Rudy Ruettiger

The man whose life story inspired a hit movie talks about motivation, the recession and Joe Montana’s reality check

Since its 1993 release, Rudy has inspired millions in a way few films have. The story is an account of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger’s time as a walk-on football player at Notre Dame in the 1970s, culminating with the 5-foot-6-inch, 165-pound lifelong Fighting Irish fan getting a sack on the final play of his senior year and being carried off the field by his teammates. Ruettiger, 62, lives in Henderson with his wife, Cheryl, and two children, and works as a motivational speaker, delivering about 100 speeches around the country annually.

Are you surprised at how your story still resonates with people?

When we originally sat down with the movie people, our intentions were to make it a timeless story that everyone could relate to, and also not to make it a football movie or a Notre Dame movie. I’m not surprised because I knew the American public would connect to that message of struggle and not giving up because we’re all dreamers in a way. People like the underdog, and everybody can relate to that. When I saw the movies Rocky and Hoosiers and Field of Dreams, I knew we had to go in that same genre of messages so people could be inspired. I’m happy and excited that people are connected to it. My intention from the get-go was to bring that message to America, to dream big and never quit, and good things will happen to you.

Las Vegas has been hit hard by the recession. What message do you have for the city and its citizens?

Everybody has to regroup and help each other out. We don’t have to fly high and live high to get back to where we should be. And maybe that’s the warning that was given to a lot of people. Getting back to the basics is important. Get back to what we can afford and don’t live above your means, but still dream and progress. Las Vegas is a place of dreams; it just got caught up in that crazy mortgage deal, and I’m included, so we all got hit pretty hard, but we all can bounce back if we just do what we’re supposed to do and help each other.

What types of groups do you speak to?

I’ve been talking to a lot of technology companies, a lot of software companies and financial people, and a lot of big universities and churches. So it’s kind of a mix of things that I’m doing. I just finished talking to 5,000 people in Orland Park, Ill., and to a big church group, and the day before I was speaking to a big technology group, and a week before that I was speaking to 250 lawyers and financial planners. But the message is consistent no matter who it is.

When was the last time you actually sat down and watched Rudy?

I just saw it the other night. I was in Pennsylvania, and it was on TV. I was flipping through the channels and it just caught me.

Joe Montana recently made some comments discounting events in the movie. Your reaction?

He was right on a lot of that stuff. We always said it was a dramatic composite. For example, the kids never came in and put their jerseys on the coach’s desk. To tell the story the way it happened, we didn’t have time to develop that part of the story, so we did it the Hollywood way. But the “Rudy” chant did happen through the student body, and Joe Montana never even suited up for that game [because of a broken finger]. He wasn’t even on the sideline. Saying all that, I am a Joe Montana fan, I respect Joe Montana, and I will always be a Joe Montana fan.

Does it bother you that Notre Dame isn’t the national power that it used to be?

No, they’re rebuilding, and you need to do that. Things go through cycles. They’ve gone through struggles trying to find the right coach, and hopefully [first-year coach Brian] Kelly is the right fit for them now. Lou Holtz was the right fit, and he understood Notre Dame, the alumni and what type of players to bring in, and so hopefully coach Kelly can do that as well. … I’m not as close as I want [to the program] because I’m so busy, but I’m always there for them.

What do you think about the BCS?

I’m excited about what’s happening. I love the Boise State story, but it’s too bad they got beat. All these little schools that look at themselves as big schools, I like that attitude. And I think you’re going to see a great national championship game. I think Oregon is going to be the team. I like Auburn, but Oregon just keeps coming at you in the second half. They’ve got that energy. … I think a playoff system should be done, period. They could do that. Some schools deserve to be in a championship game and they will never get a shot.

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