet under his arm. He walked out toward the field just privileged to pass the barrier - on the inside - of that team. He was DETERMINED to give his ALL. Coach gave a speech and made an announcement prior. They made a change for the dress list for that Saturday. One player was to give up his uniform and Rudy Ruettiger was going to dress. He was floored and speechless. Teammates gave their congratulations. Some of them became emotional about it. It was a DREAM COME TRUE! He had to call his brother, Francis, right away. Rudy's dream coming true set the family off for one of the HAPPIEST dinners. Rudy called EVERYONE to tell them the news. They ALL flipped w/ excitement. Rudy was pointed out by the janitor what a story this ENTIRE thing was. Despite the news and excitement, it didn't feel REAL! The next day, Rudy's name was ON the list. Ruettiger #45. There it was. It was TRULY REAL!
Daniel's parents drive in from Joliet w/ their sons to see Rudy play. He KNEW he wouldn't see them prior to the game. The stadium was PACKED! There he was, standing in front of and looking at his locker w/ a gold helmet. After he held up the jersey, Rudy just took a minute to let it just sink in. Nine years had passed since Rudy first stepped foot into that very locker room as a high school student sneaking in and ran into, as well as, met Coach Parseghian. He just took it in to be in the moment. In the presence FULL of HISTORY. This one moment Rudy had dreamed of had arrived. That one moment, the one shot to run out on the field and be a part of the teams history was overwhelming. Daniel Ruettiger was so grateful. He was now OFFICIALLY part of the Notre Dame tradition. Rudy basked in it for as long as he could.
50,000 people in the stands. It was exciting. Rudy was so pumped just trying to throw his energy around. Suddenly, the whole team exploded forward, bursting out of the tunnel and running out toward the field. He was flying on pure adrenaline. It was a glorious moment to go running from the tunnel to the field. Making your way from the sideline to your seat on the bench. KNOWING you're a part of something momentous. You love every second of it. Rudy's "story" had caught on by this point. Seeing others in the stands of people he knew/recognized. Rudy wasn't the only guy who made the leap from Holy Cross to Notre Dame. A bunch of "misfit" kids like him had made it. Freddy and D-Bob couldn't be there in attendance due to working. D-Bob was probably watching the game on TV in between work. The game itself seemed to fly by. It was a game Notre Dame had basically dominated. They were so far ahead by the fourth quarter that Coach Devine started playing 2ND or 3RD team members. Just one more chance to be on the field. He played so many it began to bug Rudy. He/Rudy wanted to run out there! Rudy had already achieved his life's dreams. Now he wanted his name marked in the history books by getting into the game. Time was running out and Rudy kept looking at the clock. Notre Dame was up 17-3. The QB's (quarterback) sole mission was to run the clock down. All of a sudden, Coach Devine runs over to Ruettiger and instructs him to get out there and play! Rudy thought he couldn't because he wasn't offense. It didn't matter. It wasn't right for Rudy to go out and take a shot away from an offensive player. Coach sent someone else in. Before you knew it, a minor miracle had happened.
For some reason, the QB decided NOT to play it safe. He went against Coach Devine and everyone else, threw a pass and went for it. They scored! Suddenly they were up 24-3 w/ less than a minute left to play. The defensive line had to go take the field once more. Coach Yonto spun around, looked right at Rudy and instructed him to get in the kickoff. THIS WAS IT! THAT ONE GLIMMERING MOMENT. Daniel had hoped for! Rudy jumped off the bench, put his helmet on and got out there! At first, Daniel didn't know what to do. He ran and lined up to the only position available. The kicker had kicked it ALL THE WAY DOWN the end zone. The clock had 27 seconds left. Daniel was 27 years old. Time had flown by before. Now it seemed to stop. Rudy was feeling the weight & excitement of it. The coincidence of his age and the time clock seemed significant at that point. Rudy's life was about to change FOREVER!
|Rudy carried off the field|
The players who lifted Rudy had a connection to him and did it from their hearts. They were living the dream and appreciated the magic of the moment. THAT WAS WHAT MATTERED! EVERY expectation. EVERY dream. EVERY motion to wonder was BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER at that MOMENT! It was a moment in time NO ONE had EVER imagined. As they reached the end zone by the tunnel, Rudy was sat down. NO ONE had ever seen a Notre Dame player carried off the field. Rudy didn't know what to say or do. He was still floating when he walked out of the locker room. Rudy was so THANKFUL & GRATEFUL! When he spotted his parents, they both had that "parental pride". That look! Rudy's dad, Dan, had something extra written on his face. Notre Dame football meant so much to him. He put his hand out to shake his son's hand and when Rudy grabbed it, he hugged his dad. Dan was proud. Holding onto that moment for as long as they could. When they let go, Dan had a fear in his eye.
