Rudy, by Albert W. Vogt III

My original intention tonight was to watch Hoosiers (1986).  When I went to rent it on Amazon Prime, I found that I could not do so because it is only available on the home box office.  That is HBO, in layman’s terms.  Since I do not have that subscription, my plan was thwarted.  I should probably fix that, I suppose.  You know how when you look things up on a streaming service, it gives you a bunch of other suggestions that its algorithm says are related to that title.  That is how I landed on Rudy (1993).  It is one of the most famous sports movies of all time, and I had never seen it until just a moment ago.  I could say that the Super Bowl is next weekend, and thus a football movie would make sense around this time of the year.  Really, though, this is just me making up for this cinematic oversight.

I can tell an Illinois mill town when I see one, and that is where Rudy first takes us.  Young Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger Jr. (Luke Massery), like many kids in the area, dreams of playing football for Notre Dame University.  It is his relatively small size compared to everyone else that prevents others from seeing his dream as he does.  The doubt comes from his family and friends, including his dad, Daniel Sr. (Ned Beatty).  It will save me some explaining as we go along here to tell you that Rudy never lets any gainsayers deter him.  The next stop after these opening scenes is an older Rudy (Sean Astin) as a senior on his high school football team.  The desire to attend and play for Notre Dame has not gone away.  Yet, when it comes time for a visit to South Bend by people at his school hoping to go there, he is told that he should not bother because he does not have the grades.  Instead, after high school he goes to work at the same steel mill where his dad and many of his friends are employed.  For Rudy’s twenty-second birthday, his childhood friend and biggest supporter, Frank (Scott Benjaminson), purchases for Rudy a Notre Dame letterman’s jacket.  He and Rudy might be the only ones in town that believe in Rudy’s aspirations.  This is why it makes Frank’s death all the more painful for Rudy, that and he felt powerless to stop the accident from occurring.  In response, Rudy takes some of the last advice given by Frank to go to Notre Dame.  Rudy does not seem to know what to do when he gets there, and asks a secret guard how one gets to be a student.  The security guard sends him to a rectory on campus where Rudy meets Father John Cavanaugh (Robert Prosky).  He happens to be the president of the school, though he mistakes Rudy’s intentions for wanting to enter the seminary.  As the real reason for Rudy being there comes out, Father Cavanaugh agrees that the young man’s grades are what are preventing his acceptance to the illustrious institution of higher learning.  What he does say is that he can get Rudy into Notre Dame’s nearby junior college, Holy Cross.  Once there, if Rudy can improve his marks, then he might be able to transfer to the university.  Being near to his dream school is as close to heaven as he has ever been, and he cannot bear to be away from the stadium where the football team plays its games.  In fact, he is able to get the head groundskeeper, Fortune (Charles S. Dutton), to give him a minimum wage job on the crew taking care of the field.  Further, Rudy notices that there is a cot in the locker room where the staff changes.  This will become his home for the next couple of years since he is unable to afford the off-campus housing.  Rudy also receives tutoring from the shy Dennis “D-Bob” McGowan (Jon Favreau) in exchange for help finding a date.  Academically, things are moving in the right direction.  Personally, there are still doubters.  Coming home for Christmas his first year, he finds that dad still thinks he should be working in the steel mill, and his older brother is now dating his ex-girlfriend.  It is little wonder that Rudy immediately returns to South Bend.  Still, he is rejected from Notre Dame a number of times before, in his last year of eligibility, he is finally accepted.  This comes with the added bonus that he can now try out for the team.  Before he does, standing with a group of other hopefuls, he is told that the chances are slim that any of them make the team.  Further, even if they do, they are more likely to spend the entire time on the practice team and never see a snap in an official game.  What carries Rudy through is his heart, something that is noticed by Coach Ara Parseghian (Jason Miller) and the rest of the coaches.  Now Rudy is one step closer to getting on the field, but he spends the next few seasons getting battered and bruised, but always getting up, on the practice team.  The season before his last, Rudy approaches Coach Parseghian and asks that the following year, his last, he get one chance to be in a game, otherwise it is like he was never on the team. Coach Parseghian agrees, but is replaced between seasons by Dan Devine (Chelcie Ross).  Coach Devine has no plans on playing Rudy.  It takes pretty much the entire team saying they want Rudy to take their place for Coach Devine to agree to let Rudy dress for the last game of the season.  This finally brings Rudy’s parents to South Bend.  As the final minutes are ticking down with Notre Dame ahead and the home faithful chanting Rudy’s name, Coach Devine finally lets Rudy into the game.  He participates in a kickoff and then records a sack of the opposing quarterback before the game’s conclusion.  Rudy is then carried off the field by the entire team.

When you think of stories of cinematic inspiration, Rudy comes readily to mind, even if you are like me and have never seen it.  I imagine most of you are familiar with the Rudy chant.  That is the culmination of the dreams of a young man that we experience throughout the preceding two hours.  It is gratifying for a Catholic in two ways.  First, you get to see the culture of Catholicism, particularly as defined the lives of many working-class families for so long in this country.  I was a little annoyed with the priest who discouraged Rudy from going on the field trip to Notre Dame when he is in high school.  I was saved from being completely annoyed because it comes off as one more person doubting Rudy than an institutional problem with the Church.  I can say this because at least Father Cavanaugh appears to be a nice guy.  More broadly, there are some excellent, if obvious, lessons about how to be faithful.  Life is never going to be perfect.  If it was, then Rudy would have an easy time getting into Notre Dame and living out his dreams.  Rudy had a goal, but more importantly he had conviction.  That last word is something that one needs in order to fulfill a vocation, and it is why the Church believes that everyone should take time to discern it, no matter what it is.  It is a defect of our modern society that we seem to not put a lot of thought into what God is calling us to do.  There is only one moment when Rudy falters in his goal, declaring that he is quitting when he does not see his name on the roster for his last game.  His mind is changed by Fortune (what a name), who reminds him of all the blessings he has received along the way.  In short, if the world had more people like Rudy in it, I am sure it would be a veritable paradise.

I am glad that I finally watched Rudy.  At the same time, despite the great lessons in it, I would not say it is all that entertaining.  It is a bit repetitive in setting up challenges for Rudy only for them to be overcome by his indomitable will.  It is noteworthy, but I got the gist less than halfway through.  There are some other plot points that seemingly go nowhere.  Despite all this, I would take it over most movies these days.


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