What to Know About the Real Rudy Ruettiger, the Focus of the Classic Film Rudy

Rudy — the story of underdog Notre Dame football player Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger — was released 27 years ago this week

Rudy Ruettiger
Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic

Aan instant classic was released 27 years ago this week.

Rudy — the story of underdog Notre Dame football player Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger — debuted in theaters on Oct. 15, 1993.

Sean Astin, who would later play Samwise Gamgee in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, starred as the real-life Ruettiger, who beat the odds to find a place on the Notre Dame football team despite battling dyslexia and lacking the physical prowess of typical players.

Rudy was praised for its inspirational and uplifting tone, and the film currently has a 90 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Famed film critic Roger Ebert gave Rudy 4.5 stars and praised Astin for his performance.

"Underdog movies are a durable genre and never go out of style," he wrote in 1993. "They're fairly predictable, in the sense that few movie underdogs ever lose in the big last scene. The notion is enormously appealing, however, because everyone can identify in one way or another."

"In Rudy, Astin's performance is so self-effacing, so focused and low-key, that we lose sight of the underdog formula and begin to focus on this dogged kid who won't quit," he added. "And the last big scene is an emotional powerhouse, just the way it's supposed to be."

Rudy Ruettiger
Taro Yamasaki/Getty Images
Rudy Ruettiger
Notre Dame Collegiate Images/Getty Images

While the film takes some creative liberties with Ruettiger's story, his life's experiences are no less inspirational.

According to Bleacher Report, Ruettiger was born in 1948, the third child of his 14 siblings. He grew up outside of Chicago and fell in love with Notre Dame football thanks to his father, who worked in a mine.

Ruettiger went on to play high school football and did well as a cornerback. But his small 5'6'' frame would be a tremendous obstacle when it came to making it on a college team.

After the death of his best friend, Ruettiger was inspired to enroll at Notre Dame anyway he could, the outlet said. He started off by taking classes at Holy Cross Junior College, with the hopes he would be able to transfer. While there, Ruettiger learned he had dyslexia.

Notre Dame rejected Ruettiger's applications, so he took a groundskeeper job at the campus. With a bit of hard work, Ruettiger applied one last time to the school and got in.

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Ruettiger was later chosen to be a part of Notre Dame football's scout team and only saw playing time in the closing minutes of the final game of the season when they had a comfortable lead.

But what a memorable performance it was — Ruettiger sacked Georgia Tech quarterback Rudy Allen and was carried off of the field, bringing a fitting end to a true underdog story.

Today, Ruettiger, 72, and works as a motivational speaker and author, having penned the books, Rudy: My Story, and Rudy Ruettiger: The Walk On.

"They love it because it breaks down barriers: political, religious, whatever," Ruettiger said of his film in 2018, according to USA Today.

"It’s about belief in yourself," he added. "That if you believe in yourself, everything is possible. That’s why the movie works."

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