Rudy Movie Essay

Look at you. You're 5-foot-nothin' and you weigh a hundred and nothin', and with hardly a speck of athletic ability.

So says Fortune, a groundskeeper at the Notre Dame stadium, to Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger Jr., whose dream is to play for the Fighting Irish. Rudy is not insane. He doesn't expect to start. It would fulfill his lifetime dream simply to wear the uniform and get on the field for one play during the regular season, and get his name in the tiniest print in the school archives.

Almost everyone except Fortune thinks his dream is foolish.

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Rudy comes from a working-class family in Joliet, where his father (Ned Beatty) joins his family, his teachers, his neighbors and just about everybody else in assuring him that he lacks not only the brawn but also the brains to make it into a top school like Notre Dame.

But Rudy persists. And although his story reads, in outline, like an anthology of cliches from countless old rags-to-riches sports movies, "Rudy" persists, too. It has a freshness and an earnestness that gets us involved, and by the end of the film we accept Rudy's dream as more than simply sports sentiment. It's a small but powerful illustration of the human spirit.

The movie was directed by David Anspaugh, who directed another great Indiana sports movie, "Hoosiers," in 1986. Both films show an attention to detail, and a preference for close observation of the characters rather than sweeping sports sentiment. In "Rudy," Anspaugh finds a serious, affecting performance by Sean Astin, the erstwhile teen idol, as a quiet, determined kid who knows he doesn't have all the brains in the world, but is determined to do the best he can with the hand he was dealt.

To start with, he can't get into Notre Dame. He doesn't have the grades. But he's accepted across the street at Holy Cross, where an understanding priest (the benevolent Robert Prosky) offers advice and encouragement. Finally Rudy is accepted by Notre Dame, one of the few remaining big football schools that still has tryouts for "walk-ons" - kids without starring high school careers or athletic scholarships.

It's the mid-1970s. The Notre Dame coach is Ara Parseghian (Jason Miller). He doesn't know what to make of this squirt who is happy to play on a practice team and offer his body up week after week so that the big Irish linemen can batter and bruise him on their way to a Saturday victory. Rudy isn't really even good enough to be the lowliest sub, but he has great heart (something that is observed perhaps a little too often in the dialogue).

The movie is not cluttered up with extraneous subplots. A hometown girlfriend (Lili Taylor) is left behind, and for four years Rudy turns into a grind, studying nonstop to make his grades, and sometimes sleeping on a cot in the groundskeeper's room because he doesn't have money for rent. His father continues to think he's crazy. But Rudy shows him.

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Underdog movies are a durable genre and never go out of style. They're fairly predictable, in the sense that few movie underdogs ever lose in the big last scene. The notion is enormously appealing, however, because everyone can identify in one way or another.

In "Rudy," Astin's performance is so self-effacing, so focused and low-key, that we lose sight of the underdog formula and begin to focus on this dogged kid who won't quit. And the last big scene is an emotional powerhouse, just the way it's supposed to be.

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Great Life Lessons From the Movie Rudy

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By Robbie Hyman on September 25, 2015 in Leadership

Sometimes profound, life-changing insights come from unexpected places.

Case in point: Listen to how one of the real-life heroes who helped to thwart a machine-gun massacre aboard a French train explained how he mustered the courage to confront the armed assailant: “Once you start moving, you’re not afraid anymore,” he said.

What a great motto for all of life.

And here’s another example, from an equally unexpected source: You can learn a lot about courage, perseverance and setting achievable goals… from the movie Rudy.

The 1993 film tells the story of real-life Notre Dame football player Daniel Ruettiger (“Rudy”), a short, slightly built young man whose dream in life was to play football for the famed Fighting Irish.

You can find the best summary of the movie and some of its most valuable life lessons in the Roger Ebert review, which opens with a shortened version of perhaps the film’s most inspiring quote:

 You’re 5-feet nothing, 100 and nothing, and you’ve got hardly a spec of athletic ability — and you hung in with the best college football team in the land, for 2 years!

What made Rudy so special? And what makes this film such a great example of how to live? Two things.

Fight relentlessly for what you want — naysayers be damned

Rudy was not “supposed to” play football, not according to anyone in his life — even his own family, who knew how much it meant to him.

As that quote above illustrates, Rudy wasn’t built like an athlete, and he didn’t have any natural skills to compensate for it, either.

All he had was an all-consuming drive to be a part of the Notre Dame football team — and the courage to suit up for practice day after day and serve, essentially, as a human tackling dummy for his teammates.

His family mocked him for it. They told him the whole idea was crazy, and that he should just come home and work at the steel mill. But Rudy pressed on.

And at first, some of his teammates mocked him for it, and suggested he quit or risk getting killed in practice. But Rudy’s answer — “If I cool it, I won’t be helping you guys get ready for the next week’s games. Got it?” — began the process of wining their respect and admiration.

Rudy knew what he wanted. He didn’t need the approval of anyone else. Neither do you.

Set achievable goals — and work like hell toward them

As Roger Ebert perceptively notes in his movie review, Rudy wasn’t crazy. He had no dreams of being a star player.

All Rudy hoped for, as Ebert explains, was “to wear the uniform and get on the field for one play during the regular season, and get his name in the tiniest print in the school archives.”

Rudy was never going to be a starting member of the Notre Dame football team. He understood that. But he did find an achievable goal based on that dream: the chance to suit up with the team for one game and get on the field just once, so he could forever say he was a Notre Dame football player.

And once he’d set that goal, Rudy did the hard work of earning it, putting himself through years of punishing practices — which truly helped his teammates and made a massive contribution to team morale.

Indeed, when the head coach decided just before the final game not to let Rudy suit up with the team — his last chance to do so — every one of his teammates brought their jersey to the coach’s office and demanded Rudy suit up in their place.

For every pie-in-the-sky fantasy we have, there’s a realistic, attainable version of that dream. Work toward that.

But first, watch Rudy.

© 2018 Robbie Hyman. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Robbie Hyman.

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