Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



When I was growing up in Texas, our home was not really a hotbed of sports viewing. Dad followed college football and some pro, liked to watch baseball with Dizzy Dean calling the plays, and that was about it. It being Texas, all my Friday nights were spent either at Bulldog Stadium or at an away football game, but I was there because I was in the band. Those were the days! I must have played “Mr. Touchdown” several hundred times, every time the ‘Dawgs scored, and the team was very, very good:

They always call him Mr. Touchdown;
Mr. Touchdown USA!
He can run and he can throw;
Just give him the ball and look at him go!

Hip hip hooray for Mr. Touchdown;
He’s gonna beat ‘em today;
So, let’s give a great big cheer
for the hero of the year;
Mr. Touchdown, USA!

We also played “The Aggie War Hymn,” but we played it a lot faster than the Aggie Band does. This was a problem for my father, who raised us to dislike … not to say “hate” … three sports teams: The Damn Yankees, the Stinkin’ Aggies, and Those Fuckin’ Irish. (Not that my father would ever have used that word.) He had a personal reason for not liking the Aggies, in that he went to the University of Texas at Austin for a year, before being interrupted by the war. He was a Longhorn until the end. As for the Yanks and the Irish, it was a matter of disliking the “dynasties,” the teams that won all the time and seemed to take it as their due. It had nothing to do with anti-Catholic feelings. Well … not much, anyway.

So you can see my prejudice. I admit it. I’ve never liked “Noter Dayme” (Hah! The assholes can’t even pronounce the name of their own school correctly!), and I never will. Screw the Gipper! The hell with Knute Rockne! The only thing I ever liked about them was their fight song, which I wish had been ours:

Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame
Wake up the echoes cheering her name,
Send the volley cheer on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky,
What though the odds be great or small
Old Notre Dame will win over all,
While her loyal sons are marching
Onward to Victory.

I had never heard of this movie, must have missed it when it first came out. The reason we watched it is that it was featured in an episode of The Newsroom, which we’ve been binge watching for about a week. They are talking about a scene that never actually happened, in this “based on a true story” tale:

Rudy Ruettiger is a Notre Dame fanatic, whose entire goal in life is to play on the Irish football team. But he is “five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing pounds, and has no athletic ability.” He’s not quite that small, but he really doesn’t belong on the same field with the behemoths who actually play the game. But he is a tough little sucker who manages after great trials to get on the practice team, where he’s basically a tackling dummy. He earns the respect of the team and coaches because he never quits. Knock him down and he will always get up, even when people are pleading with him to stay down. So, last game of the season, he’s not on the list to suit up and sit on the bench. And one by one his teammates enter coach Dan Devine’s office and lay their jerseys on his desk, saying they want Rudy to suit up instead of them. Really tugs at your heart. Really.

Would have been better if it actually happened, but I have no huge objections to making up scenes to pump the emotion. (In reality, Devine has said, he wasn’t the bad guy, he was going to let Rudy suit up and everybody knew it. And in fact, if any of his players had actually done that, he would have booted them off the team instantly. Football ain’t a democracy, nor a place for sentiment.)

What bothers me about this story is Rudy’s total concentration on getting on the goddam football field. Yeah, it’s a classic underdog story, but he lives or dies on the news concerning his eligibility. His earnestness and hangdog demeanor gets him a place at nearby Holy Cross College, where he must get good grades to transfer to Notre Dame. And he works hard, but you get the impression that he is learning nothing. Just enough to pass the exams. He never seems to notice that he’s getting a free, first-rate education until his friend on the grounds crew, a man who spent two years sitting on the bench and never played a single down, points it out to him. It doesn’t seem to make much impression on him. It’s football or nothing. He has a dream, you see.

I have to say I was underwhelmed. I have seldom seen a movie quite as manipulative or as predictable as this one. Scene after scene plays out exactly as you expected it to. I got awfully tired of scenes like seeing him run down an empty field, calling his winning touchdown run: “He’s at the thirty! He’s at the twenty-five! He’s at the twenty!” Get a life, Rudy.

I know I’m in the minority here. The reviews at the IMDb are nothing short of ecstatic. Some say it’s the best movie ever. Some say it’s just the best sports movie ever. I had to go to page 15 to find the very few grouches like myself who thought it was pretty damn awful.