by Richard Sullivan

He came here as a freshman in 1910, Knute Kenneth Rockne, aged twenty-two. He'd been born in Norway; he grew up in Chicago; he worked for five years in the post office there to get enough money to come to college. Why he came to Notre Dame I don't precisely know. The legend has it that he impulsively joined a friend who was coming here; but one would like to know the complex motivations behind such an impulse as this.

He was a complicated character, this Rockne; his round flat face never gave away any secrets.

He became head football coach in 1918; from then until his sudden dramatic death in 1931 he was a kind of synonym in the popular mind for Notre Dame. I don't think he was ever a whole or full or adequate synonym; there was always a tremendous lot here that he did not represent. But popularly, simply, and undeniably, he stood in the mind of America for this place. And by the force of his own personality and accomplishment he attracted a special national attention to Notre Dame. A great many students came here, in his time, purely because of him. I came here myself in 1926 purely because of him.

At seventeen, weighing a hundred thirty-five soaking wet, I aspired to the exclusive glory of a Notre Dame monogram, won under Rockne; and when I went out for freshman football I was deeply moved, even inspired, when at the counter where equipment was issued, the coach himself threw me a pair of cleated shoes. My gridiron career
unfortunately was cut short some three weeks later, when, wearing these same shoes, I was one of a dozen freshmen backs who were handed footballs and instructed to run from one end zone to the other against a series of varsity linemen stationed one on each ten yard line. This was a torture invented by Rockne for the improvement of his linemen and the elimination of his freshmen backs. To this day I am proud that I got thirty yards out before I was stopped. Even then-I do not wish to brag; but truth is truth-I was not tackled; but evading my third antagonist, who is now a good friend-and incidentally one of the best football announcers in the business [probably Joe Boland, ed.] -I went up into the air in a somewhat unorthodox maneuver and came down on my sacrum and coccyx with great power some three yards away, not tackled but undisputably stopped. My friend the stopper, when I told him some years ago of the way he had thwarted my destiny as an open field runner, remarked simply that it was just like him to drive a guy out of the game forever by missing a tackle. This, however, is not an accurate interpretation of what happened. It was not so much the missed tackle as the fierce gravitational pull and the absolutely unyielding quality of the turf on the old practice field which caused me to buy a pack of Chesterfields next day and decide to break training. The effect of that turf upon the base of the V which I formed in mid-air changed my life. Hobbling, I quit football and decided to become a great American painter.

My considered opinion as of the present moment is that this decision affected Rockne's career not at all; neither did it change the course of graphic art in this country.

But when the old jeering question-the interminably proffered question-the question which has bored and irritated thousands of Notre Dame men these many years is put to me, I can at least give it an unusual answer. When a hairy hand grabs my lapel and a hot voice brays into my ear, "What did you go to Notre Dame for? To play football? Huh!" I can say quite honestly- "Yes."


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