Notre Dame football is back in the limelight, and the Irish are anxiously making New Year's bowl plans for the first time in years. With the big game at USC looming Saturday night, it's one of the last chances for this senior class has to add to the Fighting Irish legacy.
This, inevitably, brings to mind "Rudy," the 1993 biopic about the ultimate underdog, Notre Dame walk-on Dan "Rudy" Ruettiger. The intro to the inspiring classic says the movie "is based on a true story." But scriptwriter Angelo Pizzo said he changed some of the Rudy's life story, because he wanted to "capture the key truthful element and let the drama take over." Uh-oh.
|Real life doesn't alway's match up with reel life in "Rudy".|
In Reel Life: 13-Year-Old Rudy (Luke Massery) says he's going to play football for Notre Dame. His father is very negative, and throughout the film, he belittles Rudy and his dream.
In Real Life: His father wasn't as bad as comes across on film -- he agreed to allow his negative character traits to be exaggerated to help make the movie more dramatic.
In Reel Life: Rudy, as a kid (and later, when he first enters the Notre Dame locker room), recites a Knute Rockne locker room pep talk.
In Real Life: Rockne performed that particular speech for a newsreel, according to "The Story of Notre Dame" (a manuscript on the university's web site), and it became famous. The last paragraph:
"We're going inside of 'em, we're going outside of 'em -- inside of 'em!outside of 'em! -- and when we get them on the run once, we're going to keep 'em on the run. And we're not going to pass unless their secondary comes up too close. But don't forget, men -- we're gonna get 'em on the run, we're gonna go, go, go, go! -- and we aren't going to stop until we go over that goal line! And don't forget, men -- today is the day we're gonna win. They can't lick us -- and that's how it goes ... The first platoon men -- go in there and fight, fight, fight, fight, fight! What do you say, men?"
In Reel Life: Adult Rudy (Sean Astin, Patty Duke's son) pronounces Rockne's first name "Ka-noot."
|In real life, the Ruettigers were more supportive of their son.|
In Real Life: Though Knute Rockne's first name is often pronounced with a silent "K" ("Noot"), Rockne preferred the hard K pronunciation.
In Reel Life: Rudy plays high school football, and when he gets to Notre Dame, tells Ara Parseghian that he wasn't the biggest or strongest player on the team, but that he led the team in tackles.
In Real Life: He may have. As a prep, Ruettiger, 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, started at offensive guard and inside linebacker in his senior year at Joliet Catholic. Rudy made the All Suburban Catholic Conference team as the Hilltoppers went 10-0.
In Reel Life: After high school, Rudy works in a steel mill for four years.
In Real Life: For two years, Rudy was a yeoman on a communications command ship in the Navy. Then he worked in a power plant for two more years, before going to Holy Cross Junior College in South Bend.
In Reel Life: One of Rudy's older brothers, Frank (Scott Benjaminson), is a real jerk -- he laughs at Rudy, puts him down, then justifies his smirking verbal abuse thusly: "As long as my brother talks this crazy Notre Dame s---, he deserves anything that comes his way."
|Rudy actually spent time in the Navy before going to Notre Dame.|
In Real Life: Rudy had 13 brothers and sisters, none of them named Frank. That character, Ruettiger told the New York Times, is a composite of "everybody who ever discouraged me."
In Reel Life: Rudy shows up at dawn at the Notre Dame school gate and says he wants to talk to someone about attending the university. He meets Father Cavanaugh (Robert Prosky), who says he can get him into Holy Cross College, across the street from Notre Dame. Cavanaugh remains a presence for Rudy throughout the film.
In Real Life: Rudy did meet Cavanaugh, who also happened to be a former president of the University. But the character is a composite of Cavanaugh and one other priest, writes Dorothy V. Corson in her article, "A Cave of Candles," which appears at the Notre Dame web site.
In Reel Life: Rudy struggles to pay tuition at Holy Cross.
In Real Life: Rudy's tuition should have been paid under the GI Bill.
In Reel Life: Rudy becomes friends with the head groundskeeper, Fortune.
In Real Life: There was no "Fortune" in Rudy's life. He's a composite character.
