Students and faculty alike packed Tomlinson Theater on Sept. 12 to hear one of sport’s greatest underdog stories.
Temple was the latest stop on Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger’s book tour promoting his autobiography, “Rudy: My Story.”
Ruettiger is the man behind the film “Rudy.” For those who haven’t seen the iconic movie, “Rudy” showed the undersized Ruettiger’s hard work to overcome marginal grades and athletic ability to work his way into University of Notre Dame, and onto its prestigious football team.
Ruettiger graduated from Joliet Catholic High School and later served in the United States Navy. Ruettiger credited his time in the Navy with inspiration.
“[The Navy] changed my whole attitude. It gave me the confidence to think about better things,” he said.
After getting out of the Navy, Ruettiger spent two years getting his grades up at Holy Cross College. He eventually gained admissions to Notre Dame and a spot on the football team’s practice squad. Ruettiger, the former boxer who claims to have been only 180 pounds at the time, worked hard on the practice field. Finally, he was chosen to dress for the last game of his senior season, culminating with a sack in the last play of his only game with the Irish.
Before sitting down for a book signing, Ruettiger spoke about his journey, the perseverance that it took and how the students in that very room could also succeed. After a short clip showing a trailer of the 1993 film he inspired and an introduction from faculty member Raymond Coughlin, Rudy took the floor to chants of “Rudy, Rudy,” reminiscent of one of the most memorable scenes in the history of sports cinema.
He started off with a nod to Philadelphia’s own underdog, talking about the inspiration he drew from Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” series. After paying homage to a local hero, he swiftly transitioned to talking about his early days. Ruettiger was born as one of 14 children into a house in Joliet, Ill., that was encompassed around the New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and, most of all, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
He talked about his days as an adolescent, discussing how he dreamed of being whatever he wanted. Those dreams ended one day in fifth grade when, instead of studying presidents, a young Rudy watched his beloved Yankees, leaving him unprepared for class.
“You’re excited about the ballgame, not about the presidents,” Ruettiger said. After missing a question about his studies, his teacher replied, “Go sit in the back of the room — that’s where you belong.”
“That’s the day I quit dreaming,” Ruettiger said.
Ruettiger was never a great student, doing poorly on important exams his freshman year, placing him on a slower learning curve. He said his scores reflected that he was a “dummy.” Years later, it was discovered that Ruettiger suffered from dyslexia.
Ruettiger quit dreaming for a long time, right up until he joined the Navy, he said. His talk spanned everywhere from invitations to the White House to back to back home runs from Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, but he always returned to a main theme: Everyone has the ability to do something, they just have to go out and do it.
On numerous occasions, Ruettiger mentioned, “goofy thoughts.” He considered these thoughts a catalyst to failure or poor decision-making, even referencing his own shortcomings. These thoughts come in contrast to one’s own instincts.
“You know the right thing to do, you’re just not listening,” Ruettiger said. “You’re listening to goofy thoughts.”
He gave many examples of these goofy thoughts, but most seemed like modes of procrastination, gossiping or watching television while you should be working. These thoughts delay and prevent people from taking necessary action or seizing opportunity.
“You let one goofy thought stop you from being great,” Ruettiger said.
Coughlin has been in correspondence with Ruettiger for a number of years, having both been coached under the legendary Gordie Gillespie. The relationship started one day when Coughlin discovered Gillespie had coached Ruettiger, and approached his former coach for Ruettiger’s phone number. After learning of Ruettiger’s current book tour, Coughlin made a request for a Temple visit, drawing a parallel from the students here at Temple to Ruettiger himself.
“They don’t come with a privileged past, they don’t come with a golden spoon in their mouth, but they come here ready to learn. They come to work hard,” Coughlin said. “That’s what I love about these students.”
He preached hard work, determination and most of all belief in oneself. When asked what he most wanted students to take from his talk, he answered simply, “hope,” and added that someone must want to succeed and put in the necessary work.
“You’ll get the drive if you have the want,” Ruettiger said. “Inspiration is the key to everything you do…find your purpose and you will get things done.”
Kyle Noone can be reached at email@example.com.