FORMER SUBWAY ALUMNI LEADER REFLECTS ON HIS "NOTRE DAME ODYSSEY"


Herb Juliano
(1922-1998)

Herb's Archive features an article by Joe regarding his affection for his mentor and friend, Knute Rockne. Also, an excerpt from Paul Castner’s book We Remember Rockne that’s demonstrates the coach’s deep feelings for his star player.

 

Joe with his coach and friend, Knute Rockne.  (From the University of Notre Dame Archives)

Joe with his coach and friend, Knute Rockne.
(From the University of Notre Dame Archives)

 

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BY

“JUMPING JOE” SAVOLDI

Every year about this time my mind returns again and again to a tragedy that left the sports world stunned and grief stricken. Fifteen years ago a great man, an inspiring leader, profound teacher and the best pal I ever had met sudden death.

Knute Rockne was on his way to Los Angeles where he was to speak at the Breakfast Club meeting in the Biltmore Hotel and later to meet the executives of the motion picture company that was to make the movie “The Spirit of Notre Dame", in which he was to play himself. Tom Lieb and I were both invited to the Breakfast Club and what was to have been a gala event turned out to be a very sad affair, when news of his untimely death reached us.

I can still hear Rockne saying to his boys, striving to reach football perfection, “Boys, flabbiness is out. Physical, mental and moral flabbiness is to be scorned. I want you fellows tough, rugged and mentally alert. I want you to excel in your studies because you are not valuable to me in football if you cannot learn your lessons.”  Fundamentals of right thinking and right living were his pet theories. He believed in a sound body as the proper place to house a sound mind and a sound soul. “A boy who hoped to be a good football player must have brains, courage, self-restraint, fine muscular co-ordination, intense fire of nervous energy and an unselfish spirit of sacrifice. He must live cleanly. He must develop the will to win so keenly that he can taste it. Above all he must make fair play an obsession.” What a creed to apply to every walk of life!

He stood out against any softening of the fibre of American manhood and he had a profound understanding of boys. Rockne knew exactly how to bring out the best performance of an individual or team. It might be through praise, ridicule, persuasion or even by silence but instinctively he was right in whatever he did.

The memory of Knute Rockne will live forever within me for I knew him and was inspired by him. I wish my son could know him ad his son in turn but that is impossible and I can only make certain that his influence shall not be a forgotten thing.

*   *   *   *   *

From Paul Castner’s great book, We Remember Rockne. It’s told in an interview by Dan Halpin a student football manager for Rockne’s last team.

DAN HALPIN:

Running at fullback that day as we rolled over Penn was Jumpin' Joe Savoldi. You have to know about Joe, because it was to be his last game for Notre Dame.

Jumpin'Joe, a native of Milan, Italy, came to America at the age of 13. As a sophomore at Notre Dame, he had been pushed over his head and was a disaster in our 0-13 1oss to Georgia Tech. He'd grown so discouraged that he quit the team for a while, but Rockne brought him back and Joe developed into a sensation. Rockne taught him to run like an eel, defend against passes, and back up the line. There were those who even compared him to Jim Thorpe.

After the 1930 landslide victory over Penn at Franklin Field, in which Savoldi was red-hot, I remember we grouped at the train station in Philadelphia to catch the train back to South Bend. While we stood on the platform, here came the newsboys with their late afternoon papers, shouting: "EXTRA! EXTRA! SAVOLDI SUES FOR DIVORCE! EXTRA! SAVOLDI DIVORCING! SAVOLDI  DIVORCING!"

This was news. Apart from the religious obligation, Notre Dame students were not even supposed to be married -let alone be involved in a scandalous divorce.

An hour out of Philadelphia, Rockne came to me in the sleeper and said: "Where's Savoldi?" I shrugged.  "I don't know, Coach," I said. "I still have his train ticket, but he didn't show up to claim it."

Rockne was a man of persistence. When he had a problem he always saw it through to its conclusion, good or bad.

A day after we got home, Rockne showed up at my room in Sorin Hall. He was still looking for Savoldi.

"The last time I saw him was right after the game, in Philadelphia," I said.

"Come on, let's go find him," Rockne said.

We got into his Studebaker and drove all over South Bend looking for the missing fullback. The search proved fruitless.

Joe was still absent without leave on Monday afternoon. But, Tuesday a.m., he walked into the Athletic Office. I said,

"Well, Joe, we've been looking for you. Come on, let's go have a little talk with Coach Rockne."

Rockne treated Joe very cordially. He told him he appreciated the great performance he exhibited in the Penn game -and then the ax fell.

"Now, Joe," he said, gently, "I'm afraid we have a little problem. Here at Notre Dame we don't permit divorces. From what I see in the papers, that sort of complicates your status. A lot of folks didn't know you were even married."

Joe nodded.

"I understand, Coach," he said. "I guess that means I'll have to go.”

"Yes," Rockne said. "I'm sorry. Last Saturday, you were a hero to your family and friends, and now this scandal."

Rockne let that sink in.

"Now, Joe," he continued, "I've met your mother and father and admire them greatly. They're elderly and come from the Old Country. They are proud people. I can't let this hurt them. When you return home (Three Oaks, Mich.) I want you to go on being an important figure in town. So Dan here is going down to the First National Bank with a $1,500 check I have given him to deposit in your name. I don't want you going home broke. I want you to take that money and start a business and do something worthwhile with your life. I don't want you being a hero today and a bum tomorrow."

Knute Rockne treated Joe Savoldi as a father would treat a son in trouble. This showed that among his other great qualities, Rock was a compassionate man.

 

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