In Reel Life: During his struggles to get into Notre Dame, Rudy lights candles in front of a cave-like alter constructed of rocks, and prays.
|Rudy may have still struggled in class, but his tuition was paid for in real life.|
In Real Life: Rudy did spend a lot of time in "The Grotto," a Notre Dame landmark, and, he told Corson, "The Grotto gave me that real resolution of who I was and what I had to do."
In Reel Life: At Notre Dame, Rudy plays football, works, studies and that's about it.
In Real Life: If you had been at Notre Dame in the mid-'70s and knew of Rudy, it was probably because he frequently traded punches in benefit boxing matches called "Bengal Bouts." "I was always the underdog," he told Newsday. "See, I'd fight guys bigger than me. In boxing, it's not how good you are; it's how tough you are. That's how the student body knew me. I got everyone to know me."
In Reel Life: The details of the set are remarkable -- it looks like Notre Dame, and there's even a nice shot of "Touchdown Jesus."
In Real Life: The film was shot on location -- on the Notre Dame campus. Big deal? You betcha. It was the first movie shoot the Notre Dame administration allowed since "Knute Rockne: All American" in 1940.
"We didn't want another movie about Notre Dame football," Rev. William Beauchamp, Notre Dame's executive VP, told the New York Times. "Then we read the script and realized it wasn't a football movie but a heartwarming, enlivening story about someone's hard work to reach a goal."
In Reel Life: Rudy's small, and his Notre Dame uniform looks oversized on him.
|There's nothing ficitonal about the beating the real Rudy took on the field.|
In Real Life: Rudy weighed 185 pounds when he played at Notre Dame. And his helmet was so big that sometimes when he was hit, it spun around on his head. If Astin doesn't quite look like he's 185 pounds, that's because he wasn't. Like Rudy, he was 5-7 -- but weighed only 148 pounds.
In Reel Life: Rudy is pummeled, time and time again, during practice.
In Real Life: This was Ruettiger's experience. And it was, to a large extent, Astin's experience, also. "I did have a stunt man, and he ended up needing knee surgery by the end of the shoot, but I kept jumping in to do my own tackles because I felt a lot of scenes would look like a stunt man if I didn't," Astin told the Orange Country Register. "So I jumped in and got smashed by all these 300-pound football players." Need proof? Astin has it: "I have Polaroids of my entire body bruised up."
In Reel Life: Like many people who have a single, concrete goal, Rudy sometimes comes off as being very self-absorbed.
In Real Life: Has he changed? Not long after the movie came out, the L.A. Times reported that he had seen the movie 26 times. And Newsday, after Rudy's 24th viewing, reported he "cries every time."
In Reel Life: Notre Dame Head Coach Ara Parseghian promises Rudy that he'll get a chance to suit up during the 1975 season. Then Parseghian resigns. Rudy finds this out from the school newspaper, which includes the front-page headlines: "Ara leaves with 13-11 'Bama victory." "Araps era ends," and "Ford presents 'bad news' in State of Union address."
In Real Life: On Jan. 1, 1975, Notre Dame beat Alabama, 13-11, in the Orange Bowl. Two weeks later, Ford began his State of the Union Address on a low note and moved even lower: "I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good: Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow.... Some people question their Government's ability to make hard decisions and stick with them." That, apparently, was the "good news," because a few minutes later, Ford said, "Now, I want to speak very bluntly. I've got bad news ..."
In Reel Life: From the stands, Rudy watches Notre Dame play Penn State.
In Real Life: Notre Dame didn't play against Penn State in either 1974 or 1975. However, the Irish did play Penn State in South Bend on Nov. 14, 1992 -- a game that Notre Dame won, 17-16.
In Reel Life: Rudy quits when his name isn't on the dress list for the Georgia Tech game. He quits before what another player calls the last practice, implying that the Georgia Tech game is to be the final contest of
the season. Coach Devine also says it'll be the last game for the seniors
|When Parseghian left, the front of the paper Rudy holds tell a true tale.|
In Real Life: The Irish played Tech in its final home game of 1975, on Nov. 8. They still had two away games remaining -- they would lose to Pittsburgh the following week, and defeat Miami in their final contest.
In Reel Life: One of the team's captains is Roland Steele (Kevin C. White).
In Real Life: Notre Dame's co-captains in 1975 were Ed Bauer and Jim Stock. Steele is a fictional character.
