Knute Rockne – Coach and Legend of Notre Dame
Knute Kenneth Rockne was born on March 4, 1888 in Voss, Norway. He first
moved to Chicago at the age of 5. Nobody liked him there, and he was in many
fights. Before football or even baseball, Knute discovered skiing. He loved it,
and went skiing every chance he got during the winter. Knute was a natural
athlete, and excelled in all of the sports he tried. He excelled in track,
making a name for himself later on.
Although he was always one of the shortest guys around, Knute was one of
the toughest. The only protective gear he ever wore was adhesive tape that he
stuck to his ears to prevent them from being torn off. Knute often said “Show me
a good and gracious loser and I’ll show you a failure.”
Knute discovered the great game of football at the age of 7. He played
in games against other teams his age. The team he played on was called the
Tricky Tigers. All of the teams were “sandlot” teams. Knute could not get enough
of the sport. He praticed every chance he got. In fact, the other boys thought
him crazy for practicing so much. This obsession almost got him an education.
Knute never made the starting team until he was a senior, so he played on the
At the same time, Knute tried playing many other sports. His school
attendance slipped and his grades became mediocre. Persistence paid off, and
after 3 years on the scrubs, Knute finally made it to the starting football team.
After this successful senior football season, it was time for him to leave high
school. It was a wonder that he got into Notre Dame with his high school record.
At the age of 22, Rockne decided that he wanted to fulfill a dream. That
dream was to become a pharmacist and to eventually own his own drug store. Two
of Knute’s friends gained acceptance to a small college in South Bend, Indiana
called Notre Dame. Knute decided to try to get into this same school, although
his high school grades were dismal. He was accepted, but his parents were not
fond of the idea of him going to a Catholic school, as they themselves were
practicing Lutherans. However, they did not forbid him to go. Interestingly,
Notre Dame was not Rockney’s first college choice. For years he had saved and
planned to go to the University of Illinois. Knute had not even planned on
playing football in college. That decision would have resulted in a very
different future for Knute. Basically, Knute’s decision to go to Notre Dame was
an economic one; it was much cheaper than U.I.
While working during college to earn his way, Knute got a course in
memory training, which would later become a valuable asset in his coaching
career. A picture at this time revealed a cocky young man whose sparse hair
made him appear more like a young professor than a college freshman. Knute
made friends with the future quarter back Gus Dorais. They would be
roommates through all 4 years of college, and took vacations together during
Rockne didn’t make the varsity squad until his third year. There were
many theories about why this was. Some said he was too short and caused too many
turnovers as a freshman. Whatever the reason, Knute palyed on the scrubs for two
years. A new coach entered the picture by his junior year and gave Knute a
chance at the end position. Everyone knows what he did from there. (If you don’t
already, you will!) In his career at Notre Dame, Knute averaged a 92 grade
point average. In his senior year of college, he was still determined to become
a pharmacist. He had no intention of becoming a coach!
Rockne did not invent the forward pass – he revolutionized it! During a
summer break form school, Gus and Knute decided to fool around with The forward
pass. Knute got an idea telling Gus “What if you hold the football closer to
this end?” Gus tried it and was astonished by the outcome. He could actually
control the speed and accuracy of the ball! After that, Gus discovered something
he wanted Knute to do. Instead of letting the ball come to him and hit him in
the chest, he instructed Knute to catch it with his hands in full stride. Gus
then proceeded to deliver the ball to Knute in this fashion, and the idea worked.
Sure enough, Knute caught the ball without missing a step. Knute Rockne had
perfected the art of relaxing your hands to catch the ball. He also invented
pass patterns. Notre Dame brought this new arsenal to their playbook in the
biggest game of the year against Army. Army was heavily favored in this game.
The “fighting Irish” came out with their usual ground attack for 7 plays, with
Rockne out with a leg injury. Rockne came out to the huddle and told Gus it was
time. Rockne went in, hitting the OB and ran a beautiful pattern. Gus delivered
the ball right on target and Rockne scored on a 25 yard toss. Everyone was awed
by this sequence of events. Notre Dame went into halftime leading 14-13. They
came out in the 2nd half and boom, boom, one pass after another they marched
down the field like a steam roller. Seven completions went to Knute. The Irish
trounced Army with a 35-13 victory, in what would become known as the game that
revolutionized football. In his autobiography, Rockne said that this victory
inspired the development of Notre Dame spirit.
After the game, Gus and Knute held clinics to teach the forward pass,
and many came to learn a spectacular art form. Football was no longer a sport of
physical being, but more of a science which anyone could master. After the
victory against Army, Knute decided to stay at N.D. and become a teacher. This
was because he loved all the people so much. He would not stay long though, for
he still grasps on dream of becoming a pharmacist. In Rockne’s deal he would be
teaching chemistry and take the job of assistant coach of the football team. His
salary was $2,400 per year.
From the first practice Rockne displayed a skill as a strategist. He
found many new ways to run plays and confuse the opposition. When Harper(the
head coach) retired, Rockne took the prestigious job of head coach of ND. His
salary was increased to $5,000 a year. It was at this time that he loosened his
grip on becoming a pharmacist and decided to devote his life to football.
From day one Rockne’s goal was to establish ND as a national sports
power. Rockne once said about coaching, “We can all be geniuses, because one
definition of genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains. Perfection in
petty detail is most essential”.
George Gipp was a freshman thinking of dropping out of school. Rockne
foud him drop-kicking 52 yard field goals on the campus’s practice grounds.
Knute invited him to tryout for the team. In his first season the Gipper’ kicked
a 62 yard field goal, scored three game clinching touchdowns, and had a total of
480 yards in one game versus Army. He was considered to be the best player that
Rockne had ever recruited. Gipp was a notorious fellow for gambling and cutting
class. Still, the team team and Knute immortilized him. Gipp died of
complications from pneumonia during the 1920 season. In his final game, althuogh
very ill, he remarkably threw two touchdowns versus NW.
“Eight years later, as the Irish battled a seemingly invincible Army
team, Rockne shook his team with quiet locker room speech that was immortalized
by sport writer Grantland Rice. “I’ve got to go, Rock,” said Rockne, Imitating
the dying man’s gestures. “It’s alright. I’m not afraid. Sometimes, Rock, when
things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there
with all they’ve got and win one just for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be
then, Rock, but I’ll know about it. And I’ll be happy.”
The Irish ran out of the room and played hardnosed football. The final
score was 12-6 in Notre Dame’s favor, and the New York daily News ran perhaps
its most famous headline: Gipp’s Ghost Beat Army.”
He never used the same speech twice on his lads. He had a showman’s
instinct for when to say what to get his troops fired up. His motto was
“Practice, Practice, Practice! Practice makes perfect and perfect practice makes
a winning team.”
One of his most innovative ideas was the Notre Dame Shift’. This was
when the entire backfield would move all to oneside of the ball before the ball
was snapped. This really screwed up the defenders and it worked a lot for ND.
“Knute was the most innovative and charismic coaches of his era.”
The Cleavland Press called him “the Buffalo Bill of his generation.” In
his last game as coach he defied his doctors orders and went to the field. The
players looked on in horror when the man they thought might die in front of them
told them to win or watch him die. Rockne ended his career with the greatest all
time % of .881: 105 wins,12 losses, 5 ties, 6 national championships and 5
undefeated seasons. Rokne tragically died in a plane crash a the age of 43.
Studebaker named a car after him and the U.S. government named a ship after him.
Will Rogers put it best when he said, ” It takes a big calamity to shock a
country all at once, but Knute, you did it. You died one of our national heroes.
Notre Dame was your address, but every gridiron in america was your home.”(needs
to be proofread)