Expat Jack on ND-UGA
Catch HAN VANCE in-store at KEMPT men’s fashion boutique FRI 5-6P downtown Athens, next to The Globe.
And now, the unedited EXPAT JACK 3:
Expat Jack 3: Win or Lose Play the game the American Way
The historic one point victory of the Dawgs over Notre Dame in South Bend two years ago proved to be the gate of inception for what became a national championship vision-quest for the Georgia Bulldog Football nation. Not only did those very first legends of the Smart Dawg era answer the call against the Fighting Irish that night, but our fan base cut into the Notre Dame Stadium in a way that has never been seen before, causing it to bleed the colors of an opponent in a historically unprecedented way.
This weekend, Notre Dame will again stand between Georgia and an open portal of college football history. Yet, win or lose, those iconic golden dome helmets will encroach new ground in the deep South, spreading the mystique of their national brand into the recruiting hotbed of the SEC. This strategy of extending their brand inter-sectionally has been one of the key ingredients to Notre Dame’s sustained historical success. Indeed, they may still be the only truly national (or “American”) brand in college football.
But what’s behind the hallowed name of this tiny little school situated in Northern Indiana? Well, the legend begins with a fast talking cult of personality by name of Knute Rockne. His story is as much fiction as it is fact, but that’s irrelevant to the impact it’s had on college football. In the summer of 1913, while working as lifeguards on the beach, a couple of mid-western college boys, “Rock” and his buddy “Gus” cooked up a plan to beat the baddest college football team in the land—ARMY. The plan? The forward pass!
While every other team had tried to pound out three yards, and a cloud of dust, hoping for a lucky break, the plan—just as they had practiced on the beach—was for “Gus” to drop back for forward passes, and heave the thing 30 yards out, and hit “Rock” in stride. It worked! It was reported that even the West Point crowd oohed and awed about it, bringing national acclaim to the tiny program. Shortly after, Rockne took over the Notre Dame as head coach. He taught his boys something that they didn’t teach at school, something clean, and strong inside, not just courage but a right way of living. But, he needed some real talent to beat the big boys of college football, somebody that could “carry the mail”.
In 1918, Rockne found his man in George Gipp, Notre Dame’s first All-American, and a player that would become immortalized as “the Gipper” in a Hollywood role portrayed by Ronald Reagan in 1940. In a short time, Rockne not only built a perennial national championship contender, but came to understand the big stage entertainment potential of college football, carefully cultivating the press, crafting characters like the Four Horseman, and a style of play that became synonymous with “the American way” to play the game.
“The house that Rockne built” transformed a tiny little school in Indiana into a dynasty, becoming a source of pride for a troubled Irish immigrant population, a pride that would soon spread to other ethnic identities during one of America’s most challenging moments, the Great Depression. Rockne was the first celebrity college football coach, and like a lot of other celebrities at the time, he died in fiery plane crash at the peak of his career, but his influence lived on.
Facing the approaching storm of World War II, Hollywood invoked the story of the son of a hard working immigrant family that decided to leave “the old country” and follow the new road of equality and opportunity in America. It was the saga of a hard driving fighter, whose name was not only a symbol of the American will to win, but win or lose, to play the game in the American way.
In the radio play version of the movie Knute Rockne: All American, the announcer begins,
“The tang of coming winter is in the air, there’s the smell of burning leaves, and millions of Americans are making their weekly pilgrimage to the football fields of the nation thankful this year, as never before, that such peaceful battles are still theirs for the asking. Every school and college in the land has their grid-iron great. Heroes in fact, more thrilling than fiction. But the greatest of them all was Knute Rockne.”
It’s not difficult to see how easily “the peaceful battles” of the gridiron could soon translate into “real battles” on the battlefield. This allusion culminates in Ronald Reagan’s famous “Win just one for the Gipper” scene. The doctor had just told Rockne that his star player is not going to make it. George Gipp is laying on his death bed, having contracted strep throat while giving punting lessons after his last game in the cold of early December,1920. Rockne says, “You’re gonna be alright kid.”
Gipp responds, “I haven’t got a complaint in the world Rock. I’m not afraid. What’s tough about this? I mean Rock, maybe, some day, when the team’s up against it. Things are wrong. And the breaks are beating the boys. Ask them to go in there with all they’ve got, win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, but I’ll know it, and I’ll be happy.”
Legend has it that in 1926, Notre Dame was playing a seemingly unbeatable and superior Army team, and so Rockne finally pulled the “Gipper” speech out of his pocket before the game providing them with the inspiration to win the game. Indeed, Notre Dame will need a “Gipper” like enthusiasm to beat this clearly superior Georgia Bulldogs team on Saturday.