To bring that emotion out of his dad, it was something. PROOF POSITIVE of the happenings out of POSITIVITY! Across town, D-Bob was watching the game from the store. He nearly fell out of his seat. What Rudy did inspired the quarterback to QUIT drinking. If he can, I can. 35 years later, he's still sober. The semester ended. Rudy went back to Joliet. The glowing of the final 27 seconds never faded. At the end of the season, Rudy had a new challenge in front of him: his final shot at the Bengal Bouts. Going back out there, Rudy wanted a title, not just a jacket. The title of a Bengal Bouts champion. He went back to his exercise regime. Pushing himself HARDER than before. The whole student body was charging for a 3-day battle. Rudy was getting acclaimed recognition. It was difficult to come to grips of having so much support after years without any. Six weeks of training. 3 days of fights. Rudy's routine was EXACTLY the same. First match - handed more punches; second match - won! Now was the time for the championships.
There was NO STOPPING Rudy. In the final match, he wound up facing a GIANT football player. EVERYONE was on the edge of their seats. As the fights continued on, so did the chanting. He had to be careful as to not get swept up in it. He tried to block it out. He thought about his life and his own anger. When the bell went off, Rudy was raging. He put everything on the line. He never let up! When the bell came down, the sound of the crowd nearly knocked him over! Everyone was victorious for Ruttiger. When it was over, Rudy jumped off the canvas and into the air. This time, when he seen his dad ringside, Dan didn't hesitate for a hug from his son. Things were different now. It was amazing at how such BIG dreams came to fruition back-to-back. Next after achieving these dreams came one more: graduation. There was only one thing that could derail him and that was Statistics. It proved to be a STRUGGLE! Rudy's tackle was documented in the Notre Dame yearbook 1976.
When Rudy had placed his Notre Dame class ring on, he felt he had come full circle. While it was fulfilling, it still felt like a dream. Even though he was SET to graduate, Rudy was sure he had missed something somewhere. It was OFFICIAL! He had butterflies. His parents were beaming. Rudy felt like a part of Notre Dame. He was a part of the tradition. He gave his mementos of that day to his parents. After this success, Rudy wondered: What to do now?
Graduating from Notre Dame set Rudy on a course unlike the one he set after high school. For awhile, he was dreamless and drifting. He was focused so much on the Notre Dame dream, he didn't concern or think of after: when that's over . . . .As he was on his way out of the ACC after the graduation ceremony, Rudy ran into Coach Devine. Coach had asked Rudy about his next move. He TRULY didn't know. That's when Coach offered him a job as his graduate assistant. Rudy took him up on it. He didn't know the accurate details, but it kept him tied to Notre Dame. Working as a G.A. would put Rudy on a path toward coaching. It seemed like a normal path for someone like Rudy. But, was it what he wanted? After finding out the TRUE details of the job, Rudy didn't want to be a part of it.
Rudy enjoyed the coaching part of it. Placing him on the junior varsity team, coaching freshmen. He was assigned the special teams. As a coach, Rudy showed by example positively. During regular practice, Coach Devine put Rudy in charge of the scout team. Rudy was coaching kids just like him. EVERYONE there already knew Rudy's story. They wanted to be like the Rudy they knew. The kids listened to Rudy and they got each other. The biggest part of the job was the assistant work. Grunt stuff. His heart wasn't in it anymore. Rudy did like splicing game film w/ another graduate student. He liked working w/ the film. What it entailed and how it was done. As the end of that first semester as a post-grad approached, Rudy realized the whole thing made no sense. It just wasn't him. By December 1976, Rudy was in desperate need of some inspiration. When he was going to the movies in a South Bend theater, a whole new path was laid down that would take him to far off places.
The movie Rudy was there to see was Rocky, unlike any movie he had ever seen. This was different. It was about people who seemed to come from his world. Daniel Ruettiger IDENTIFIED w/ Rocky Balboa. Rudy was on the edge of his seat. He had tears in his eyes. When and as he left, Rudy thought to himself that he wanted to make a movie like that about his story. Nothing more than a moment. A fantasy. Something to dream. All he knew, was that seeing Rocky changed his life. He didn't know it, but that film had a message that needed to be delivered. That spring semester, Rudy found himself working as a coach and reliving old glory days. He felt lost. He didn't want to be there anymore. But no idea what to do left . . .
