Like most kids, I was a dreamer. I had big dreams, but my teachers branded me a dreamer who paid no attention to his studies and who would never amount to anything special. I told anyone who would listen that I was going to play football at the University of Notre Dame. They snickered and demeaned me for having such a silly dream; “A little guy like you, Rudy? It’ll never happen!”
I not only got into Notre Dame, I graduated with a B average and got to wear the blue and gold uniform for one game – and I got into the game for the last play, and I sacked the quarterback. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you barely graduated from high school and people belittle you and your teachers call you stupid, it’s pretty amazing.
Then I used that same dogged determination to tell my story in the blockbuster movie, “Rudy.”
After every talk I give I’m asked, “How did you get that movie made?” The answer is at once simple and complex.
It is simple because the movie was made for one reason; Gordie Gillespie taught me a persistent never-quit attitude. It is the same perseverance that inspired my teammates to convince the Notre Dame coaches to let me dress for his last football game. Here is the essence of my motivational talks.
It’s tough to look at a Michael Jordan and say, “I can be like him.” But it’s easy to look at Rudy Ruettiger and say, “Now, him I can be like.”
I’m not smarter than you. I’m not faster, taller, better looking, better dressed, or a slicker talker. I’m five-foot-six and I have the kind of build that will never find its way into an Italian suit. I graduated third in my high school class—not from the top, but from the bottom.
Some people have no idea what their potential is because too many others have told them to aim low and stay comfortable. They urge them by saying, “Don’t rock the boat and don’t take chances.” The most devastating obstacles to overcome in creating your big dream are the negative messages you receive from others.
A lot of people have said that I did a courageous thing by leaving Joliet to go to South Bend to try and get into Notre Dame. But I realize now that all I was doing was clicking into what Gordie Gillespie taught me to do. Whenever he taught us a new skill, he made us break our comfort zone. To reach the next level of ability we had to cast aside the old way of performing and break into a whole new approach. Gordie was so good at teaching us this skill that it became second nature for us. Whenever we needed to master something new, we automatically abandoned our old ways and busted our gut to learn Gordie’s new approach.
The key to my feeling comfortable making this difficult decision, and many more additional tough decisions in life, was the lessons I learned from Gordie on the football field.