Football, Notre Dame And Winning 'For The Gipper'

Oct 7, 2015
Originally published on October 7, 2015 12:43 pm

It was 75 years ago this week — Oct. 5, 1940 — when the movie Knute Rockne, All-American was released and first we heard, "Rock, some day when the team's up against it, breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got, win just one for the Gipper."

It isn't just because a future president of the United States was the actor who uttered it, that this became the single most famous line ever spoken in a sports movie. No, it was because of who the Gipper was playing for: Notre Dame.

Really: think about it. Seventy-five years later, Notre Dame — well, Notre Dame football — remains one of the most enduring things in American sport, in the company of the Kentucky Derby, the Masters, the Harlem Globetrotters and the ivy at Wrigley Field. It is a thing unto itself in college sport.

Click the audio to hear Frank Deford's homage to Notre Dame.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New York's attorney general says he's investigating fantasy sports. Two big websites, DraftKings and FanDuel, are featured in an unbelievable number of ads during football broadcasts. People bet on fantasy teams, which are based on the performance of real players on the field. Now investigators are asking if employees used inside information about the betting to increase their own chances of winning prize money for themselves. If you're more into old-fashioned football, here's is a story for you. Notre Dame and Navy have been meeting on the gridiron since before the Great Depression, and they do it again this weekend. Our commentator, Frank Deford, has some thoughts about the cultural legacy of the home team.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: It was exactly 75 years ago this week, October 5, 1940, when the movie "Knute Rockne All American" was released. And first we heard...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KNUTE ROCKNE ALL AMERICAN")

RONALD REAGAN: (As George Gipp) Rock, someday when the team's up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got; win just one for the Gipper.

DEFORD: It isn't just because a future president of the United States was the actor who uttered it that this became the single most famous line ever spoken in a sports movie. No, it was because who the Gipper was playing for, Notre Dame. Really, think about it. Seventy-five years later, Notre Dame - well, Notre Dame football - remains one of the most enduring things in American sport, in the company of the Kentucky Derby, the Masters, the Harlem Globetrotters and the ivy at Wrigley Field. It is a thing unto itself in college sport. Notre Dame's original ascension to prominence was understandable, emerging as the national collegiate Roman Catholic team. But long after Catholics, Irish and otherwise, were accepted into the American mainstream and Notre Dame became a fine educational institution, no matter what changes have taken place in college football, Notre Dame continues to maintain its special gridiron sultanate. Today, college football has elevated five so-called power conferences, the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12, to pretty much run the show. (Laughter). Also included in this aristocracy is one independent - well, really a one-school conference - Notre Dame. Even the Yankees are in a league. I had the pleasure of dining with the distinguished late Notre Dame president, Theodore Hesburgh three years ago. And I asked him if he thought his school would ever be satisfied to give up its special eminence, join a conference and just be one of the boys. Father Hesburgh was 94 then but still quite catty enough to dodge my impudence. However, the current president, Father John Jenkins, declared last month that if it ever came about that college football players must be paid, he would take the fighting Irish out of big-time college football. Come on, Father, why, you might as well expect Queen Elizabeth to give up her crown. No, 75 years after we first saw Ronald Reagan plead just for one victory, Notre Dame football will, as the fight song more immodestly declares, win over all.

INSKEEP: You can hear comments from Frank Deford most Wednesdays here on MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.