Monday, July 27, 2009

A Rudy Introduction | by Pat

(ed. Here's another unique post from our good buddy John Walters...Enjoy)

A Rudy Introduction
-John Walters

First, the shameless plug. The nice people at "Here Come the Irish", which hits newsstands this week, allowed me to write a couple of features for this year's edition. One of them, a labor of love, was an oral history of Notre Dame in the Seventies compiled from conversations with, among others, Ted Robinson, Rudy Ruettiger and John Swarbrick.

Many great anecdotes emerged, but perhaps my favorite comes from Rudy, with whom I have quite a history. When his movie premiered in New York City back in 1993, I was seated next to him. So the two of us go way back.

Anyway, as I did with everyone I interviewed, I asked Rudy where he was during Notre Dame's epic hoops victory over UCLA in 1974 that snapped the Bruins' record 88-game win streak. Rudy being Rudy, he informs me that he was seated right on the court itself. "In fact," Rudy said, "if you look at the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week you'll see that I'm right between Bill Walton's legs. I once had a speaking engagement with Walton and I said, 'Hey, Bill, you and I made the cover of Sports Illustrated once."

This intrigued me. I worked at SI. I worked on a special edition of SI once devoted to nothing but the history of the SI cover. And I'd never heard that Rudy had ever made the cover. And now, thanks to the internet, Rudy's assertion could be fact-checked in a matter of minutes.

What followed was a series of hilarious and intriguing discoveries. First, that arguably the most famous regular-season college basketball game of all time did not, in fact, make the cover of SI. Why not? Because the editors of SI had already slotted the annual swimsuit issue (featuring perhaps the last only moderately hot model, Ann Simonton) to run that week.

As current Clemson associate A.D. Tim Bourret, who was the Bookstore Basketball commissioner for three years in that era told me, "You never saw 8,000 college-aged guys so angry to receive the swimsuit issue in the mail."

So, what? Was this yet another incident of Rudy's blarney?

Actually, no. Rudy simply got the game and the year wrong. Being the unofficial N.D. historian that he is, Bourret, an old and dear friend, recalled that the previous year's UCLA-Notre Dame basketball game in South Bend had made the cover. Why? Because it was the Bruins' 61st consecutive win, which broke the existing record set by the University of San Francisco.

A few minutes and a few clicks on the internet later, I did indeed find the cover to which Rudy was referring. And here it is.

That's Bill Walton skying for the board (that may be Keith, later Jamaal, Wilkes next to him) and if you look below, there in the striped shirt with a mop of black hair is none other than Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger.

Twenty years before the outside world had ever heard of him, Rudy made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

There was only one last problem. Rudy enrolled at Notre Dame a full year after this photo was taken. What was he doing so close to the court in one of the biggest games of that season when he wasn't even a student at either school?

I caught up with Rudy just today--he was boarding a flight to Newark--and he clarified it all: " I had a job to sweep the court at halftime of the basketball games," he told me.

But you weren't even a Notre Dame student yet, I replied.

"I know," he said, "I was still at Holy Cross. But it was part of my arrangement to live in the apartment in the A.C.C. Heck, I was even on the Notre Dame student government when I was at Holy Cross before they found out and kicked me off."

What was your role?, I wondered. "I was chairman of the Social Committee," he replied.

I'm too tired to investigate that one, but would it surprise you?