Anyone who has seen the movie Rudy (and who hasn’t?) knows Dan Devine is a jerk.
You’d think so, anyway, by the way the former coach is portrayed.
In the movie, it is cold-hearted Coach Devine who refuses to let plucky walk-on Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger ’76 live out his dream by dressing for a Notre Dame game. He only relents when faced with a player revolt.
In his recent autobiography Simply Devine, the retired coach tells a different story. He writes that it was his idea all along to dress Rudy for the last home game of his college career and also to play him. He says the reason it didn’t come across that way is because the screenwriter told him that the only way the plot would work was if Devine became the heavy. He says he agreed to go along to help out Ruettiger, whom he calls a friend.
“I didn’t realize I would be such a heavy,” he writes.
Rudy, who now makes his living as a motivational speaker, acknowledges that details of the story were changed to reinforce its message, which he summarizes as, “Have a dream, set goals, and do the things you must do instead of the things you can’t do.”
He says there actually was a movement within the team to let him and other walk-ons suit up for the final game. But the players weren’t revolting against Devine so much as against an NCAA rule that at the time limited the number of players who could dress to 60, a fact mentioned in the film.
Always one to emphasize the positive, Rudy says he thinks Devine comes off as a hero in the movie in many ways. The look on the coach’s face as Rudy is carried off the field shows he has realized the value of rewarding those who work hard to pursue a dream, he says.
“That shows the heart of a champion,” Rudy says. “[The portrayal] helped many coaches realize that that was not the way to coach kids.”
Rudy says several of the characters in the film, like the grounds-keeper who befriends him, are composites of more than one person. Others, like his father, agreed to having their negative characteristics exaggerated to clarify the film’s message. Rudy also says he is friends with Devine but hasn’t talked to him in more than two years.
In February Rudy hosted a reunion of the movie’s cast in Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas, in connection with the first Rudy Award Celebrity Dinner and Golf Tournament.
Ed Cohen is the associate editor of this magazine.
Photo by Matt Cashore