Thursday, September 22, 2011

Feel-good flick all about the human spirit

I was surfing the web, hidden away in my little office at home when the lovely Miss Wendy yelled something from across the hall. Little did I know that we’d be crying just a few moments later.

“What’s that movie about the guy who wants to play football at Notre Dame,” Wendy asked. She was sitting in our upstairs den, apparently stuck on a movie channel that was stuck on playing a film from the early ’90s.

Truth to tell, the moment the missus mentioned movie, football and Notre Dame my throat began tightening up. When I made it across the hall, Rudy was all suited up, standing on the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium, waiting for a bit of magic to come his way.

There was only five minutes remaining in the film and only 30 seconds or so left before Rudy’s chance faded away to ever take the field as a member of the Fighting Irish, a dream he had cherished and nurtured for years. Despite not having the grades to get into Notre Dame, nor the size or talent to win an athletic scholarship, Rudy was about to grab hold of the golden ring.

All it took was grit, determination and a heart the size of Texas. Cue the music and grab hold of your box of Kleenex!

It was the last game of the season; Notre Dame was ahead by two scores, time was running out and the coach, Dan Devine, decided to send in all the seniors who had yet to play. Well, what about Rudy?

In the mid-70s, Daniel Eugene "Rudy" Ruettiger really did attend Notre Dame and actually did manage to talk his way onto the university’s “scout” team. Basically that meant he was used as cannon fodder during practices, essentially a human tackling dummy. He was only 5’6’’ tall and weighed about 165 pounds. There were 300-pound linemen on the team who crapped turds bigger than Rudy.

He took whatever punishment came his way. There was no quit about Rudy and, bit by bit, he became part of the team, the feisty little guy with the really big heart. His dream remained to actually suit up with the squad and, just maybe, be allowed to play in a real game.

Still got the tissue handy? Coach Devine, in real life, was planning to get Rudy into the game if possible. Filmmakers, however, have never let facts get in the way of a good story. A little dramatic tension was needed, so in the movie Rudy is left standing on the sidelines, his dream slowly fading away.

That’s where I picked up the film over the weekend. Of course I already knew what was about to happen; I saw the film when it was released years ago and have caught bits and pieces of it dozens of times on the tube. One of those ginormous linemen quietly begins to chant Rudy’s name. Another player joins in, then yet another. A moment later the crowd picks up the chant and soon the entire stadium is calling Rudy’s name.

The coach finds himself between a rock and 70,000 chanting fans. Rudy is sent into the game with only seconds remaining. The crowd cheers. His family cheers. The chief grounds keeper, a gruff and cynical guy, smiles and raises his arm slowly in solidarity. The game ends and Rudy is carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates, his name still ringing around the stadium.

I’m pretty sure if you look up “feel good movie” on the web, Rudy will pop up high on the list. The film, btw, was named one of the best 25 sports movies in two polls by ESPN in 2005 and was ranked the 54th most inspiring film of all time by the American Film Institute.

So, the next time you spot Rudy on TV and you need a little lift, take a few moments and enjoy the drama. Just make sure you’ve got a tissue nearby.

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