The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

January 17, 2013

The Gipper, Rudy and now Manti Te’o’s phantom flame

ENID, Okla. — On Nov. 10, 1928, Notre Dame and Army were locked in a scoreless tie at halftime of their football game.

Army was undefeated at the time, a national power, while the Fighting Irish were 4-2.

In the locker room at halftime, Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne delivered one of the most famous speeches in sports history, relating the story of former Irish player George Gipp, who had died of a strep throat in 1920 at the age of 25. On his death bed, Gipp was supposed to have said the following to Rockne, who related the quote to his team that November day, “Some time Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.”

Notre Dame charged out of the locker room and quickly fell behind 6-0 before rallying to beat Army 12-6, the Black Knights’ first loss of the season.

Gipp’s plea to his coach was captured in the 1940 film, “Knute Rockne, All American,” with Gipp being portrayed by a young Ronald Reagan.

The only trouble is, the famous death bed quote with which Rockne motivated his team might have been made up.

Gipp apparently was never referred to as “The Gipper,” by teammates or coaches, and in fact Gipp was a known gambler and a poor and indifferent student, who was once expelled for cutting too many classes. Oh, and Rockne wasn’t with Gipp when he died.

Then there was Rudy.

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger was an undersized walk-on football player at Notre Dame.

Rudy grew up a Notre Dame fan and dreamed of playing for the Fighting Irish. The 1993 film, “Rudy” tells the story of Rudy’s struggles to even be admitted to Notre Dame, but he got in and walked on, but was never even allowed to dress for a game.

Coach Ara Parseghian told Rudy he could dress for the final home game of his senior year, but then Parseghian quit his job and was replaced by Dan Devine, who wasn’t going to let Rudy dress. The players revolted, threatening to turn in their uniforms if Rudy couldn’t dress, until Devine relented.

With Notre Dame beating Georgia Tech 24-3 in the final minutes of their Nov. 8, 1975, game, Rudy took the field. With chants of “Rudy, Rudy” ringing in his ears, he sacked Georgia Tech’s quarterback on the final play and was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.

Only it’s not quite true.

In 2009, legendary quarterback Joe Montana, who was on the Notre Dame team at that time, said Devine never forbade Rudy from dressing for the game, there was no player revolt, no “Rudy, Rudy,” chant and that act of carrying Ruettiger off the field was something of a joke. However, Rudy was in on a sack.

And now comes Manti Te’o. In September, hours after his beloved grandmother died, the Notre Dame linebacker was informed of the death of his girlfriend, who succumbed to leukemia. Te’o said her death, and that of his beloved tutu (Hawaiian for grandmother) inspired him to lead Notre Dame to the national championship game.

Only it wasn’t true, at least the girlfriend part. Now we know there was no Lennay Kekua, no leukemia, no death. It was all made up.

Notre Dame says Te’o was the victim of a hoax. But his father told the South Bend Tribune his son had met Kekua at a Stanford game and then spent time with her in Hawaii in early 2012. Te’o himself told ESPN Kekua was “the most beautiful girl I ever met.”

What in the world is going on? Is Te’o the most naive and trusting guy in the world, or a shameless self-promoter?

I’ve known guys who have made up girlfriends. Suffice it to say none of them were star linebackers on a nationally ranked college football team.

This whole sad incident brings to mind John Lovitz’ old “Saturday Night Live,” character, Tommy Flanagan, the pathological liar, who regularly bragged about false accomplishments, including marrying his wife, Morgan Fairchild (a hot, blonde late-1970s actress), finishing each sentence with the catch phrase, “Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

Granted, I grew up in the era when Twitter was the sound of girlish giggles, when calling someone a girlfriend meant actually meeting face to face, dating, holding hands, kissing, all that romantic stuff.

Of course, today I have 149 Facebook “friends,” a handful of whom I have actually met. But Te’o had apparently never spoken face to face to his girlfriend, not even via Skype.

This case has raised far more questions than it has produced answers. We’re still waiting for Te’o’s side of the story.

This can’t be blamed on an overzealous coach or Hollywood hype, but just where does the blame lay in this latest Notre Dame football myth?

In the meantime we are reminded of yet another quote uttered by Ronald Reagan, this one in his role as president of the United States, when he quoted V.I. Lenin by saying, “doveryai, no proveryai, trust but verify.”

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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