Football hero looks back on a charmed life
On Nov. 8, 1975, 5-foot-6-inch Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger was inserted into a college football game for the first and only time. Although the Notre Dame defensive end played only three plays, the sack he recorded and his unlikely road to the gridiron became stuff of Hollywood legend with the release of the movie Rudy. Now a Las Vegas resident and motivational speaker, Ruettiger looked back on his iconic game, the now 20-year-old film and an encounter with Kobe Bryant during an interview at One Queensridge Place with Las Vegas Magazine’s Jack Houston.
Q: How did football become a part of your life?
A: Football was part of the Ruettiger tradition. We grew up in a blue-collar (neighborhood) in Joliet, Ill., south of Chicago, and … Notre Dame was a religion in our house. New York Yankees, a religion. Green Bay Packers, a religion. So you had four religions going on. When you go to church, you would hear the Notre Dame score, and that’s how it embedded itself into your culture.
Q: Who encouraged you growing up?
A: Well, your parents always set a standard for your values. But remember, my mother never graduated from high school and my dad came home from the Air Force, gets married and has 14 children. Three jobs, man! There’s no entitlement in our family; everything’s an “earn-it” type of thing.
Q: Did you have any idea you were going to play in the game that day?
A: Oh no. I didn’t even know I was going to dress, the day before the game. There was a young man by the name of Pat Sarb, who actually gave up his uniform for me. You see, I don’t know all of this until later on in life. … I just thought they (the coaches) made a decision and—”No, man, we went in there, and we fought for you!” And that made the story even better.
Q: What was your reaction when you saw the movie?
A: When the movie first came out, they started doing the trailers. I went to the movie theater every day and made sure they had that trailer. Sleepless in Seattle with the Rudy trailer—that’s not a bad deal, right?
Q: Were you ever surprised by someone who was a fan of the movie?
A: We were at the Sacramento Kings-L.A. Lakers game … and Kobe Bryant’s warming up. I said to my son, “We gotta get his autograph,” and as we moved toward him, the security came around and said, “You can’t mess with Mr. Bryant while he’s warming up.” He was only 3 feet from me now. I said, “Hey, Kobe, Rudy.” He said, “Whoa, Rudy Ruettiger? The real guy?” Just like that. He said, “Aw, dude, you’re my hero.” He goes on and on. “Man, I’m in the NBA because of you.”