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Knute Kenneth Rockne (March 4, 1888 – March 31, 1931) was an American football player and is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history. His biography at the College Football Hall of Famemarker (South Bend, IN) calls him "American football's most-renowned coach." He was a native Norwegian, and was trained as a chemist at Notre Dame. He is credited with popularizing the use of the forward pass.

Early life

Knute Rockne was born Knut Rokne in Voss, Norwaymarker, and emigrated with his parents at five months to Chicagomarker. He grew up in the Logan Squaremarker area of Chicago, on the northwest side of the city. Rockne learned to play football in his neighborhood and later played end in a local group called the Logan Square Tigers. He attended North West Division High School in Chicago playing football and also running track.

After Rockne finished high school, he took a job as a mail dispatcher with the Chicago Post Office for four years. When he was 22, he had saved enough money to continue his education. Knute Rockne headed to South Bend, Indianamarker, to finish his schooling. He was the laboratory assistant to noted polymer chemist Julius Arthur Nieuwland at Notre Dame, but rejected further work in chemistry after receiving an offer to coach football.

Notre Dame coach

Portions of this section are adapted from Murray Sperber's book Shake Down The Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football

As head coach of the University of Notre Damemarker in South Bend, Indianamarker from 1918 to 1930, he achieved an all-time winning percentage of 88.2%, the highest percentage in Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) history. During 13 years as head coach, he oversaw 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties, and six national championships, including five undefeated seasons without a tie. His players included George 'Gipper' Gipp and the "Four Horsemen" (Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden), and Frank Leahy.

Rockne introduced the "shift", with the backfield lining up in a T formation and then quickly shifting into a box formation to the left or right just as the ball was snapped. It remained a staple in the Notre Dame playbook until it was discarded by Frank Leahy in 1942 in favor of the T. Rockne is also credited with popularizing the forward pass, a seldom used play at the time, although Rockne acknowledged that the play had actually been pioneered by St. Louis Universitymarker coach Eddie Cochems.

Rockne was also shrewd enough to recognize that intercollegiate sports had a show-business aspect. Thus he worked hard promoting Notre Dame football so as to make it financially successful. He used his considerable charm to court favor from the media, which then consisted of newspapers, wire services and radio stations and networks, to obtain free advertising for his Notre Dame football product. He was very successful as an advertising pitchman, for South Bendmarker based Studebaker and other products.

For all his success, Rockne made what an Associated Press writer called "one of the greatest coaching blunders in history." Instead of coaching his 1926 team against Carnegie Tech, Rockne traveled to Chicago for the Army–Navy Game in order to "write newspaper articles about it, as well as select an All-America football team." Carnegie Tech used the coach's absence as motivation for a 19–0 win; the upset likely cost the Irish a shot at the national title.

Head coaching record

Plane crash

The wreckage of the Fokker F10A Trimotor in which Knute Rockne was killed.
Rockne died in a plane crash in Kansasmarker on March 31, 1931, while en route to participate in the production of the film The Spirit of Notre Dame. Shortly after taking off from Kansas City, where he had stopped to visit his two sons, Bill and Knute Jr., who were in boarding school there at the Pembroke-Country Day Schoolmarker, one of the Fokker Trimotor aircraft's wings separated in flight. The plane crashed into a wheat field near Bazaar, Kansasmarker, killing eight people, including Rockne. President Herbert Hoover called Rockne's death "a national loss."

On the spot where the plane crashed, a memorial dedicated to the victims stands surrounded by a wire fence with wooden posts; it was maintained for many years by James Easter Heathman, who, at age thirteen in 1931, was one of the first people to arrive at the site of the tragedy.

Rockne was buried in Highland Cemetery in South Bendmarker, and a student gymnasium building on campus is named in his honor, as well as a street in South Bend and another in Stevensville, Michigan (where Rockne had a summer home on Lake Michigan), and a travel plaza on the Indiana Toll Road. In addition to these tributes, the town of Rockne, Texas was named to honor him. The Matfield Greenmarker travel plaza on the Kansas Turnpike, near Bazaar, contains a memorial to him.

Legacy

Knute Rockne bronze sculpture in Voss, Norway.
Actor Pat O'Brien portrayed Rockne in the 1940 Warner Brothers film Knute Rockne, All American.

Rockne was not the first coach to use the forward pass, but he helped popularize it nationally. Most football historians agree that a few schools, notably Saint Louis Universitymarker, Michigan, Carlisle and Minnesota, had passing attacks in place before Rockne arrived at Notre Dame. Passing attacks, however, consisted solely of short pitches and shovel passes to stationary receivers. Additionally, few of the major Eastern teams that constituted the power center of college football at the time with the greatest numbers of national championships and All-America (Walter Camp's original term) players used the pass. In the summer of 1913, while he was a life guard on the beach at Cedar Pointmarker in Sandusky, Ohiomarker, Rockne and his college teammate and roommate Gus Dorais worked on passing techniques. These techniques created many common features in modern passing techniques, including having the passer throw the ball overhand and having the receiver run under a football and catch the ball in-stride. That fall, Notre Dame upset heavily favored Army, 35-13, at West Pointmarker thanks to a barrage of Dorais-to-Rockne long downfield passes. The game played an important role in displaying the potency of the forward pass and "open offense" and convinced many coaches to consider adding a few pass plays to their play books. The game is dramatized in the movie, "The Long Gray Line."

Based on his fame and promotional work with the Studebaker automobile company of South Bend, the firm marketed the Rockne automobile between 1931 and 1933. It was a separate product line of Studebaker and priced in the low cost market segment. While it's generally considered a good vehicle, the depression was not a good time to launch a new automobile.

In 1988, the United States Postal Service honored Rockne with a 22 cent postage stamp in his honor. President Ronald Reagan, who played George Gipp in the movie "Knute Rockne, All American," gave an address at the Athletic & Convocation Center at the University of Notre Dame on March 9, 1988, and officially unveiled the Rockne stamp.

A biographical musical of Rockne's life premiered at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, INmarker, on April 3, 2008. The musical is based on a play and mini-series by Buddy Farmer.

Rockne was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Famemarker in 1951 as a charter member and in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

Taylorville, Illinoismarker, dedicated the street next to the football field as "Knute Rockne Road".

Rockne, Texasmarker Is considered the only town anywhere to be named in honor of Knute Rockne. In 1931 the children of Sacred Heart School were given the opportunity to permanently name their town. A vote was taken, with the children electing to name the town after Rockne, who had died in a plane crash earlier that year. On March 10, 1988, Rockne opened its post office for one day, during which a Knute Rockne twenty-two-cent commemorative stamp was issued. A life size bust of Rockne was unveiled on March 4, 2006 — Rockne’s 118th birthday — at the museum of Rockne, TX where it was celebrated by community members as well as fans and family of Knute Rockne.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania, Allentown Central Catholic High Schoolmarker dedicated its gymnasium, Rockne Hall, to Knute Rockne.

Rockne used the phrase "win one for the Gipper" in reference to the death bed request of George Gipp.

Personal

Rockne was married to Bonnie Skiles.

Notes

  1. Pronounced "kah-noot"; "noot" is the anglicized nickname.
  2. "Football’s Forward Pass Turns 100 Years Old", St. Louis University, September 1, 2006
  3. The Official Knute Rockne Web Site. URL accessed 03:54, 29 January 2006 (UTC)
  4. Scott catalog # 2376.
  5. Playbill News: Notre Dame Coach Gets Spotlight in Knute Rockne Musical in Indiana, April 3-May 11


References

  • Ray Robinson, Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend (1999)
  • Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (1993)

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