George Gipp, one of the best players to grace the college football field, still remains in the heart of Notre Dame fans.
By EMILY HOWALD
Assistant Scene Editor
"Win one for the Gipper." We've all heard it. Some of us have said it. But do we really know the story behind Notre Dame's one and only George Gipp?
Gipp played for the Notre Dame Football team from 1917 until his death in 1920. He played under Knute Rockne and also played centerfield for the Notre Dame baseball team and later the Chicago Cubs.
Gipp grew up in Laurium, Mich. Although he never played high school football but was an avid participant in track, hockey, sandlot football and organized baseball. He initially went to Notre Dame to be a baseball player.
Rockne discovered Gipp while he was goofing around with his friends, drop kicking footballs 70 yards. Rockne encouraged Gipp to play football as well as baseball and he grew to be one of Rockne's favorite players.
Gipp had the physique of a star athlete. He was 6-foot-2 and weighed 185 pounds, which Rockne described as "all bone and muscle."
Gipp could run the 100 in 10.2 seconds in full football pads. He ran for 2,341 yards and had 21 touchdowns in his career. He threw for 1,789 yards and eight scores, punted 96 times for 3,690 yards, returned 16 punts for 217 yards, returned 22 kickoffs for 454, picked off five passes and kicked 27 PATs, which finished his career with 156 points. As a defensive back, he never allowed a completed pass.
Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice said, "His kicking and ball carrying was about as fine as anything I have ever seen on a football field."
Gipp was Notre Dame's first All-American, named by Walter Camp, two weeks before his death and his 2,341 rushing yards lasted as a Notre Dame record until 1978 when Jerome Heavens surpassed it.
To this day, Gipp is considered to be one of the greatest all-around players to ever play college football as a runner, passer, defensive back, punter, kicker and kick returner.
"I felt the thrill that comes to every coach when he knows it is his fate and his responsibility to handle unusual greatness…the perfect performer who comes rarely more than once in a generation," Rockne said. "Gipp was one of the greatest. His kind comes once in every college generation."
Gipp was respected by not only his coach, but his fellow teammates as well.
"George Gipp was the greatest athlete I have ever known. He will be forever be remembered as a friend, a student, an athlete and a gentleman, for to know him was to love him," said Frank Coughlin, captain of the 1920 Notre Dame football team.
The Irish had a record of 27-2-3 in Gipp's four years and they were 23-2-2 when he played. They went 19-0-1 in his final 20 games. In Gipp's final two years, the Irish were undefeated and declared Champions of the West.
Gipp's season appeared to end when he injured his shoulder in a game versus Indiana in the 1920 season. Rockne planned to withhold him from the game the following weekend on Nov. 20, 1920, against Northwestern, but because he became such a central figure of the Notre Dame team, the fans all cried "We want Gipp! We want Gipp!" throughout the entire game.
Toward the end of the game Rockne decided to allow Gipp into the game, and Gipp met the hopes and expectations of many by launching a 55-yard pass that resulted in a touchdown.
After the game Gipp was giving punting lessons and he contracted strep throat that led to a throat infection and pneumonia.
Gipp was confined to a hospital bed at the Saint Joseph Hospital in South Bend. Rockne visited him the night of Dec. 13, 1920, just hours before he died at the age of 25. During that visit, Rockne made Gipp a promise for a future Notre Dame football team that would need his help.
Then Gipp uttered the immortal words that now hang on a plaque in the Irish locker room.
"I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy," Gipp told to Rockne.
Rockne did not have use those words until eight years later, against Army.
The 1928 team was plagued with injuries and already had two losses under its belt. They had four wins, but Army was undefeated with six straight wins. Rockne felt that if the Irish could prevail against Army, then they may avoid a losing record.
Rockne felt confident that he could rile the boys' emotions with the story of Gipp, and he prayed that their eagerness and passion could prevail.
After the pre game warm-ups, he brought the team into the locker room and began to tell the story of Gipp, the Notre Dame Player who had died during his senior season, eight years ago.
He repeated Gipp's wish to the boys and said, "The day before he died, George Gipp asked me to wait until the situation seemed hopeless, then ask a Notre Dame team to go out and beat Army for him. This is the day and you are the team."
Line coach Ed Healey recalled, "There was no one in the room that wasn't crying. There was a moment of silence, and then all of a sudden those players ran out of the dressing room and almost tore the hinges off the door. There were all ready to kill someone."
Notre Dame fell behind 6-0 in the third period. When Jack Chevigny tied the score at 6-6 with a one yard plunge, he picked himself up in the end zone and shouted "That's one for the Gipper!"
On Notre Dame's next scoring drive, left halfback Butch Niemiec took the ball, looked downfield and threw a wobbly pass to Johnny O'Brien, a hurdler for the track team. O'Brien caught the pass and ran the ball from the 10-yard line past two tacklers and dove into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
When O'Brien scored, Chevigny yelled "That's one for the Gipper too!"
After scoring the two touchdowns the Irish then held off a last-chance drive by the Cadets.
Quarteback Frank Carideo said of Rockne, "You could see a great, big smile on his face. He was happy when things created during the week were used to perfection in the ballgame."
Notre Dame beat Army that day in Yankee Stadium 12-6.
Gipp was not only an inspiration to his teammates, but he impacted the Notre Dame teams in years to follow. He was a vision that Rockne used to create in his players minds about the true meaning of an exceptional player.
"He was a natural athlete. And he possessed the three most important qualities needed to attain greatness: the qualities of the body, mind and spirit. He had what no coach or system can teach: football intuition," Rockne said of Gipp.
Ronald Reagan portrayed Gipp in the 1940 movie "Knute Rockne-All American" which opened in South Bend. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
Although there are no recorded interviews with Gipp directly, and very few photographs or films exist, he has left his mark on both Notre Dame and all those who have heard his story.
The story is heartwarming and will last forever, and whenever people are in need of inspiration, they will always be told to "Go out and win one for the Gipper!"
Contact Emily Howald at Howald.firstname.lastname@example.org
All Scene Stories for Friday, January 17, 2003