Fans and media trained on the Discover BCS National Championship Game have taken to calling the matchup between Notre Dame and Alabama “Rudy vs. Forrest Gump."
This is of great amusement to none other than the real Rudy.
“That’s what they’re calling it down here, Rudy vs. Forrest, and they’re having a lot of fun with it, you know what I mean?” Rudy Ruettiger, a Las Vegas resident who lives at One Queensridge Place luxury homes in Summerlin, says in a phone interview from Miami. “But the thing is, Rudy is an actual person, me. I haven’t run into Forrest Gump yet.”
Rudy is attending the national title game at Sun Life Stadium as one of Notre Dame’s most famous alums. You probably know his story, hopefully, a spirited and inspirational yarn that made it to the big screen in the classic film “Rudy,” which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The film chronicles Rudy’s attempt to walk onto the Notre Dame football team, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Rudy is played by an apple-cheeked Sean Astin and is spiced with early career appearances by the similarly apple-cheeked Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. In the film, his goal to suit up and actually play is resisted by head coach Dan Devine (who, in reality, was said to be a staunch Rudy supporter). The team stages a revolt, as Rudy’s teammates begin dropping their jerseys on Devine’s desk, dramatically, one by one.
The coach relents and allows Rudy to play the season finale of Rudy’s senior season, and he records a sack (or, half a sack, as the imbedded YouTube clip shows) against the Georgia Tech quarterback, who also happens to be named Rudy (Rudy Allen). I would guess that in the crowd that afternoon was a young lawmaker named Rudy Giuliani, seated next to Rudy from "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids."
The sack was Rudy’s only statistic, capping a storybook saga, and providing the central character an opportunity to deliver the message of passion, self-belief and determination.
“It was football’s ‘Rocky,’ with the football field as a metaphor,” Rudy says. “The movie was developed for the message of never giving up, overcoming obstacles, chasing your dream. ... It’s right in line with some of the movies I love, ‘Rocky,’ ‘Hoosiers,’ ‘Field of Dreams,’ and I think it is one of the classics of all time.”
At age 64, Rudy is as powerful a representative of Notre Dame football lore as Knute Rockne, George Gipp and the Four Horsemen. He has spent years as an entrepreneur, spokesman and inspirational speaker, and is in Miami on behalf of one of his business partners, Mercedes Benz. Rudy has been to one Notre Dame game this year, the September victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor, as part of a book-signing event to promote his latest literary release, “Rudy: My Story.”
In that book, he talks of his greatest misstep, when in 2011 he was charged with stock fraud involving his sports-drink company. The company was allegedly used in a “pump and dump” scheme, which generated $11 million in illicit profits. Rudy found that facing those allegations was more challenging than corralling a Georgia Tech quarterback, and in December 2011 agreed to pay $382,866 to resolve the charges, which he did not admit or deny.
The make-good payment seemed to close that troubling chapter of Rudy’s rollercoaster life, though his image took a serious hit, and not every observer accepted his explanation that he just got caught up in “chasing the money” (Forbes magazine certainly didn’t buy that assessment).
But Rudy himself says the overarching lesson of “Rudy” eclipses the individual, malfeasance notwithstanding.
“It’s not about the person, the Rudy character specifically, but the message itself,” he says. “People sometimes just need inspiration to keep moving along, whether it’s going to Notre Dame and being rejected, or taking a long time to bring a sports movie and Hollywood together, which took a long time for ‘Rudy.’
“If you look at it that way, everybody’s a Rudy. And there is a Rudy in everybody.”