Considering the lack of direction, Rudy figured the best thing he could do in life at that point was follow Coach's advice. So he did. Turns out, Pat Ryan was one of the richest guys in the world and his insurance agency was a HUGE, successful organization. One call from Parseghian got Rudy in the door w/ a 9:00A interview. Rudy found out he wasn't qualified. He needed to be around the business more. Rudy began to do so at THAT VERY MOMENT! He stayed there ALL day. NOT MOVING ONCE! Around 6:00, that same interviewer came out his office, heading home. He had spotted Rudy wondering what he was doing there? Rudy took his advice SERIOUSLY to HEART! He was sticking around to get more experience. Rudy was instructed to return the next day. He was hired. Some call it hardheadedness. Some call it perseverance. If it works, it works!
The insurance business wasn't easy. It required ALOT of math and statistics. Which Ruettiger was no good at. He was GREAT at sales meetings. The primary thing they were selling were insurance add-ons to car dealerships. An extra insurance policy. Talking a good game came easy to Rudy. Those who LOVED and simplified their love for a team/sport, loved Rudy's Notre Dame story. Almost buying what he was selling. With anything, it wasn't all glitz and glamour. Going through the motions. Pat Ryan & Associates were great about keeping morale up. Coaching sessions aimed at firing them up was like a pep rally. It truly worked! Employees were sent to training seminars. Motivational speakers were GREAT at lifting and empowering what they do. Walking in sluggish & bored one minute. Walking out feeling the energy & excitement like you've won a Super Bowl. Rudy would love to be able to give talks like that someday. He was so fired up. Seeking out bigger and better assignments. Since he was willing to travel, Rudy's company sent him out all over the country to tackle the biggest jobs out there! All the while GROWING a bank account. This was in the late 1970s. Soon Rudy needed a new calling for himself.
By the time Rocky II came out, Rudy was beyond his insurance career. He was READY to MOVE ON! Rudy felt it was time to find his own sequel after Notre Dame success. That was when turned the fantasy of making a movie based on his life into a dream. It was a dream he could begin working on! The seed for the this idea came from the AP reporter. Planted the seed RIGHT THEN & THERE! Somewhat like Notre Dame. A distantly unattainable dream. One dream at a time . . . First dream to conquer was to quit the insurance business and work for himself. Be his OWN boss. Rudy was READY for a change. He picked up side jobs after finding out what kind of money crew members buffing the floors at night within the insurance company. It was pretty good! Work would be good. Manual labor instead of sitting there. So, he jumped at the chance. Picking up side jobs while continuing the gig in insurance. Scraping it together getting by. As time came by, more work came his way.
While working, Rudy's mind would wander. Wander to his movie idea. He just couldn't let it go. He kept picturing his life in schedule to how it would come alive on-screen. The more he bettered in work, he hoped it would shine through. Turn things around into a FULL-fledged cleaning business w/ Rudy at the helm. The income would build to where he could quit the insurance business for good. But, in order to quit, Rudy needed money upfront first. He wasn't real good w/ saving his money. No good credit history. So, he had to find a investor. He went to the only person he could think of for help: Coach Parseghian. Without thinking, based on KNOWING Rudy, Coach signed on and agreed. Based on a handshake deal. They were BOTH men of their word. With the money in his pocket, Rudy went to WORK! 8 months later, Rudy couldn't do it anymore. Since he ALREADY promised Coach, Rudy HAD to sell this movie idea. After finding someone and selling all of his business contacts, Rudy gave Coach back his initial investment w/ NO interest. The demands of being a boss was more than he bargained for. After that time space opened, Rudy focused on the making of his film.
It was 1986, 10 years after graduating from Notre Dame. Although time had flown by, Rudy still had a dream to keep him going. In life, it's hard to keep that dream on the front-focus. Hard to keep a dream alive when LIFE gets in the way. But, Rudy NEVER FORGOT it. He MADE his dream a FOCAL POINT. He would tell anyone who would listen about his dream of a movie of his life story. If his story was unknown to someone, they'd be informed. He would tell his story. Something that never failed! EVERYONE was excited at listening to it. THAT was what kept Rudy going. That was what kept his dream alive from the perils of REAL life. One of the FIRST things Rudy did in South Bend was being his movie idea to a series of administrative officials at Notre Dame. A lot of them liked the story and loved his enthusiasm. Rudy had it in his head that his movie would make GREAT PR for Notre Dame. It would be a good movie w/ a positive message. Even furthering hope for potential students. But, the school was doing JUST FINE in the PR department. Rudy's story didn't cut the mustard. The school hadn't let a film crew step foot on campus for almost 50 years. Not since the filming of Knute Rockne: All-American. The legacy of that film was strong enough to carry the legacy of Notre Dame throughout history. They WERE NOT going to let Hollywood play around w/ their image. No matter how many times he went back. It was OUT OF THE QUESTION! That didn't stop him. Everything about Notre Dame was a closed door RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING. The door may have been closed, but Rudy ALWAYS found an entry way.
