Rudy Ruettiger: The Dreamer Who Wouldn’t Quit

Rudy Ruettiger

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is the inspiration behind one of the most uplifting underdog stories ever told. His true story of overcoming the odds, rejecting the limitations placed upon him, and chasing his dreams despite the naysayers, is a masterclass on success through determination.

Rudy Ruettiger’s story can benefit us in a variety of ways; his story can inspire us to dream a little bigger, push a little harder, and fight a little longer. In fact, Hollywood took note and went on to create the 1993 movie, Rudy, which would go on to become a huge blockbuster success.

With that said, if you haven’t seen Rudy yet, and you have 116 minutes to spare, you should watch it. However, in this article, we aim to touch on the key aspects of Rudy’s inspiring story that you can take and use for your benefit today.

Rudy Ruettiger: The Making of a Fighter

Rudy was born on August 23, 1948 in Joliet, Illinois, the state’s third largest city. He was raised in a modest middle-class home with thirteen other siblings to parents Daniel and Betty Ruettiger. He was was the first boy in his family, and was the third child. His father was a hardworking blue-collar miner, and his mother an equally hardworking master-homemaker.

His father’s love of football, particularly Notre Dame football would rub off on the young Rudy Ruettiger. The Fighting Irish would be admired from the Ruettiger living room every game-day weekend during the college season.

There was a reverence for Fighting Irish football in the Ruettiger household. And it was this reverence that would eventually inspire Rudy’s dream of playing for Notre Dame — making the accomplishment one of the greatest glories he could aspire to achieve.


Unfortunately, the odds were stacked against Rudy from the very beginning. Thus, the chasm between him and his dreams would appear nearly impossible to bridge. Not only did Rudy come from a disadvantaged household, where attention and financial resources were hard to come by. But, he also struggled academically. And, as much as he loved football, he was not genetically gifted with superior speed, strength, or size.

Fortunately, what he lacked in physical prowess and academic exceptionalism, he made up for with heart. As a high school football player he would lead his team in tackles, and earn all-conference and all-areas honors as a cornerback, accomplishments that are not just handed out to anybody, nor easy to achieve.[1]

Rudy was a good football player. Of course, he also knew he wasn’t the strongest or the fastest, but he didn’t let these disadvantages completely kill his dreams. He remained hopeful, but he knew he would have to get practical once his got out of high school; as such he enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduation in 1968.

In fact, while in the Navy he spent two years overseas in Vietnam, a military experience which he gives credit to for changing his attitude around who he was and what was possible for him.[2]

Rudy Ruettiger: The Dreamer Who Wouldn’t Quit

In 1970, after spending two years in the Navy as a Yeoman, Rudy would head back home to work in the local power plant. However, after witnessed his best friend get crushed to death before his very eyes, he felt called to leave and follow his dream.[3]

It was at this point that he decided to take advantage of his newly earned G.I. Bill. As such, in 1972 he devised a strategy to put it to use to help him fulfill his lifelong dream of playing for the Fighting Irish. So, he enrolled in Holy Cross College in Indiana which was just across the street from the Notre Dame campus. His plan of attack was to get good grades and then transfer to Notre Dame as soon as he could so he could try out for the team.

Rudy Ruettiger set the plan in motion, but it wouldn’t come without setbacks. Rudy would eventually learn that he suffered from a learning disability known as dyslexia while studying at Holy Cross. When Rudy first applied to Notre Dame was denied. But he got back to work, focused on improving his grades and tried again, but again was met with another defeat.

He even tried a third time, but yet again, he was told “No.” But, Rudy was determined not to quit. So, after some time he applied for for a fourth and final time, and as fate would have it, his fourth attempt was the charm. Rudy was finally accepted to Notre Dame, and began his studies there in 1974.

Rudy would then focus his efforts to fulfilling his dream of playing football for the Fighting Irish. He tried out for the team, and after the coaches took a liking to his tenacity and high-effort on every play, they accepted him on their scout team.

Respect Earned, Not Given

Rudy Ruettiger would play his heart out at every scout practice for the team. His indomitable will and pure dedication to the team began to influence his fellow teammates and coaches.

They all took notice, ass such, Rudy would eventually succeed in making the team of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Despite Rudy making the team, however, he still had unfished business. Rudy was determined to make it on the field and play in a game before his time at Notre Dame came to an end. So, he pushed forward to continue earning the admiration of his teammates and coaches.

He would put forth maximum effort, hard work, and perseverance until he finally earned the respect of the whole team. And similar (but not exactly) to what transpired in the movie Rudy where team members put down their jerseys to request Rudy play in the final game, a single team member by the name of Pat Sarb, went in to the coaches’ office and requested the Rudy take his place so he could dress out for the game.[4]

In addition to this, the team captain, who spoke for the entire team, petitioned the coach (Dan Devine) to allow Rudy a chance to play in the final game.[5]

The Dream, The Struggle, The Victory

As such, when Rudy’s final game arrived on November 8, 1975 when Notre Dame would go head-to-head against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, — after 99% of that final game had already transpired, coach Devine would finally call out to Rudy to put him in. Rudy was ready!

In those final seconds of that final game, Rudy would fulfill his dream of playing for the Fighting Irish. He jumped in on the kick off team at the coaches request. After the kick off, he was allowed to continue on as a defensive end.

On the first play, Rudy’s initial opportunity to tackle the quarterback was close, but Rudy Allen, the quarterback for Georgia Tech was able to get the ball off just after Rudy would come off his block. The next and final play of the game however, Rudy zipped around the corner and sacked the quarterback on the final play of the game. Notre Dame would win that game against Georgia Tech, 24 – 3, and Rudy would gain a win against the odds.

However, the the true victory, was Rudy’s ability to inspire an entire team, community, and countless Fighting Irish fans. And even though he only got on the field for three plays, his struggle allowed him to become the first player in Notre Dame history to be carried off the field by his teammates.

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In Summary….

The Dream:

  • Play Football for The Norte Dame Fighting Irish

The Struggle:

  • Grew Up In Poverty, In 16 Person Household
  • Was Extraordinary Undersized For a Football Player At 5 Feet 6 Inches
  • Was Dyslexic
  • Served 2 Years In Vietnam
  • Hustled For 2 Years At A Power Plant
  • Witnessed His Best Friend’s Death
  • Was Rejected From Notre Dame 3 Times
  • Persisted For 2 Years On A Football Team Despite Little Promise Of Play Time

The Victory:

  • Played Football For The Norte Dame Fighting Irish
  • Was The First Norte Dame Football Player to Ever Be Carried Off The Field
  • Had a Movie Made About His Inspiring Journey

Final Thoughts

Rudy Ruettiger has since gone on to motivate and inspire people all across the world as a motivational speaker and author. He runs Rudy International, a motivational business that is dedicated to inspiring others to never give up.

Rudy only stood at 5 feet 6 inches, but he possessed a giant-sized dream. A dream the size of a football field that would inspire him to overcame dyslexia, poverty, a small stature, and countless other obstacles and disadvantages. Rudy’s determination, heart, and tenacious commitment to never quitting, helped him finally fulfill his dream of playing football for the Fighting Irish.

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“Sometimes, a Winner is a Dreamer Who Just Won’t Quit.”

But even more astonishingly, Rudy’s pursuit of his dream, and his life in general, has taught the world one of the most important lessons ever; and that is…. that a winner is just a dreamer who will not quit.

Till next time,


PS – If you enjoyed this uplifting Rudy Ruettiger story, then you’ll love these inspirational Rudy Quotes.

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