Skip to content

Happy birthday, Knute

Mar 4, 2013, 3:49 PM EDT

Knute Rockne

After celebrating a magical 125th football season, it’s a nice little coincidence that today is Knute Rockne’s 125th birthday. The man who has been immortally intertwined with the history and traditions of Notre Dame football was born on March 4, 1888 in Voss, Norway.

I will not pretend to have the historical chops to properly quantify what Rockne meant to Notre Dame and its football program. But rare is the coach that means more to a team than Rockne to Notre Dame.

(That’s a debate worth having. What individual has embodied a team or a franchise more than Rockne to Notre Dame: Lombardi? Bryant? Steinbrenner? Paterno? Pitch in in the comments below…)

As we go through a bit of a lull between recruiting and spring football, here are some nice reads on Rockne that I thought were worth sharing.

This from a great piece by ND historian Jim Lefebvre at Forever Irish:

Wherever he was in life, Knute Rockne always seemed to have a vision.

He had a vision for how athletics – starting with his beloved track and field, and eventually including football – could serve as a means of striving toward the best person one could be.  Dedication, self-discipline, sportsmanship, fairness. These were among the attributes not always self-evident in athletic competition at the time, yet were the gospel Rockne would preach, and live, throughout his athletic career.

He saw how athletics could fit comfortably into the education of a fully developed man. And how collegiate athletics complemented classroom work to challenge and draw out the best traits of young student-athletes. Rockne fought hard against critics of collegiate athletics, always advocating for its inclusion in the academy.

Rockne also had a vision for how football could be played in a different way than in the early years of the 20th century, when its brutality and danger nearly caused its demise.

In Rockne’s mind, football became a combination chess game and track meet on grass, with an emphasis on speed, precision and teamwork.

This from a wonderful article by Lou Somogyi:

It would enough to say that in 13 seasons he posted 105 wins, only 12 losses and 5 ties (.881), recorded six national championships in one poll or another, compiled five unbeaten and untied campaigns and produced 20 first-team All-Americans.

But that would be like viewing 10 percent of the iceberg that is visible while the other 90 percent is under water..

Rockne became a national institution and Notre Dame became the national school. “Subway Alumni” were born in every section of the country, from the steelworker in Pittsburgh to the executive in California. In Rockne and Notre Dame, an identity of struggle, hope and triumph could be found — as was the glamour and popularity of sport.

“Football and all athletics should be a part of culture, the culture that makes the whole man, not a part-time thinker,” wrote Rockne. “Ancient Greece was a cradle of culture, and Ancient Greece was a nation of athletes… Boys must have an outlet for animal spirits. Their education must contain a training in clean contests, otherwise they’ll be lost in a world that thrives on competition and in which those who cannot compete cannot hope to thrive.

“Four years of football are calculated to breed in the average man more of the ingredients of success in life than most any academic course he takes…(Athletics) stirs the pulse, captures the imagination and, at the same time, builds character without which culture is valueless.

“Sportsmanship means fair play. It means an application of the Golden Rule. Bragging and gloating or any form of dishonesty have no place in it.”

And finally, this in-depth read from Andrew Owens, a student journalist for The Observer, who traveled to Rockne’s memorial, at the site of his fatal plane crash, near Bazaar, Kansas:

We trek through the bumpy trail, and after a few minutes we can see the memorial atop the hill.

Upon sight, we are speechless. Nothing but plains stretch beyond the memorial for miles. Engraved on the granite monument are eight names. Atop the list it reads, “ROCKNE MEMORIAL.” There is a small wiry fence around the monument Easter constructed years ago to protect it from the cattle.

Even today you’ll find bits of glass from the plane sitting atop the soil. It was a cloudy day when we were there, but Tom said when the sun shines or the rain pours down, you can see the hill shine from miles away.

Perched atop the hill, the world comes to a halt. I picked up a couple small shards of glass, and was immediately humbled as I realized I was handling one of the last remaining physical connections to Knute Rockne, the man.

Suddenly, it all makes sense. Rockne needed to die a heroic death for the myth to be this grand and everlasting.

While his name is the only one remembered of the eight who died in the crash, in that moment he was just as vulnerable and helpless as the others aboard the flight. When it dove into the hill in the middle of America with nothing around them, Knute Rockne the man ceased to exist, but the legend found a new beginning.

If you are feeling like a deep dive into the life of Rockne, these three are just the beginning. All articles linked are worth reading in their entirety, and nice remembrances of a complex man that was ahead of his time and responsible for so much of what we still see today.

Happy birthday, Rock.

***

Latest Posts
  1. Can spring stars deliver in the fall?

    May 22, 2015, 1:36 PM EDT

    C. J. Prosise C. J. Prosise

    Just like spring marks the end of winter, it also begins another unofficial season on the gridiron. The emergence of spring stars. These breakout stars sometimes burnout before fall rolls around, but it doesn’t make their emergence any less interesting.