Another LEGENDARY Notre Dame player suggested that Rudy bring his story to Jason Miller, the actor who portrayed the priest in The Exorcist. Jason had won a Pulitzer Prize for writing That Championship Season. It had recently been turned into a film starring Robert Mitchum. A sports film that was about life & people Rudy was floored! The idea that a Pulitzer Prize winner might write Rudy's story. When Rudy seen & met Jason Miller, he thought he was in. The Exorcist. It really took Rudy back. Discussing film plans in a working class place full of coal miners. They, the miners, were riveted! Jason seen that Rudy DID have a story and they agreed to write it. Rudy went home afterwards feeling like he had sacked the quarterback all over again.
EVERYTHING TRULY mashed WELL TOGETHER! Jason was a TRUE Notre Dame nut. He KNEW Coach Parseghian backward & forward. Jason was passionate, creative & perfect for this. Six months later, NOTHING! Rudy was tired was waiting. When Jason FINALLY went to visit Rudy in South Bend, he brought his son, Jason Patric, paternal grandson of Jackie Gleason. Jason had brought his then girlfriend, Julia Roberts to a little post-game gathering at Rudy's. It was like HOLLYWOOD was at his doorstep! They were getting fired up about the story. It was PROGRESS!
Rudy TRULY didn't know who she was at the time, so it didn't affect him. They didn't talk all that much, but she seemed real nice. When Rudy found out later who Julia was, he was FLOORED! Her smile was as sincere as on-screen. The very next day, when they left, the excitement went w/ it. As time went by, it felt like Jason (Miller) might never get around to writing it. A call from the his ghostwriter confirmed Rudy's hunch. He had a multitude of other projects going on, so Rudy hired the ghostwriter himself. Paying him $1,000/month to work on the script. Rudy was still selling insurance, traveling over 3 states. It was exhausting. But KNOWING the ghostwriter was back at home working was what kept Rudy going. The only problem was the "work" from the ghostwriter wasn't so diligent. While Rudy was away, the ghostwriter brought his personal life into the house. It became TOO MUCH! Rudy told him to forget the screenplay and to just get out.
Rudy learned his mistake was relying on others. He needed to take charge. IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE, YOU'VE GOT TO DO IT YOURSELF! He never heard from Capra again. Rudy retreated into his life and thought about what came next. He had to find a way to stabilize his day-to-day life. The insurance business was eating him up. One thing after another. He had to find a way out. No sooner did Rudy think about getting out of the insurance business, the owner of a car dealership in South Bend offered him a job. He seen what kind of salesman Rudy wa and his reputation. He KNEW Rudy's story. He offered him a job as a new sales manager in his dealership. It was PERFECT and it SUITED Rudy. Rudy's dream was put on the back burner, but NEVER died.
In the meantime, Rudy put ALL of his energy into the job. It may not been what he wanted, but it paid the bills and then some. One day while waiting, Rudy heard from someone who graduated from Notre Dame at the same time as Rudy. Rudy heard from this guy that Ruettiger was a REAL inspiration because someone REMEMBERED Rudy and reminded him of what he NEEDED to do. He then focused his dream onto becoming a reality. He began contacting ALL sorts of Notre Dame alumni to see if they were willing to help ANY way they could. He would take Hollywood, CA trips on the weekends w/ all sorts of Hollywood characters. They weren't willing to help him, but wondered if he could help them. Rudy didn't let ANY negativity wear him down. Chalking it up to experience.
In the meantime, Rudy began holding regular gatherings at his condo. Word had spread of the Rudy get-togethers and wanted to stop by! They soon made a meaningful difference. It was wild. A place to sit, talk & relax. Rudy also began talking up his movie idea around town again. Everywhere he went, others rooted for him. He loved getting that support. The movie dream followed Rudy everywhere he went. It was a gut instinct that made him feel he was on the right track. And he was. One day, a local hotel manager called on the phone for Rudy to meet him and his brother. He was roommates w/ Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh at Indiana University. The same ones who wrote & directed the film Hoosiers. They thought that Rudy had a REAL, VALID story.
