Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger (born August 23, 1948) is a motivational speaker and former collegiate football player for the University of Notre Dame, who is best known as the inspiration for the motion picture Rudy.
Early life and college career
Daniel Ruettiger (nicknamed “Rudy”) had a hard time in school because he was dyslexic—a condition that was not well understood at the time. He was the third of fourteen children. He attended Joliet Catholic High School, where he played for locally famous coach Gordie Gillespie. Ruettiger joined the United States Navy after high school, serving as a yeoman on a communications command ship for two years; then he worked in a power plant for two years. He applied to Notre Dame, but due to his marginal grades he had to do his early college work at nearby Holy Cross College.
After two years at Holy Cross, Ruettiger was accepted as a student at Notre Dame on his fourth try, in the fall of 1974. It was during his time studying at Holy Cross that Ruettiger discovered he had dyslexia.
Ruettiger harbored a dream to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, despite being merely 5’6″ and 165 pounds—an undersized player. Head coach Ara Parseghian encouraged walk-on players from the student body. For example, Notre Dame’s 1969 starting center, Mike Oriard, was a walk-on who eventually won a Rhodes Scholarship and an NFL contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.
After working as hard as possible and showing that he was willing to work as much as he needed to, Ruettiger earned a place on the Notre Dame scout team, a practice squad that helps the varsity team practice for games. Merv Johnson was the coach who was instrumental in keeping Rudy on as a scout-team player.
After Parseghian stepped down after the 1974 season, Dan Devine was named head coach. In Ruettiger’s last opportunity to play for Notre Dame at home, Devine put him into a game as defensive end against Georgia Tech on November 8, 1975. In the movie Rudy, Devine is given a somewhat antagonistic role, not wanting Rudy to dress for his last game. However, in actuality, it was Devine who came up with the idea to dress Rudy. In the final play of Ruettiger’s senior season with the Fighting Irish, he recorded a sack, which is all his Notre Dame stat line has ever shown. Ruettiger actually played for three plays. The first play was a kickoff, the second play was an incomplete pass, and the third (and final) play he sacked Georgia Tech quarterback Rudy Allen. Ruettiger was carried off the field by his teammates following the game.
Ruettiger was the first of only two players in Notre Dame history ever to be carried off the field by his teammates. The other is Marc Edwards.
The inaugural 2007 College Football Rudy Award was held on 8 January 2008 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee.
The College Football Rudy Award was created by the Rudy Foundation and honors Division I football players who demonstrate what Ruettiger refers to as “The Four C’s”: character, courage, contribution, and commitment as a member of their team. The 2007 award was presented to Terry Clayton of the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the 2008 award was presented to Drew Combs of the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. The 2009 award-winner was LeVon Morefield of University of Akron Zips, and in 2010 it went to Mark Herzlich of the Boston College Eagles.
On October 14, 2005, Ruettiger was the master of ceremonies at a pep rally for Notre Dame Football. The Fighting Irish were about to play rival and then #1-ranked University of Southern California (USC) the following day and Head Coach Charlie Weis asked some Notre Dame legends, including Tim Brown and Joe Montana, to come back and speak at the rally. Ruettiger came out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium to a loud ovation. Notre Dame ultimately lost the game.
In July 2009, Ruettiger was initiated into the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at the National Convention in San Antonio, Texas.
In September 2009, Trusted Sports and Rudy launched the High School Football ‘Rudy’ Awards, which aims to uncover the “Rudy” on every High School football team in America. The award is presented to the most inspirational High School football player who personifies what Rudy calls “The Four C’s”: Courage, Character, Commitment, and Contribution. Inspired by the College Football Rudy Awards, three finalists were announced on February 3, 2010. The winner, Calob Leindecker of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, received a college scholarship totalling $10,000. Two runners-up, Kyle Weafer of Kansas and Justin Ray Duke of Texas each received $5,000 scholarships.
Ruettiger’s story was told in the 1993 film Rudy, which starred actor Sean Astin in the title role as Rudy. The film was written by Angelo Pizzo, directed by David Anspaugh and produced by Rob Fried, both of whom were involved in Hoosiers. Ruettiger appeared in a cameo as a fan behind Rudy’s father and brother during the final scene.
- Rudy’s Insights for Winning in LifeISBN 978-0-9658119-1-0
- Rudy’s Lessons for Young ChampionsISBN 978-0-9658119-0-3
- Rudy & FriendsISBN 978-1-880692-39-4\
- Honorary Doctorate Degree from Our Lady of Holy Cross College
- The key to numerous cities across the nation along with special proclamations for his inspiration, commitment, and human spirit
- Honorary assist to the Attorney General of Louisiana
- Recognition from President George W. Bush
- Recognition at the White House
- Recognition from the House of Representatives in the state of Texas
- A Proclamation from the Governor of Nevada granting an Official Rudy Award Day