Herb Juliano

Herb's Archive 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.

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 its foundations.

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.


Magnetism Personified

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 his thinking.

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 State of Wisconsin. So Rock used a verbal horsewhip on my hide." Four different methods drew the best from four different individuals.

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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