After the meeting, Rudy was on a plane back to California to meet Angelo Pizzo. Turned out to be a no call/no show. Rudy explained the story of the events to the local mailman. He quietly walked Rudy to right in front of Pizzo's doorstep. Pizzo had forgotten. He had been up ALL NIGHT writing. He TRULY wasn't interested in writing another sports film. Rudy was taken aback. Pizzo did agree to meet Rudy for lunch. They chatted about ANYTHING but the movie. There was a fire and confidence in Pizzo. He was PERFECT to write Rudy's story. He/Rudy was not given ANY affirmation. He flew back to South Bend brokenhearted! His whole attitude felt cold about this project. So close . . . . yet so far away. It was hard to stay positive. After Rudy had returned to the dealership, he was fired and let go. He didn't have the same passion as he did selling cars. The boss had told Rudy to go and get his movie made. Rudy KNEW his former boss was right. It made Rudy question EVERYTHING! So, he went for a job at the condo association being the fix-it-guy. Somewhat like earning his stay at Holy Cross. Meanwhile, the dream stood frozen.
In 1991, Angelo Pizzo flew out to meet the REAL LIFE people that would become characters in Rudy's story. Seeing the REAL story that would be the REEL story. Daniel had COMPLETE TRUST & FAITH in Pizzo. Daniel and Angelo GOT each other. Angelo had a script ready for approval 6 months later. Rudy cried because it was beautiful. EVERYTHING was told within these pages. Capturing the sense of who Daniel Ruettiger was. His dad was painted a little less supportive than he TRULY was. It was written in a way that was more reliable to others. He wrote of Rudy's struggle, but w/ the eye of a screenwriter. There were some people who were given a STRONGER role in Rudy's success than there TRULY was to drive the point of the story home. It made sense to Rudy. For the sake of the film, EVERYONE understood. Multiple characters were combined into one to save time on-screen. Angelo Pizzo proved to be the RIGHT person for the job. It was IMMEDIATELY green-lit by the studios. Next was getting their chips in order, first w/ casting. Rudy's help was wanted from the get-go. By June 1992, they were READY! They wanted to shoot in the fall. One small problem: they needed permission from Notre Dame to shoot on campus. It was assumed (ass-u-me-d), NOT GUARANTEED. Rudy did give them the progress on his story of getting permission thus far. If he didn't get the permission in 48 hours, the film project would be dropped. By this point, Rudy was LITERALLY flying by the seat of his pants. He had everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Rudy was inspired. If these people were behind getting on-board for the film, why shouldn't Notre Dame? Since he couldn't go to the Public Relations Dept. of the University, Rudy went to the V.P. who oversaw the ENTIRE philosophy of Notre Dame. He was also a priest who joined the priesthood later in life. Rudy xeroxed a copy of the script to be read. After FORCING a meeting w/ him, the priest, Rudy conveyed what he knew. He gave Rudy an appointment time for a meeting. Just a meeting. Making NO promises. After a handshake, Rudy left feeling he had HOPE. He thought it was best for him NOT to be IN the meeting. They heard his side. He would've been a distraction. While they went in, Rudy waited outside. It felt like FOREVER! They were given the GO AHEAD. Next was the okay admission from PR. Even though Rudy KNEW he couldn't go back to them, the minister had their backs. He was the BOSS of the PR Dept. It would be made OKAY! 50 years of restriction AGAINST a film being made on campus came to an end with Rudy's movie. Notre Dame was in his corner and had his back. NOTHING could STOP them now!
After things were settled, only one question arose: Can they give and deliver a story like this in Notre Dame? After speaking to PR, since there were enough Hoosiers fans, that sealed the deal. They seen more than just a film of Daniel Ruettiger, it was about a message. A feeling. Showing other kids they can follow their heart and their dream to make it. But . . . .NOTHING in life is easy. Right in the middle of film prep, Angelo Pizzo wasn't going to be given a screen credit. The ghost writer Rudy had hired earlier got credits after registering it w/ The Writer's Guild. He also took Rudy's name OFF the project ENTIRELY and cashing in on it. Rudy was livid. He HAD to fix it. It was ALL one-GIANT problem after another. The most important thing to Rudy was to see this film complete.
Daniel wound up spending nearly every penny TriStar agreed to pay for the rights to his story before filming began. Nearly every penny went to pay off those who claimed ownership. No one knew of the payouts Rudy made just to keep the film alive! He made NO money off the film. His only income was mowing lawns and keeping up w/ the condo development. Throughout the summer, TriStar was calling and panicked. They heard NO official word from Notre Dame about Rudy shooting on campus. Rudy began pestering everyone until he was sent an official letter agreeing to filming, but wanted a meeting w/ Daniel before it was made Public. In was made Public on 10-14-1992 by an article in Variety. The article highlighted the hurdles at the last minute. TriStar started on 10-26-1992. Rudy KNEW and could feel that his life was about to change. EVERYTHING was going to change.
