Ru-dy! Ruettiger motivates on LI
The movie was released in 1993, a year before most of the high school seniors in his audience were born. Still, the chants of "Ru-dy, Ru-dy!" filled the room as Daniel Ruettiger stepped from the podium following his speech Sunday at the Crest Hollow Country Club.
"Rudy" has been a motivational speaker since 1994, speaking at "about 100" ceremonies around the country each year. Sunday's stop was in Woodbury, to speak at the National Football Foundation's Scholar Athlete Awards brunch and then at a Northport Youth Football function in the same building.
His status as an almost mythical subject in football folklore is something Ruettiger says he has "shut the door on." Still, when he takes a stage and the rhythmic chants of his nickname ring out . . .
"I don't want to be confused with a celebrity, but it's an honor," said Ruettiger, 63, who lives in Las Vegas with his wife, Cheryl. "Most people expect me to look like the actor [Sean Astin] who portrayed Ruettiger in the movie], so it's great when I'm recognized. The message of the movie means a lot to people."
Ruettiger, who stands 5-6 and has dyslexia, made the Notre Dame football team's practice squad as a walk-on in 1974 after spending his first four years out of high school in the Navy and then at Holy Cross. He dressed for his final game as a senior in 1975 and was inserted at defensive end late in the game against Georgi Tech. On the second and final play of his career, Ruettiger recorded a sack -- a moment, from which the chant originated, and which he described as "surreal."
"A lot of the guys [at Notre Dame] didn't take me serious," he said. "They were the elite athletes and it's like, 'Who are you?' . . . That's something these young men might have to face if they play ball in college. My message applies; it's to persevere. The biggest thing is to keep getting up."