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Even little ol' Rudy seems to be a fraud
The smoke is blowing away, and this is what’s left of Rudy, the tiny, never-give-up, walk-on football player at Notre Dame. The guy they made the movie about. Go to rudynutrition.com, where he had been selling a drink and allegedly running a scam that played off his legend. Call it up, and the site is all-but torn down. Only this message is left:
"Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here."
Wow. That might be the slogan of the year in sports, particularly in college sports. Rudy was a symbol of the heart and soul of college sports. He still is, only in a different way.
Nothing is as it appears. The vest, Jim Tressel, was a sneak, covering up before being run out of Ohio State. The glasses, Joe Paterno, was an enabler, doing the bare minimum to stop an alleged child rapist, before being run out of Penn State.
And now Rudy is a fraud? What a perfect way for the year to end. The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Rudy — real name: Daniel Ruettiger — with allegedly duping investors in his drink company, which had its own slogan: "Dream Big! Never Quit!" He has agreed to pay nearly $400,000 in a settlement.
Are we looking for something that isn’t here? You bet. College sports are supposed to be about heart and emotion. It turns out that those things are just packaged and sold to us. And we’re willing to buy.
This isn’t a suggestion to stop having fun with sports, or to stop being excited by your teams. It’s just to suggest that you go into it with eyes open.
It’s just entertainment, overwhelmed by gigantic TV dollars. That’s why schools are fleeing their traditional conferences, just to get to ones with better TV deals. It is the defining substance of college sports.
With that in mind, Rudy wouldn’t have been this disappointing. So much of his story was bloated. Rudy was a little kid who walked on at Notre Dame. True enough. He got to suit up and play, finally, on the final plays of the last game of his career. He sacked the quarterback. All true.
"The movie was mostly right," Roger Valdiserri, a student, football office worker, sports PR guy and Notre Dame football historian for more than half a century, told me at a game this fall. "The only part they took license with was when the players came into (Coach Dan) Devine’s office and put their jerseys on his desk to get him to let Rudy dress.
"Devine told me, 'If they would have done that, they’d have never gotten their jerseys back.'"
Remember in the movie, when the players saw that Rudy wouldn’t suit up for the final game, then came into Devine’s office with their jerseys, one by one, to offer up their roster spots for Rudy?
Didn’t. Happen. Instead, Devine actually did have Rudy on the dress list for that game from the start. They tried to dress as many seniors as possible for the final home game of the year.
But that was the only part movie-makers took license with. Well, that and the part with Rudy’s older brother tormenting him and ridiculing him over his dream. In real life, Rudy doesn’t have an older brother. And playing football for Notre Dame wasn’t his lifelong dream.
"While at Notre Dame," it says on one of his websites, "Rudy developed another Dream to play football for the Fighting Irish."
While at Notre Dame.
The former player/stadium maintenance worker who helped Rudy along? Doesn’t exist. The fans chanting "Ru-dy, Ru-dy" to convince Devine to finally put him in during the final minutes? Nope. Rudy asked Devine to put him in; Devine did it. The crowd chanted after the sack.
It is true, though, that the other players carried Rudy off the field afterward.
"I won’t say (that) was a joke," Joe Montana, a freshman on the team that year, reportedly once said on the Dan Patrick Show. "But it was playing around. He worked his butt off to get where he was and do the things he did, but not any harder than anyone else."
Now, his story is about a pump and dump, according to the SEC. It’s a term used to describe a scheme to make false, bloated claims to potential investors. That pumps up a company’s stock, and then officials can dump the stock and turn profit.
Company officials, the SEC said, falsely promoted the drink — called "Rudy" and featuring a picture of Ruettiger on the bottle in football uniform, arms raised — as having outsold Gatorade in one test, and beaten Powerade in a taste test. (Rudy did not return calls or emails for this column.)
That does not sound like the Rudy from the movie, which is because that guy doesn't exist.
Look, the reality of his Notre Dame story is good enough. Undersized, under-talented kid works his butt off and gets to play football at Notre Dame.
But his story, and maybe Paterno’s and Tressel’s, among others, say something about us. We were willing to buy into the impossible. I bought into the Rudy movie, too, and it will never seem the same. Be careful: You might be looking for something that isn’t here.
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