Daniel had another obstacle to conquer before filming could begin. A priest was threatening to shut the film down. He was filing a lawsuit claiming he talked about writing a book w/ Rudy but never put words into action. Rudy shared his life story w/ the priest. THAT WAS IT! Daniel promised the production if he could talk to the priest, NOTHING of a lawsuit would happen. Rudy KNEW him. After talking to him, the priest was just in a financial bind. He needed the money. $10,000. Fine. Just to settle the matter. But, there was a bigger hitch. The priest wanted a bit part in the movie. Rudy KNEW he couldn't pull that off. He would have legally fought Rudy if he didn't get it. After calling the director, Rudy managed to find him the tiniest role that wasn't cast yet. Matter settled. There was ONE FINAL lesson Rudy learned about TRUST that TRULY STUCK w/ him. We must ALWAYS be careful of whom we align ourselves with.
On the other end of it, there were many recognizable actors. Robert Prosky was Father Cavanaugh, a combination of multiple leaders at Holy Cross. Charles S. Dutton perfected the role and heart of the old janitor, Rudy and many others that helped Daniel w/ jobs, advice & living arrangements around campus. All coming w/ sage advice just like Fortune. Angelo Pizzo crafted this character beautifully. Ned Beatty could've been Dan, Rudy's dad, twin brother. Rudy's family was often on-set. It was such a treat. EVERYONE on-set loved Rudy's parents. What was done in that film brought back memories felt like a REAL family affair. They were, EVERY LAST PERSON, was a part of a dream come true. Thanks to the film, even though Sean Astin asked Betty Ruettiger for the correct date, Daniel Ruettiger's birthday is set for. August 23RD! The movie reset it for August 22ND that will live in infamy.
|Jason as Coach|
The director had worked the movie team forever. They HAD to NAIL the plays first time out - Sean Astin included. Some things that were NEEDED to be accomplished. It was rehearsed meticulously down to an art form. Those who were acting players were NOT in their outside position anymore. They were Notre Dame players. No matter what, they had to stay in character. At the climactic scene, Sean Astin nailed it. He raised his hands w/ ALL of the glory of a REAL winner, basking in the roar of a massive crowd in that stadium. It was a TRULY MAGICAL moment caught on camera. A countless number of little miracles happened in order for that film to come together. Rudy wanted to hold on to that inspiration and passion from the film for the rest of his life. That was it. The film was a wrap. Rudy would watch editing to see his film come to life piece-by-piece. The film was set for an October 1993 release. After accomplishing every dream, this one included, what now? Daniel KNEW how powerful this film would be. You knew it when it was being made and filmed. You could feel it. A whole new set of doors opened for Rudy. He just had to walk through them. For the first time in his life, Rudy was prepared to!
Daniel tried to introduce the worldly audience to D-Bob. He/D-Bob had dreams of being a comedian. Seeing Rudy's own Hollywood dreams come true set him on a brand-new path in his life. He went out on the road doing stand-up. He found a niche as the guy who opens up for others. Daniel was REAL PROUD of him for that. Ruettiger got the chance to introduce the man portraying him, Sean Astin, who got up and spoke. Sean, as well as others, SEEN this as NOT JUST AS a film to show, it was BEING EMBRACED.The feeling and inspiration behind the film were REAL! The film premiered in theaters across America on 10-13-1993. Of course, there were the TV interviews on multiple shows and stations. Meanwhile, the film itself was becoming a phenomenon. It was awesome. Other Notre Dame alumni talk about the film as well as Dan Devine and Joe Montana. Even though they BARELY knew each other. The whole thing never stopped and continued to grow. It proved to be really BIG after 2 days of the film's release nationally. Including a screening of the film for the President Of The United States, at the time, Bill Clinton. The reason coming was pretty straightforward.
After the filming of Rudy ended toward the end of 1993, Daniel KNEW he'd have less than a year to get his life together. Less than a year to get prepared for what would come his way after the film's release. KNOWING the position he was in, Rudy began truly questioning things. What was I going to do w/ my life? After truly thinking about it, he wanted to inspire people. Getting up in front of ALL people and encouraging them to chase after their dream w/ EVERYTHING they've got. Daniel wanted to make a career as a public speaker. He KNEW he had what it took due to what he's done in the past. Speaking in front of crowds came easy. To ready for his new path, rudy had to get PREPARED! For that, Ruettiger went to those he KNEW!