  2. After high-profile academic mistakes, Notre Dame wisely examining new options

    May 20, 2015, 2:51 PM EDT

    Monday, Notre Dame announced that 16 student-athletes would be spending three weeks in South Africa, earning credits in a new study abroad program examining the cultural, historical and social effects racism has had on South Africa. Five more will be going to Greece, learning about archaeological sites and museums in Ancient Corinth.

  3. Kelly comments on Golson’s transfer

    May 20, 2015, 1:17 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly, Everett Golson AP

    If you were looking for anything official out of Notre Dame after Everett Golson announced his intention to play next season at Florida State, think again. But yesterday, Brian Kelly was the head speaker at the ninth annual West Michigan Sports Commission Luncheon in Grand Rapids, and he shared a few comments about the move.

  4. Everett Golson transferring to Florida State

    May 19, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    After graduating from Notre Dame over the weekend, Everett Golson has decided to play out his eligibility at Florida State. The former Irish quarterback visited Tallahassee last week before coming to a decision on Tuesday morning, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.

  5. Russell talks to SI about suspension, return

    May 19, 2015, 12:37 PM EDT

    Oklahoma v Notre Dame Oklahoma v Notre Dame

    In a profile with Sports Illustrated, KeiVarae Russell spoke on the record about his departure from Notre Dame, his impending return, and the motivations that push him.

  6. Mailbag: All about the defense

    May 18, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Sheldon Day, Terrel Hunt Sheldon Day, Terrel Hunt

    In a one-question, part-two of the mailbag, a reader points out one of the most important factors entering the 2015 season: Brian VanGorder’s defense.

  7. Mailbag: All about the quarterbacks

    May 15, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    For as much as we’re ready to move on from the quarterback talk… we’re not really ready to move on from the quarterback talk.

  8. Post-spring depth chart: Defensive line

    May 14, 2015, 11:41 AM EDT

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    We close out our post-spring stock reports with a look at the defensive line.

  9. KeiVarae Russell’s Return (or the greatest story we’re not talking about)

    May 13, 2015, 2:47 PM EDT

    Jackson Russell

    For all the attention paid to Everett Golson’s decision to leave Notre Dame, the Irish might be welcoming back an even better football player when KeiVarae Russell returns this June.

  10. Mailbag: Life after Golson (and an update on comments)

    May 13, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    The mailbag is open. Also, a quick bit of housekeeping as we address some problems in the comments.

  11. Swarbrick denies blocking Golson’s transfer options as rumors swirl

    May 12, 2015, 2:03 AM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    First came the news that Everett Golson was leaving. Now comes the circus, as we take to the rumor mill to speculate where Golson ends up.

  12. Post-spring stock report: Linebackers

    May 11, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT

    Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt

    We continue our look at the post-spring depth charts with the linebackers. A talented group of athletes might provide one of the most misleading depth charts in recent memory.

  13. Mailbag: Anything but the QBs

    May 9, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Just to get our mind off the big quarterback news. Let’s tackle a few mailbag questions… that don’t talk about the guys playing behind center.

  14. Five things we’ve learned: Analyzing Everett Golson’s departure

    May 8, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT

    Discover BCS National Championship - Notre Dame v Alabama Getty Images

    The dust has settled. Everett Golson is leaving Notre Dame. So while the rest of the story will take chase—the wheres and the whys eventually coming out—the only thing that’s important for the Irish is looking at what remains, and how the program moves on from here.

  15. Recruit Bo Wallace announces he’s not coming to Notre Dame

    May 7, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT

    Rivals.com Rivals.com

    Incoming freshman defensive end Bo Wallace tweeted that he’s no longer going to attend Notre Dame.

  16. It’s official: Everett Golson will transfer (UPDATED)

    May 7, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    It’s official: Everett Golson is transferring.

  17. ESPN Report: Golson plans to transfer

    May 7, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With finals nearly finished and Everett Golson on track to earn his degree in the coming weeks, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy broke the news that Irish fans had to be dreading.

  18. Former Irish TE John Carlson retires from NFL

    May 6, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT

    North Carolina Tar Heels v Notre Dame Fighting Irish Getty Images

    One of the branches on Notre Dame’s NFL tight end tree is retiring. Former Irish star John Carlson, a former second-round pick who spent seven seasons as a professional, is stepping away from football. Carlson played for the Irish from 2003-07 and spent time with the Seahawks, Vikings and the Cardinals.

  19. Mailbag: Now Open

    May 6, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    The mailbag is open. Drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  20. Post-spring stock report: Secondary

    May 5, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With the majority of Notre Dame’s starting lineup returning for 2015, the Irish spent spring practice knowing what their team would look like. But for Brian VanGorder and new secondary coach Todd Lyght, getting improvement out of the returning depth chart was critical.