The plaque from the Rockne grave site at Highland Cemetary in South Bend.

The plaque from the Rockne grave site at Highland Cemetary in South Bend.
(Photo by Chestertonlep)

Shenanigans features an eerie story about Rockne's dog and a heartfelt eulogy from his close friend Will Rogers.

The story of Rockne's dog and Will Rogers is told by Paul Castner, Notre Dame star in the early twenties...


One of the strangest, most ghostly stories I ever heard connected with Rock's death was told by Bonnie Rockne herself. It concerns the family's pet police dog, Noxie.

"When Knute died," she said, "Noxie seemed to have some curious psychic knowledge of the tragedy. I had left the dog in care of my sister in South Bend when we went to Florida. My sister, an unusually safe reporter of any incident, told me later that at the moment Knute was falling to earth the dog, until then peaceful at her feet, uttered a sound that was not the whine of a dog, but curiously like a human cry. At the same time, his eyes shed tears. Commanded to rise, he stood a moment and then fell weakly to the floor again. Again bid to stand, the dog made a gesture we had never seen before -a gesture I think distinctly un-canine. Rising on hind legs he laid his forepaws on my sister's shoulders and, just like a human being, laid his wet jowl against her cheek, all the while whining bitterly. Was our dog Noxie the first to mourn?"

Another who was terribly saddened by Rock's death was his old friend, Will Rogers. I remember when they first met. It was in 1921 and Will was starring in "The Ziegfeld Follies" on Broadway. That season, we blasted Army, 28-0, up at West Point, in a game in which I won my first starring honors. Afterward, Rock decided to treat the team to a show in New York. As part of his act, Will Rogers featured his rope-twirling tricks, along with some running dialogue. So in the course of his patter the night we sat in the audience he had a few well-chosen words to say about Notre Dame, after which his lasso just happened to circle the shiny bald head of Rock, who was pulled up on the stage. And that's how Rock and Will Rogers began their close friendship.

Will closed off his act that evening by suddenly producing a football jersey with the "N.D." monogram on it and speaking with pride of his "alma mater ."

"Now," he invited the audience, "let's hear a big cheer for NORTH DAKOTA!"

On April 2nd, Rock had been scheduled to share the speaker's stand with Rogers at a Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Though grief-stricken, Rogers went on with the show. Wiping tears from his eyes, he stood for a full minute without saying a word. And then:

"When a comedian is sad, it is terrible. But after all, comedy and sentiment are not very far apart. It's hard that the death of a great man has to give a luncheon club its only legitimate excuse for meeting."

Quickly turning to football, Rogers said no part of the United States appreciated Rockne more than did Southern California. "We owe him more than he could know," Will said. "His last football game was played in Los Angeles last December and it kept us from contracting the worst case of swelled head the world has ever known. He cured us in a businesslike fashion when Notre Dame licked USC. If Rock's boys hadn't won that game we would have thought every man east of the Mississippi was anaemic.

"Not only was Rockne a great football coach but he was also the best after-dinner speaker we had. I would have hated to have to follow him. He told me many stories in my dressing room. I got 'em for nothing and then retold 'em and collected. If there was anybody I owed royalties to it was Rock."


* * * * * *



Back to Irish Reveries