They would work tirelessly in the basement of Ruettiger's condo and truly strategize how to accomplish this goal. Developing a flow from beginning to end. EVERY SINGLE BIT of prep did Ruettiger good. He is FOREVER GRATEFUL to those who helped him. After the movie came out, doors TRULY began to open. His first speaking engagement was to a group of 4TH or 5TH graders in South Bend, IN. Teachers had shown the film to their classes. At least, they were familiar & KNEW they story. The only problem was they were expecting Sean Astin, not RUDY. It didn't matter. It was a flop. He had to find his niche within his new field. He was becoming a success after getting back up on the horse. Leading up to a load of requests from all over the country. He learned to get up on there and just have a conversation w/ the audience. It a powerful thing to move people. That was exactly what the film did: it moved people. KNOWING he was REAL, simply knowing he existed, drove the whole Rudy message home to a point that far exceeded anything they've felt. What became a few speeches lead to a full 2-yr tour speaking around the country after the movie came out. Because of the power of a film, and the message, the calls came in to him. After one contract ended, another one began elsewhere. Rudy was blown away. Money for these speech jobs were more to be made in a single year. He was practically being paid for the impact of his presence and any inconvenience. Rudy's PURE motivation was to inspire people. THIS was the dream.
Inspiration is a beautiful thing. All of it stems from one place: a dream. Rudy the movie may have gone far, but the message went ALOT farther. Rudy the person didn't seek out to be an inspiration to anyone. He felt he was the one who needed it. He craved it. EVERY STEP OF THE WAY! Around the world, others used Rudy's story to ignite the fire to start & accomplish their own. Using Ruettiger's story as a life lesson as part of their own "motivational speeches". Rudy's dream hit home as well. After he got into Notre Dame, ALL 13 of his siblings, EVERY ONE OF THEM, received some form of higher education. Some of them went to community college, others went FULL ON 4 year schools as well. ALL grew to become successful in their own rights. It wasn't that he inspired them, Rudy just used the example(s) taught by Dan & Betty. All he did was open the door. He allowed his siblings to peek into a world they didn't know TRULY EXISTED for them. Allowing them to see a life beyond what they knew.
Out of his siblings, Rudy's brother, Francis, was the one most similar to him. Trying w/ all of his might and struggling in school due to learning disabilities. Francis told his brother EXACTLY how by accomplishing his dream of Notre Dame allowed Francis to follow his own by owning a gym. Beginning w/ one in the garage became a BIG entrepreneurial success w/ Rudy's Gym. He took on a big career change that became a source of inspiration for others. Francis was built like his brother. Rudy applied it to football. Francis did it w/ weightlifting. He became a champion weightlifter competing around the U.S. making a name for himself within the sport. The gym wasn't all that profitable. Francis took a job at the power plant residing in Joliet. It showed Rudy the "if I hadn't done this" in his own life. A truly valuable lesson. He went bouncing from job-to-job until one suited him. At age 31, he became an experienced member of the Joliet Police Dept. After enrolling and throwing himself into it, he aced it and LOVED it. He was GRATEFUL and appreciated it. Francis felt about being an officer with a late start was exactly the way Rudy felt about Notre Dame. It matters more when there is HEART in what you do! The philosophy Work now, play later sends is/a very powerful message. Taking a part in returning the favor as a son; helping his parents acquire their dream.
A year after Rudy's release, when Ruettiger's speaking career was on fire, he realized that living in South Bend wasn't working for him anymore. His search led him to someplace that offered much more. A place where BIG dreamers come to play: Las Vegas. He fell in love w/ it. It wasn't the gambling. A place, considering its own start, PROVING ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE! Vegas was how Daniel was able to help fulfil his mom's dream. She was able to record 2 CD's full of her favorite songs. She sounded great and was so happy. The cycle of inspiration never ends. One dream leads to another. Rudy had a dream fulfilled and his life was busier than ever. He still had room. He fell in love, got married and had his own family. Everything fell into place as it should. The Rudy message has not just changed lives, it CHANGED lives. The film within itself has CHANGED lives. It has CONNECTED people. They OPEN UP! The film is & can be seen as a metaphor that SPEAKS to ALL ages. It's NOT bragging. It's SHARING the steps. Opening eyes to POSSIBILITIES. In 1997, Daniel and his wife founded The Rudy Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting and recognizing folks who live the spirit of Rudy. They also setup The Rudy Awards, aimed at kids who make an exceptional effort to do their best and overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams. To recognize the future "Rudy's" of the world. Sending a message of HOPE in America today.
Money. Success. Fame. Celebrity. Life comes at you NO MATTER how successful you might be. Wisdom and clarity come w/ experience and age. EVERY BIT of it is ALL about the journey. If at first you don't succeed, try again. If you keep trying w/ the same result, consider yourself and your life like a computer and reassess it with a system (life) restore. In the late 2000s, Ruettiger took his own eye off of the ball. After speech tours on the road and feeding off the energy of the audience, Rudy found himself searching for quick fixes for easy money. A one-time stop to set himself up. Very little work w/ a HUGE reward. Rudy had gotten married and had 2 kids. He wanted to be w/ his family and settle down. Everyone around him expanded into ventures too good to be true! He began to venture himself, beginning w/ real estate. Let's just say that just because something is a "sure thing", DOESN'T make it so. Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean there isn't a cycle behind it. Being blind to the economy until it HITS you. Look at times throughout HISTORY! How did they survive? Working so hard to acquire so much and save. GONE IN AN INSTANT.
