ND legends are keys to finding success
By MARY ANNE LEWIS
Reverend Stephen Badin bought several hundred acres of land in Indiana. It included three small, run-down buildings. He left it in trust to the Bishops of Vincennes, Ind., for the purpose of a school to be founded on that site.
Father Edward Sorin and his companion Brothers of St. Joseph dreamed, worked and created a vision. A school, a purpose, three run-down buildings and some faith promised them a miracle. They called the school L'Universite de Notre Dame du Lac in late November 1842, and it became an officially chartered university on Jan. 15, 1844.
This was the origin of the beauty you see around you. Look past the buildings, past the fountains, past the trees and lakes and basilica, and look at the history. Father Edward Sorin, one small man with a great vision of an American Catholic university, looked past those small buildings. Whether he saw 200 or 10,000 students walking to class in order to learn, pray and build themselves, his dream became our reality.
He saw his vision evolve into the nation's first Catholic law school, the first Catholic College of Engineering, the first Catholic architecture program and the first American circulating library. Even as Sorin watched the Main Building burn in 1879, he helped Notre Dame start again and continue its growth. Likewise, when students made mistakes, he helped them stand up and continue working, to build again and relearn old lessons.
In Voss, Norway, a little boy was born. When he reached the age of 5, he came to America with his parents, and they settled in Chicago. The boy worked on corner lots of the city, in a cook shack of a Wisconsin lumber camp and on the galley of a Great Lakes steamer.
In 1906, when he entered the railroad mail service, he decided to begin a four-year course in night school. After these four years of work on the rails and in the classroom, the boy decided to attend Notre Dame. He represented himself as a pole vaulter and played the role quite well. In fact, he was chosen for the All-Western end in 1912 and 1913.
He graduated in 1914 with a bachelor of science degree and became a chemistry teacher as well as head track coach and assistant football coach under Jesse Harper. When Harper retired, this man became head football coach and director of athletics, and the world finally met Knute Rockne.
In 1917, as he was walking around the campus fields, he saw a young baseball player casually drop kicking a football between 60 and 70 yards. This boy, George Gipp, became "The Gipper," and together, he and Rockne made football history.
Rockne brought the Four Horsemen to Notre Dame, and the football world quickly learned to take notes when they saw the Irish play the field like no other team ever could or ever would.
Rock's legacy may not, however, lie so much in his football genius as in his ideals. The man aimed to build up a better individual, and did so through the principle of self-sacrifice for the sake of the group. He taught that the clean, hard way is the best way. Rock, like Father Sorin, had a vision, one of every boy having a fair chance to develop both character and manhood through sports.
Most of all, Rockne was an example. He took the time to remember names and faces. He worked with patience, focus and anger when needed. He was loyal to his athletes and expected the same from them.
He got it. In particular, he got it from "The Gipper." In 1916, George Gipp left his home in Laurium, Mich., to play baseball for Notre Dame. One day, Gipp, drop kicking a football just for the fun of it, was spotted by Rockne and soon found himself on the football field.
"The Gipper" proved to be the most versatile player Rockne ever had. He could run, pass and punt like no other. In 1920, he was named the outstanding college player in America by Walter Camp, and in 1951, he was voted into the National Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
Ironically, baseball remained his first love. He planned to join the Chicago Cubs after graduation, but tragedy struck the Gipp family when George, at the age of 25, caught a streptococcic throat infection.
On his deathbed, The Gipp told his coach, Knute Rockne:
"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."
On Dec. 14, 1920, George Gipp died, just two weeks after he had been selected by Walter Camp as Notre Dame's first All-American. But he wasn't done with football yet.
The 1928 football season found Notre Dame with a disappointing record. Of the first six games, two were losses. When the team traveled to Yankee Stadium to face undefeated Army, the game looked hopeless. Rockne knew better.
In the locker room, Rock prepared the team for a miracle. He told them: "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 it for him. This is the day, and you are the team."
The first score was on a 1-yard run by Jack Chevigny. After he reached the end zone, he said, "That's one for the Gipper." Football experts said this game was the greatest show of inspired football ever played. Needless to say, Notre Dame won, 12-6.
The legends of Notre Dame are not just figures of the past. On the 13th floor of Hesburgh Library, one legend works each day to further the interests of this great University.
Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame, served the University as president from 1952 until 1987. Over the years, he has held more than 15 presidential appointments, been awarded 135 honorary degrees, served four popes and been awarded the Medal of Freedom, among many other honors.
A great part of his drive comes from his focus on justice. In the spirit of such legends as Father Sorin, Knute Rockne and George Gipp, Hesburgh continue to strengthen the foundation of this University on the principles of truth, strength, courage, diligence and faith.
This is Notre Dame. These are the men who have made it what it is, and who are making it what it is. But soon this responsibility will belong to today's students.
Next week, during fall vacation, students will find themselves wishing they were back in Indiana, near the Golden Dome. Before them, they will have the world, with all its problems that need to be solved. Perhaps they will not readily have the solutions, but they do have the resources to find them because of the history that founds all that they learn each day at this University.
Think of the faith of Sorin, the determination of Rockne, the courage of the Gipper and the sense of justice inherent in Hesburgh. Every moment spent here at Notre Dame is another moment for these legends to build students today just as they have built this school.
So when you ask yourself why you are here, just think about how far this place has come from those three small, run-down buildings.
All Scene Stories for Friday, October 15, 1999