I first saw this movie many more years ago than I would like to admit when I was in high school. It was released in 1940 but it was in the 1990s that I watched it. My late father initially told me about what a good movie it was and I decided to watch it when it came on late night TV one night. I have never really been into black and white movies since I grew up in the color TV era, but this was a great movie.
The movie follows Knute Rockne from a young boy in Chicago to his tragic death in a plan crash. As a young boy the movie notes that he saw some other boys playing football without pads in the street. He went up and asked to play and they at first told him he was too little but then agreed to let him. He ends up getting hurt and gets up like nothing happened and earns the other guys respect. When he comes in his dad starts yelling at him in Norwegian and he tells his dad “Don’t talk Norwegian papa. Talk American. We’re all Americans now especially me. I’m left end”.
It follows his days of playing at Norte Dame when he initially did not think he would play but does. One angle of the story here is when Notre Dame was about to play Army and did not know how they could win since army had lots of advantages. Rockne decides that they should use the foreword pass, which had not been used much at that point in college football, to win the game. He graduated with honors and was talking to the head of the university about him taking a position in the chemistry department. The priest informs Rockne “You are through with football” to which Rockne replies “You don’t think I would make a career out of football do you?”
There is also much emphasis given to the time that Rockne is the head coach of Notre Dame and the various endeavors that he gets into. This is actually a majority of the movie. One of my favorite storylines regard legendary player George Gipp who was portrayed by the late former the President Ronald Reagan. I was actually able to discover how good of an actor he was because of this movie and have seen countless other films of his. It shows that he initially was interested in playing baseball and not football. One of the Notre Dame Football players punted a football and he caught the ball. He then punted the ball extremely far to which one of the players replied “That ball travels like it must have gas in it”. Rockne then tells him to play for him and report to the “scrubs”. They were basically the walk on players and others who did not really play. One day at practice Gipp was lying down and Rockne asked him, after tripping on it, if they were boring him. Rockne tells him to take the ball and run with it. Gipp replies “How far?” Rockne then says “You won’t have to worry about that” thinking his defense will stop him. Gipp faked everyone out of their pants and then handed the ball to Rockne. Later Gipp would become deathly ill and ended up dying. It is rumored and portrayed in the film that Gipp said to Rockne on his death bed. “Rock sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating our boys. Tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know were ill be then Rock, but ill know about it and ill be happy”. Rockne actually did do that during a halftime and his Notre Dame team was able to come back and win. Ronald Reagan would also say this at the Republican National Convention in 1988 when then Vice-President George H.W. Bush was running for President to which he won.
Another really funny time is when it was being discussed how violent football is and things of that nature. I am not sure what type of hearing it was, but there was a hearing where Knute Rockne was discussing various problems perceived with football. One was regarding the influence of gamblers. He actually booted a few book makers out of his office telling them how they ruined baseball and don’t need to ruin football. During the hearing a man was saying that “Maybe football could be replaces with a less violent game”. Rockne asked what and the man replied like “hockey”. Everyone started laughing and Rockne said he discussed it with the University President and he said “No that game is not for our University. Notre Dame will never endorse a sport that puts a club in the hands of an Irishmen” to more laughing.
It is a really good film especially for the sports fan. It also showcases how great of an actor that President Ronald Regan was.