Movie vs. Reality: Rudy
By Felix Quinonez Jr.
July 11, 2012
We’ve all heard movies described as “based on a true story” but what does that actually mean? I’m always surprised by the fact that some people seem to equate this to watching a documentary. Sure, some movies stick close to the source material but even the most faithful adaptations make changes to the story. And of course there are some movies that alter so much that any similarities to the actual events seem to be accidental.
In each entry of this column I’m going to be looking at a different movie “based on a true story” or whatever phrasing is attached to it and compare it to the actual story. Hopefully I’ll be able to separate fact from Hollywood. But I’m also going to be talking about what those changes mean and why they were made. Do the changes have some artistic merit or are they just attempts to make the story fit into a neat Hollywood package?
I think it’s safe to say that most people love a good underdog story. There’s something about seeing the little guy go against all odds to achieve his dreams that strikes a chord with audiences. In this entry I’m going to be looking at a childhood favorite of mine; Rudy. (1993) The movie, starring Sean Astin, tells the story of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve his dream of playing football at the University of Notre Dame.
The movie, directed by David Anspaugh, is very formulaic but thanks to a great story and a very strong performance from Astin, it is very enjoyable. In fact, seeing Rudy being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates as the whole stadium chants his name has to be one of the most moving climaxes in movie history. But let’s move on before I get all teary eyed again.
What the Movie Got Right
Before Notre Dame
The third of 14 children Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger grew up in Joliet, Illinois and even as a child he had to deal with many people telling him what he couldn’t do. From a very young age, he dreamt of playing college football at the University of Notre Dame. As he got older, this dream didn’t fade and in high school he played for the football team. Although he achieved a small level of success it didn’t open up any doors for him to get into Notre Dame.
After being rejected by Notre Dame, Rudy takes a job at a local steel mill like his dad. Rudy seems to accept the fact that he won’t be able to achieve his dream of playing for Notre Dame and begins to settle down. But after an accident at the mill results in his best friend’s death, Rudy’s dream is awakened.
After regaining his determination to play for Notre Dame, Rudy heads to campus but does not get in. His next plan is to go to Holy Cross, a nearby junior college. He wants to get good enough grades to be able to transfer to Notre Dame. Rudy achieves this with the help of a local priest who thought Rudy wanted to become a priest. While at Holy Cross, he gets a part-time job on Notre Dame’s groundskeeping staff.
At Notre Dame
While at Holy Cross, Rudy learns that he has dyslexia but he continues to work hard and keeps trying to get accepted into Notre Dame. After two years at Holy Cross, Rudy was accepted as a student at Notre Dame on his fourth try, in the fall of 1974. Although he was extremely small (at 5’6”) to be a football player, Rudy lucked out because the coach encouraged walk-on players.
As a walk-on, Rudy worked as hard as he could and he earned a place on the Notre Dame Scout team, which is a practice team that helps the varsity players practice for games. Although he did not play in the actual games, Rudy was finally a part of the team. But his dream was to play in a real game.
Over the next two years, Rudy kept working hard and eventually earned the respect of not only his teammates but also the coaches. And on November 8, 1975, his dream finally came true. Rudy was allowed to suit up during the final home game of his college career. Towards the end of the game Rudy was brought on the field. During this play, he sacked the opposing team’s quarterback. After the game ended, Rudy was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.