Many ideas are like a star sometimes. Once wild & hot. Then slowly dims, cools and finally fades. Money put into ideas that flourish quickly vanishes fast. Ruettiger lost focus chasing money instead of a dream. What hurt most was chasing money that affected other people that believed in Rudy. An important lesson learned that would haunt him for years.
It wasn't until diving into a realm of real estate and beverage companies, it was ALL about making money, THAT was when Rudy found himself in trouble financially. He took FULL responsibility and paid a HEFTY fine when the SEC filed a complaint against him and his company. EVERYTHING settled in 2011. Sometimes it pays when you focus on the money. What loses everyone is the FOCUS that you HAVE/HAD to begin with. The correct and meaningful dream you started reaching for. THAT is why Daniel is SO PLEASED to be a messenger for others. 2011 was not easy for Rudy. Ruettiger's sister, Carol, cared for their parents until they passed. Dan, their dad, was aging and his wife Betty couldn't care for him alone. Dan was Rudy's greatest inspiration. He was the man Rudy wanted to make proud and turn out like. Rudy loved seeing his dad's smile on his face. The smile Dan had worked so hard, for so long to find.
The rooms and overall feel of the place were. EVERYTHING was so familiar. It took Ruettiger right back to his youth. Exploring the exact very same spots seen in the movie. A bench was moved during the duration of the movie. Today, a stone bench is permanently affixed to the spot. While he was there, Daniel seen something he NEVER noticed before. Straight ahead of him was the Golden Dome, noticing how beautifully it reflected. He caught another reflection to his left. A reflection of the local power plant. It blew him away. WHAT A DIFFERENCE 10 ft make! A simple turn of a head. It wasn't what he saw. It was the symbolism in what he did see. On one end, Daniel seen a pre-chosen life for him. On the other, a life he chose to lead. He seen what could've been compared to what he made. That changed Daniel's thinking and attitude. He changed his life's direction. It recaptured Rudy's sense of awe and wonder. He reacquainted himself pretty quickly the first time he walked over to the Grotto too. The beauty of that spot and those glowing candles lit his soul for a moment.
Although he had speaking engagements lined up, Daniel tried to remain focused on spreading the Rudy message. He began to wonder if the message was working? He is trying to spread and exceed the message AS FAR AS HE CAN! He wondered if there was ANY hope left for kids today? Video games, diabetes & obesity like NEVER before. A society in hard times creating jobs. If there was ANY hope AT ALL, Ruettiger needed a sign. Something that said he was in the RIGHT direction. There was still an impact to be made. After taking a job and wondering around campus, he sat down to grab a cup of coffee outside the bookstore. All of a sudden, a group of teenage girls were so excited to meet Rudy and asked a barrage of questions about the movie. Daniel told of tidbits of the actors after the movie. The influence the film had on them. When asking about certain REAL events of the film, Daniel told them and answered their questions. That was when they TRULY listened. They were tuned in. The whole thing turned into a deep chat session. These girls were from ALL over the country and they KNEW Rudy.
Other figures from sports today KNEW of the Rudy story since they were young. The story of Rudy sparks something in EVERYONE, acquiring them to achieve their dream farther than they thought. It was still getting through to a younger generation. Daniel Ruettiger is an inspiration in REAL life as he is in the story. He was telling them of one thing they have in life . . . . CHOICE! Daniel gave a girl next to him that was sitting closely and tentatively listening a compliment that MEANT ALOT to her. They both began to tear up. She TRULY NEEDED the encouragement. He knew what she was facing. This girl was about Ruettiger's daughter's age. Daniel nearly began blubbering, just as she was. He tried to compose himself and keep talking without losing it. The other girls noticed her crying and a couple of them tried to comfort her. Ruettiger turned his attention to her. Even though Rudy tried to comfort and inspire her, she nodded and cried harder. The girls were giving each other something beautiful: unconditional support. When it was time for them to leave, they had LEARNED ALOT of LESSONS that night. That hour had been exactly the boost, connection and answer Ruettiger needed. It was the look in the eye of inspiration. A little sample of the next generation. GETTING & LIVING the message: The Rudy message. That gave Rudy - himself - HOPE! A new beginning of something BIG - The Right Path.