Young Knute learned football in his new home town of Chicago, where he played for his high school football team.
Upon graduating from high school he went to work as a mailman with the Chicago Post Office for four years until he earned enough money to go to school. He entered Notre Dame at the age of 22.
Rockne played end for Notre Dame and excelled in the position.
In 1913 he helped transform the game of football with college roommate and Quarterback, Charlie “Gus” Dorais when Notre Dame’s offensive ground game was exceeded by their introduction of the forward passing game stunning Army in a 35-to-13 win at West Point.
Rockne earned a pharmacy degree from Notre Dame. After graduation, he became a laboratory assistant at Notre Dame and assisted with the football team. He dropped chemistry faster than a hot Erlenmeyer flask when famed player, Peggy Parratt, (who threw the first legal forward pass in football) recruited him for Professional Football. Football. Football. (No parroting intended. Really. Really.)
He played for the Massillon Tigers for two years. Then coached the “South Bend Jolly Fellows Club”. They were not very jolly. Rockne earned his worst loss ever from the Toledo Maroons in 1917.
Never saying “what a maroon,” he went on to coach Notre Dame. Leading his “Fighting Irish” to 105 victories, five undefeated seasons without a tie and three national championships.
He coached legendary players including George “Gipper” Gipp and Curly Lambeau of Green Bay fame. (I’ve been to Lambeau field and breathed the tailgating briquettes. May I have another brat please. . . .)
Immortalized in the film, “Knute Rockne, American Football”, when Knute’s 1928 Notre Dame team was down 6-0 at half time, he told the team the story of the Gipper’s dying request in 1920:
“I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are going wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”
Notre Dame won 12 to 6.
Rockne died in a plane crash on March 31, 1931 in Bazaar, Kansas, en route to participate in the making of the movie “The Spirit of Notre Dame”. How bizarre is that?
One of the first people to the crash site, a young fellow fabulously named Easter Heathman. The crash on the Heathman’s property. A memorial is dedicated to the victims of the flight and is open for public viewing only on the anniversary of the crash or by appointment.
Knute had one more thing to give us. The public outcry over the crash created sweeping changes to the airline industry. Taking it from the most dangerous form of transportation to one of the safest forms of travel.
Aren’t you glad he didn’t become a pharmacist?
“One man practicing sportsmanship is better than a hundred teaching it.” ~ Knute Rockne