Rudy's Dad's 'Notre Dame-Only' Television Policy Was Lame


Only the heartless will tell you that the movie Rudy is anything less than a stirring, intentionally sappy story of an underdog overcoming long odds. The wise and tragic words of Rudy's friend Pete can be applied to say that pissing on other people dreams is what makes life intolerable. Still, there's one scene that's bothered me ever since first viewing the movie in an empty theater on my ninth birthday, so please indulge.

We are meant to understand that Notre Dame football is at the center of the frame for the Ruettiger household and that fact is driven home by the first time we see plucky Rudy wearing a golden helmet during some snowy sandlot football. Then he and Pete plop down in the living room with Mr. Ruettiger, who has taken his traditional position in a chair that was undoubtedly the best friend he ever had. Foolishly, the guest has the temerity to ask if they can flip over to the Indiana-Purdue game at halftime, drawing out this famous line.

"There's only one team we watch in this house."

Just a hard and fast rule that could never be bent. On some level this is probably meant to illustrate that this working-class family in Joliet lived a smallish life unburdened by widespread curiosity. It doesn't make the refusal to simply change the channel during a prolonged stoppage in play any less silly. Because it only hurt the Ruettigers. No one else.

The real-life Rudy was born in 1948, so that puts him somewhere between 10 and 12-years old here — meaning the day in question was between 1958 and 1960.

On Nov. 22, 1958, the 5-3 Fighting Irish traveled to Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes and were handed a 31-21 defeat. The Indiana-Purdue rivalry matchup that afternoon ended in a 15-15 tie. On Nov. 21, 1959, Notre Dame eked out a 20-19 against Iowa in South Bend. Mere miles away, Purdue beat Indiana, 10-7. On Nov. 19, 1960, the beloved Golden Domers were getting those heads bashed in by Iowa again in the form of a 28-0 catastrophe. Purdue, meanwhile, breezed past the Hoosiers, 35-6. This brought Notre Dame to a pitiful 1-8 on the year.

This all means that Mr. Ruettiger was so stubborn he would have rather stewed in defeat than see what else was on. Twice. Or it was 1959 and he simply could not look away from a team that eventually finished .500. It cannot be stated that Notre Dame wasn't even good while this rule was being enforced. This reveals a man clinging to a memory of a better time and refusing to change. In line with his character, sure, but a real bummer for anyone not brainwashed who happened to be visiting.

There's no reason to not take the grumpy dad at his word, yet it strains credulity that he never watched another team. Perhaps he just picked up an extra shift at the factory whenever the Irish had a bye. The man did value hard work as much as he valued being a Ruettiger, dammit.