There’s an unforgettable moment in the 1993 sports classic “Rudy” when the captain of the Notre Dame football team places his jersey on coach Dan Devine’s desk, insisting that practice squad player Rudy Ruettiger suit up in his place.
When Devine dismisses the idea, a line of Notre Dame players enters to place their jerseys, “For Rudy,” as the music swells.
Devine sees the depth of feeling for the underdog player and allows Ruettiger (Sean Astin) to suit up for the first time for his final game after toiling as a too-small walk-on player with a big heart.
As “Rudy” celebrates its 25th anniversary with its first nationwide theatrical re-release on Aug. 28 and Sept. 2, the real Ruettiger has a request – stop asking if the jersey scene really happened. The question misses the movie’s point.
“People always want to know, did the team really throw the jerseys on Dan Devine’s desk?” says Ruettiger, 69, who maintains the movie is 98 percent accurate. “The people who really want to know the facts, they are missing the movie’s message. The people who don’t care about the facts get the message.”
Ruettiger says baby boomers and Notre Dame fans, especially, push for answers on the jersey scene. Even quarterback legend Joe Montana, a freshman on the Notre Dame squad during Ruettiger’s final year, publicly knocked the jersey moment and others during a 2010 ESPN interview.
“The crowd wasn’t chanting … nobody threw in their jerseys,” Montana sighed.
Ruettiger readily concedes that the jersey scene was a fictional moment brought to his story by director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo. The team behind the basketball classic “Hoosiers” said that before filming “Rudy,” they would take some liberties for the screen.
“It was like, ‘Let’s take the moments that were game-changers in your life.’ ” Ruettiger remembers of the initial conversation. “And it may not have always happened the way it happened, but it happened. I said, ‘That’s fair. I’m OK with that.’ ”
Ruettiger says the Notre Dame football captain did go into Devine’s office to give him a “sermon” about dressing seniors for the team’s final home game. NCAA rules would not allow all 55 members to dress, but the captain pushed for the Navy veteran Ruettiger.
The jersey scene dramatized the support Ruettiger won from the team. Ruettiger did get into the blowout game against Georgia Tech for the final seconds, making an improbable quarterback sack and then getting carried off the field by ecstatic players.
Sean Astin mades sports movie magic in 1993’s “Rudy” as Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the Notre Dame football player who pulled off a miracle sack in the only game he was allowed to suit up. “Rudy” sees a national theater re-release with Fathom Events to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Sean Astin made sports movie magic in 1993’s “Rudy.”
Ruettiger has no hard feelings for Montana’s comments and has told him so.
“Joe told me he didn’t mean anything wrong about those comments,” Ruettiger recalls. “For the people inspired by the message, they don’t care if it’s true. To me, it’s a movie.”
What’s important to Ruettiger is the “timeless message” and the inspirational thought “that if you believe in yourself, everything is possible.”
When he catches the film on TV, he invariably gets carried away with the final triumph.
“Even though I know Sean Astin is going to make that tackle, I still get emotional. Because he made it,” says Ruettiger. “And that tells me the movie still works.”