this month is an article found in Herb’s file on Rockne, from the
“Sports of the Times” column in the
April 2, 1944
edition of the New York Times.
Rock with his famous backfield, the Four Horsemen.
Thirteen Years After
By Arthur Daley
The reminder came the
other day from Dr. L.H. Baker, the rabid football statistician and historian.
“Don’t forget,” he wrote, “that March 31 is the thirteenth anniversary of
old Knute’s death.” To confess the truth, it had been forgotten. But to
anyone who loves the gridiron game the date should never be overlooked,
because Knute Rockne dominated the sport as no single man ever dominated it
before or since, and his untimely end in an airplane crash on a bleak
Kansas farm shocked the athletic world to
He had been in
New York shortly before he
rode the skies to his death; and I can
still recall in vivid detail our final handshake. "So long, Rock” I said. "Take
care of yourself." He grinned. "Don't worry about me," he snapped, in that
vibrant voice of his. "I'll take care of myself." But man never can control
his destinies with such exactitude. A few days later Knute Kenneth Rockne
was gone forever.
In retrospect one cannot help
but wonder what these thirteen years would have meant for him. Rock was a
comparatively young man when he died-far younger than this observer would
have guessed, memory playing the shabby tricks it does. In fact the newer
generation probably pictures him as someone well along in years, perhaps in
his late fifties or so. Yet Rock had not even reached the full flower of his
maturity. He was only 43.
Few coaches ever enjoyed as
great a measure of success and few ever had his strategical concepts as
highly respected. The Rockne system was his particular baby, and, perfectly
executed, it was as awesome a style of gridiron attack as man ever devised.
In its original state it placed a tremendous burden on each individual,
since single or one-man blocking was its cornerstone. When run off in strict
accordance with the diagrams, not a single potential rival tackler was on
his feet. That was his eternal goal- perfection.
There have been other football
tacticians, however, with the razor-keen mind of the Notre Dame mentor. But,
Rock was more than just a brain. He was a personality of such extraordinary
magnetism that he virtually exuded electric sparks the moment he entered a
room. When he spoke, his listener was immediately enthralled by the peculiar
tonal qualities of his voice and instantly captivated by the most delicious
sense of humor in the coaching profession. No one could even approach Rock
as an after-dinner talker.
That same sense of humor made
practice at Notre Dame a complete delight. It banished the inherent boredom
of rehearsing play after play and brought the so-called Old Master closer to
his athletes than any of their other teachers. His players worshiped and
idolized him. That, above all, was the real secret of his success.
Rock had virtually pulled
himself up by his bootstraps. Born in
Norway, he came to this country
wit his immigrant parents and grew up in
Chicago. He played sandlot and then high
school football, and when a couple of his friends determined to go on to
Notre Dame – Knute had never even heard of the place – he went with them. It
was a simple as that.
One summer Rockne, an end, and
Gus Dorais, his quarterback, practiced the then unknown art of pitching and
catching forward passes. They unveiled it for the education of the
West Point team in 1913, put Notre Dame on the
football map, and revolutionized the game. Rock, the undergraduate, already
was on his way to greatness and sports immortality.
Always One Step Ahead
There is no need here to recount
his astounding series of triumphs on the gridiron – triumphs which usually
found his at least one step ahead of the parade. He was quick to revise his
system when it was needed, and who can tell? - maybe he'd be the
arch-desciple of the T-formation if he still were alive. He would if he
thought it better than his, own and he'd give it fancy variations which
would add to its effectiveness. There never was anything static about him or
As a psychologist he was in a
class by himself. Sleepy Jim Crowley often spoke admiringly of the different
way Rock treated each-- of the famous Four Horsemen. Harry Stuhldreher, his
quarterback, was above reproach because Rock always set all signal callers
apart and never questioned their authority-in public, at least. Don Miller
was normal and received normal treatment. Elmer Layden, high-strung and
sensitive, was handled with kid gloves. “But as for me,” said Somnolent
James, the apple of Rockne’s eye, “I was the laziest child ever born in the
Wisconsin. So Rock used a verbal
horsewhip on my hide." Four different methods drew the best from four
Rock's masterpiece of psychology,
of course, was the classic, shortest dressing room speech on record.
Trailing 10 to 0 at half-time against Northwestern; Notre Dame fidgeted
uneasily during the intermission, waiting in dread for the tongue-lashing
they deserved. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes like hours while the
players squirmed. Finally Rock burst through the door, withered everyone
with a glance and exploded disgustedly, “Fighting Irish? Bah!" Cut to the
quick, the indignant
South Bend athletes won, 13 to 10.
He had everything, did Knute
Kenneth Rockne, and thirteen years after his death he still is held in the
same affectionate esteem of everyone who knew him.
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