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Great Moments in Sports Cinema: Rudy (1993)

Theatrical Poster for Rudy (1993)

Rally sons of Notre Dame, sing her glory and sound her name. Raise her gold and blue and cheer with voices true: rah, rah for Notre Dame. We will fight in ev-ry game.

When you were a child, what was your dream? To be a pro athlete? Become a doctor and cure diseases? Or maybe learn guitar and tour the world as a rock star? Well, Daniel Ruettiger’s dream was to play football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Long and Short of It

“Rudy” is based on the real life story of the aforementioned Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. Rudy has been told his whole life that he is too small to be an athlete (yes, we all know where this is going), but his dream is to play college football at Notre Dame. The love for the Irish runs in his family, especially through Rudy’s father, who is a huge Notre Dame fan. As a teen, Rudy plays football for his high school team, but he lacks the grades and athletic ability to attend Notre Dame, so he works for his father at the local steel mill after graduation and that seems to be the path his life will take him on.

One day a tragic accident at the mill claims the life of his best friend, Pete. To honor the only person in his life who believed in his “silly” dream, Rudy decides to take that first step at attending his dream school.

Rudy of course fails to gain admittance to Notre Dame, but with the help of a local priest, he is admitted to Holy Cross junior college where he can work hard to get his grades up and hopefully be accepted to Notre Dame. To make this short and simple, we fast forward two years and Rudy’s dream has come true; he has been accepted to Notre Dame. Now that the academic affairs are in order, he now has to execute phase two of his dream: making the football team.

Through a series of montages and inspirational music, Rudy ends up making the prep team as a walk-on. During this time, Rudy spends everyday getting his head crushed in at practices and eventually gets on a lot of people’s nerves because the coaches complain that nobody on the team has as much heart as Rudy. Rudy even manages to piss off a young Vince Vaughn during one particular practice. Vaughn didn’t think to tell Ruettiger to “lock it up”.

Naturally, being on the prep team means you never actually get to play. Rudy convinces the coach to let him dress for one game during the upcoming season. However, our dramatic turn takes place when said head coach leaves the school and they bring in new head coach Dan Devine. As the season goes on (Rudy’s senior year/last season on the team), it is clear Devine will not let Rudy dress. Led by their team captain, the Irish players take a stand against the evil head coach and in an act of defiance, they offer to let Rudy dress in their place by laying their jersey’s down on Devine’s desk. With his heart melted by this act of comradery, Devine let’s Rudy dress for the team’s final home game of the season.

Rudy’s friends and family are in attendance at the game for his big moment, but once again, we have a problem. Rudy has gotten to dress, but he is going to be riding the bench the whole game. Rudy’s teammates plead with Coach Devine to let Rudy in for just one play, but he refuses. One teammate starts a “Rudy” chant which eventually catches on with the 60,000 plus fans at the stadium. With the Irish leading with less than a minute left, Devine orders the offense to take a knee to run the clock out, but they launch the ball downfield instead and score a TD. Devine finally gives in and Rudy runs onto the field for the kickoff. With one play left, Rudy lines up at DE and in the final play of the game, he sacks the QB and is carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders. The audience cries and everyone is happy.

My Two Cents

Ok, we get it. This is one of those million-to-one shot stories with the underdog rising up and accomplishing what everyone said would be impossible. But you know what? It works. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s based on a true story that gets us to really somehow connect with the main character. The fact that this was a real person not only makes the audience sympathize with him even more, but it sends us all the message: “If he can do it, so can I”.

Sean Astin plays the title character, and since he is naturally an undersized hobbit (intended), he fit (not intended) into the role quite well. It is weird to see a still photo of the actual Rudy at the end of the film and compare it to the actor playing him. They really look nothing alike. However, Astin is small and scrappy and was looking for work since “Goonies 2: Return of Sloth” wasn’t going to be greenlighted any time soon. In all seriousness, he portrays the character well and gives the role that much needed emotion that resonates with the audience so positively. Nicely done, Samwise.

One of my biggest gripes with the film is in the form of the character Frank Ruettiger. He is Rudy’s older brother and the most negative man on the planet. Frank spends the entire movie telling Rudy that he is an idiot for having big dreams and that he will never accomplish anything in life. Now, I understand that the film needed a solid antagonist to oppose Rudy, but frankly, this guy is a huge douchebag. Not only that, but he acts this way for no good reason. Rudy never does one bad thing towards Frank, but he feels the need to crap all over him for 90 minutes. I know a part of the plot is that Frank used to be a highly decorated football player in high school and now Rudy is doing what Frank never did and Frank has a lot of resentment towards his little brother, but come on, tone it down a bit and hand out a compliment or two.

In summation: Rudy is a good film. It has aged nicely over the last 18 years and never leaves a dry eye in the house. Seriously, I’ve witnessed grown men crying over this movie. You might be sick of the same old cliches that are prevalent throughout the film, but it never feels old and tired. At its heart, “Rudy” is an inspirational film and one of the best in the sports genre. Life is all about the pursuit of your dreams and a big screen adaptation of one man’s actual personal achievement is something we should all take part in. I defintely recommend this one.

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