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Notre Dame’s real-life ‘Rudy’ brings motivational message to Charleston | Sports

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger’s college football career lasted all of two plays and less than 30 seconds.

But the impact of those two plays and the 27 seconds he was on the field for Notre Dame still echoes to this day.

It’s been 43 years since Ruettiger, a walk-on defensive lineman for the Fighting Irish, sacked Georgia Tech backup quarterback Rudy Allen on the final play of Notre Dame’s 24-3 win over the Yellow Jackets in 1975.

It’s been 25 years since the iconic movie “Rudy” hit the theaters to a lukewarm reception, but the message of perseverance and determination still resonates with people to this day.

“Look, if I don’t make that sack, I’m not talking to you and nobody cares about my story,” Ruettiger said. “That one play changed my life, so it’s a special moment for me.”

Ruettiger will be the featured speaker for the Kids on Point 5th Annual Chucktown Talks on Friday night at the College of Charleston’s TD Arena beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets to the event are $10-$75 and can be purchased at kidsonpoint.org/events.

Ruettiger, now 70, said his message of hope and hard work in “Rudy” will always be relevant. 

“The movie is about real life,” Ruettiger said. “It’s about perseverance through tough times. It’s about being positive and finding another way and being relentless. It’s about all those things that every person goes through during their lives at one time or another.”

Ruettiger’s life story reads like, well, a movie script. The son of an oil refinery worker in Joilet, Ill., and the third of 14 children, the chances of Ruettiger, all of 5-6, 165-pounds, playing for a powerhouse football program like Notre Dame seemed unlikely. Even getting into Notre Dame was a struggle for Ruettiger, who suffered from dyslexia growing up.

Ruettiger spent two years on Notre Dame’s scout team as a walk-on and didn’t get on the field until the Irish’s final home game of his senior season in 1975. After his sack on the last play of the game, Ruettiger was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates, the first player to ever be carried off the field at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I was a great practice player,” Ruettiger said with a chuckle. “I knew I wasn’t going to play, but I wanted to do my part in helping the rest of the team prepare for the games. This wasn’t about football for me, it was about being a part of something bigger than myself.”

After graduating from Notre Dame in 1976, Ruettiger tried for years to get his life-story told on film. He was turned down at every turn.

“If I had listened to everyone who told me ‘no’ during my life I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Ruettiger said. “I was determined to get this thing done.”

The final climatic scene was shot during halftime of Notre Dame’s game against Boston College in 1992. The film crew had just six minutes to complete the scene.

“It was so chaotic to get on the field and get everything ready,” Ruettiger said. “I was up in the press box just praying everything would turn out OK.”

The scene took a little longer than the six minutes it was allotted and Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who later coached at South Carolina, was not pleased.

“Oh, Lou was mad,” Ruettiger said.

Chelcie Ross, who played Notre Dame coach Dan Devine during the film, told The New York Post that Holtz was furious the crew had stayed out too long.

“To this day, I think Lou Holtz hates me,” Ross told The New York Post. “I was walking back into the tunnel and Lou was not a happy camper. He was shouting and pointing in my direction.”

The film grossed just $22.8 million domestically, finishing fifth on its opening weekend behind “The Beverly Hillbillies” movie.  When it hit video stores, it became a cultural hit that can still be scene on cable networks year around. The movie, which was released in 1993, was voted the No. 1 football film of all-time by USA Today earlier this year.

“Am I surprised by its success, not really,” Ruettiger said. “I think it’s a story that speaks to every person.”

Ruettiger has become a popular motivational speaker and does as many as 50 engagements a year.

“My main message to kids is to have confidence and believe in yourself,” Ruettiger said. “Don’t let people steal your confidence and tell you what you can’t do because I’m living proof that you can overcome all the obstacles.”

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC

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