In Reel Life: The night before the final game, Steele leads the players as they walk, single file, into new Head Coach Dan Devine's office, and place their jerseys on his desk, saying they want Rudy to suit up.
In Reel Life: According to the Houston Chronicle, Devine was furious about the scene. "The jersey scene is unforgivable. It's a lie and untrue. coming on the heels of 'Under the Tarnished Dome' (a book critical of the university's football program). I don't think it's a very good thing for Notre Dame."
And Ruettiger knew he would dress for the final home game. "Dan made the announcement that I'd be playing at practice and everybody cheered," he told the New York Times. Linebackers coach George Kelly added, "There's no question he was on the dress list. It was posted on Thursday."
In Reel Life: Before the game, the players gather around for a prayer led by a priest.
In Real Life: That's Father James Riehle, who's been chaplain of Notre Dame's athletic department for 24 years, playing himself.
In Reel Life: The football sequences look very realistic.
In Real Life: The football scenes were shot by NFL films, and Al "A.C." Cowlings is credited as a football supervisor on the film. After O.J.'s friend and chauffeur became notorious, those involved in the film had
only kind words. "He made people reflect on what they had to do and what the sense of purpose is all about. He would be there to the end. There would be no cut and run," Paul Bergan, who helped Cowlings recruit players, told the South Bend Tribune. Said Ruettiger, "He's a guy you can trust. He's a dedicated, loyal type of guy. He's a true teammate."
In Reel Life: In the final game, you can see someone in the stands holding up a "Boston College" banner. Strange, considering Notre Dame is facing Georgia Tech.
In Real Life: Many of the football scenes were filmed during halftime of a 1992 Notre Dame-Boston College matchup. "We had eight minutes to film our entire game, have Rudy run out of the tunnel, sack the quarterback, get lifted up by the team and run back into the tunnel," explained the film's director, David Anspaugh.
Other game-action stadium scenes were shot on a Sunday morning (with 15,000 extras in the stands) and at halftime of the Penn State game mentioned above.
In Reel Life: The players on the sideline start chanting, "Rudy! Rudy!" and the crowd slowly joins in the chant. Soon, the whole stadium is calling for Rudy to go in.
In Real Life: During the filming, an assistant director was supposed to instruct the fans to start the chant. But when Astin ran onto the field at halftime along with his faux teammates, the assistant director's mike
went dead. The fans were confused.
"People are going, 'This was the shortest halftime in history,' " said Pizzo. " 'And wait. How come Notre Dame is playing a different team now?' "
Fortunately, the film crew had 300 extras on hand. They began the "Rudy!" chant, and the crowd picked up on it.
In Reel Life: Devine is not only reluctant to let Rudy suit up, but is visibly angry when, at the end of the Tech game, Rudy goes in to play.
|In real life, Devine wasn't pleased about the way he was portrayed.|
In Real Life: Devine took a bad rap he didn't deserve. "The coach (Devine) hollered, 'Has everyone been in?' " remembered former assistant coach George Kelly. "Someone tapped me and said, 'Rudy,' and I put him in."
In his autobiography, "Simply Devine," he wrote, "I told Angelo (Pizzo) that I would do anything to help Rudy, including playing the heavy. I didn't realize I would be such a heavy," and added that he had planned to have Rudy suit up and play all along.
Pizzo responded to Devine's criticism: "I told Devine, 'You're going to be the bad guy in a sense, but I'm not going to make you evil. You're going to be an obstacle to Rudy playing.' And he said, 'That's fine.' In a recent
conversation, I reminded him of this, and he said, 'I didn't think I'd be the worst guy in the movie.' "
So how did Rudy finally get to play? Some players simply mentioned Rudy's situation to an assistant coach, who relayed the message to Devine, who allowed Rudy to suit up.
In Reel Life: At the end of the film, it says, "Since 1975, no other Notre Dame player has been carried off the field."
In Real Life: "That's BS," Bob Golic, a teammate and friend of Rudy's, told the L.A. Times. "In 1978, I got a concussion and they carried me off on a stretcher."
In Reel Life: The Notre Dame players go nuts when Rudy gets in the game and makes a tackle.
In Real Life: "Oh, the guys just went crazy on the sideline," said Joe Montana on Charles Kuralt's "Sunday Morning" show in December 1992. "I mean, it was like we had won the national championship almost. I mean, that's how -- how excited everybody was for him."