|SHAKE DOWN THE THUNDER: The creation of Notre Dame football
by Murray Sperber
Down The Thunder signed by author Murray Sperber.
Beginning with the humble origins of the Notre Dame football program in the nineteenth century, Shake Down the Thunder traces the evolution of the team to its status as a preeminent football power -- winning national championships and attracting huge crowds to its games from coast to coast. In the process, Notre Dame has been hailed as the paragon of college football, and its history has gained almost mythical proportions.
This is the true story of what happened during its formative years, the reality behind the myths. In writing Shake Down the Thunder, author Murray Sperber had what no other writer about Notre Dame has ever had: the use of Knute Rockne's voluminous private correspondence, which sat unopened in the university library's basement since his death. Drawing on these letters and other extraordinary archival materials, Sperber fully explores the Notre Dame sports tradition, including the background of its most famed victories and the darker side of its past. Sperber reveals the mixed stories that make up the institution's history -- stories of both its unflagging devotion to high standards and its coaches' less respectable deal-making and entrepreneurial ventures.
Chronicling Notre Dame's struggle as a Catholic institution in an era of rabid anti-Catholicism, this account of the rise of a college football team also reflects the changes in the country's social fabric and shows how Notre Dame's power reached beyond the field to elevate the status of Catholics in America. Shake Down the Thunder introduces the real personalities behind Notre Dame's icons, illuminating individuals such as Jesse Harper, George Gipp, Father John O'Hara, Elmer Layden, Frank Leahy, and Grantland Rice, but at the heart of the book is the greatest mythic figure of them all: Knute Rockne. A national celebrity first as a player and then as a coach, Rockne established the direction of the football program in a university struggling to maintain its academic identity, and truly made the team what it is today. Sperber exposes the startling profits Rockne personally reaped from the business of college sports, the origins of the fabled Four Horsemen, and the rightful author of the "Win One for the Gipper" speech.
Both social history and sports history, this book documents as never before the first half-century of Notre Dame football and relates it to the rise of big-time intercollegiate athletics, the college sports reform movement, and the corrupt sporting press of the period. Shake Down the Thunder is must reading for all Fighting Irish fans, their detractors, and any reader engaged by American cultural history.
Author: Murray is an English and American Studies professor at Indiana University and has also worked as a sportswriter.
A word from the author:
I went to Notre Dame to do research in the spring of 1991 for a book on why fans love college sports so much. I decided to start with ND because it is the school with the most fanatic fans as well as rooters with the longest attachment to a school's teams. While rummaging about in the sub-basement of the Hesburgh Library, I came across some old wooden filing boxes and, out of curiosity, I opened them up. After brushing aside the mouse poop, I realized that this was the daily correspondence of Knute Rockne. There were interesting letters to him from famous people like Pop Warner and Babe Ruth, but the real treasure trove were the thousands of carbon copies of Rockne's out-going letters (he had a wonderful secretary who made carbons of all of his letters).
Within a half-hour, I realized that the Rockne of the daily correspondence was about 180 degrees from the St. Knute of the film Knute Rockne--All-American. For one thing, there were many letters that began, "Hey Rock, how should I bet on Saturday?" As a professional researcher, I realized that I had found a Golden Mountain and, although I had not intended to write a history of Notre Dame football, I could not walk away from the mountain. As a result, I immersed myself in the history of the school, as well as Catholic higher education, and intercollegiate athletics. In addition, the University of Notre Dame Archives opened its files for me, allowing me to see the correspondence between Rockne and the priests who ran the school during his era. From all of that research, I wrote Shake Down the Thunder.