Against all odds on a gridiron in South Bend, Indiana, Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger in twenty seven seconds, carved his name into history books as perhaps the most famous graduate of the University of Notre Dame. The son of an oil refinery worker and third of 14 children, Rudy rose from valleys of discouragement and despair to the pinnacles of success. Today, he is one of the most popular motivational speakers in the United States. It took years of fierce determination to overcome obstacles and criticisms, yet Rudy achieved his first dream – to attend Notre Dame and play football for the Fighting Irish. As fans cheered RU-DY, RU-DY, he sacked the quarterback in the last 27 seconds of the only play in the only game of his college football career. He is the only player in the school’s history to be carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders.In 1993, TRISTAR Productions immortalized his life story with the blockbuster film, RUDY. Written and produced by Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh, the award-winning team who brought us HOOSIERS, the critically acclaimed RUDY received “Two Thumbs Up” from Siskel and Ebert and continues to inspire millions worldwide.
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. This is a very special Notre Dame edition of the Impact Podcast because we’ve got the legend Rudy Ruettiger with us here today. Welcome to Impact, Rudy.
Rudy Ruettiger: Wow. What[?] are you saying legend? Or am I having an attack[?], man. That’s not legendary. But I thought the journey was.
John: Yeah. Rudy, this is a whole new generation. I know I grew up I watched the amazing movie called Rudy that was done on your life. I’ve seen it, probably two dozen times, my children have seen it. And there’s a whole generation that fell in love with you. But there’s a new generation of young people looking to be inspired, looking to be the next Cinderella story just like the Cincinnati Bengals getting to the Super Bowl now. Rudy, talk a little bit about your back story, where you grew up, and where you started this journey.
Rudy: Well, it all started in a blue-collar area called Joliet Illinois, and the ethos of the family, we had it. My parents created a culture there. I mean, it’s a culture of discipline, let’s say that. In the family, community, and hard work, all that. But outside of that, it was like working hard. You’re not going to be that guy, just work hard you’ll be fine. But also that played in the area thought process, I don’t have to be the best. I figured that out. Once I figured that out, I said I could be part of this too. But that took a lot of rethinking of who you were because you’re so programmed in who you were by your teachers, your coaches, your family members. It’s a hard deal. So I tried and leave that culture and go to a new culture. I entered the military which is very important for changing my mindset. I saw life differently. I saw the world differently. And I even looked at people differently because now I’m in the real deal. Before, that wasn’t the real deal. You go to work, come home, go back to work. Get out of high school, graduate there to my class from the bottom, and go to the reality of work and that blue-collar stigma was true. Grab your lunch bucket[?], go to work. And work 40 years and you get a retirement. That’s not what I wanted. I want something bigger. Maybe not better, but I couldn’t figure that out. Where do I fit in? I don’t want to be a manager. I don’t want to be a boss. What do I want? And that’s a hard thing to figure out. What do you want? So, I guess just to be somebody that makes sense.
John: And no one in your family at that point had yet gone to higher education to college, is that correct?
Rudy: Well, not that they didn’t want to, I’m the oldest boy.
Rudy: That inspired them to move forward. Use the Junior College route because my parents couldn’t afford they didn’t get scholarships. But some of them tapped[?] my brothers did for us. But my whole point is, I tell you, we all talk about our high school careers and our coaching. But man, I even hate talking about my high school days. They’re such a downer.
Rudy: Because of education, I mean, you felt so stupid that you couldn’t be anybody or do anything because they tell how you were talked to and how you have felt. I think the feeling was akin[?], and I just hated that culture. I felt bad going to school. But I love seeing my friends, playing sports but didn’t feel like it, hey, when the coaches don’t coach you right and they talk to you wrong, you go back out the teachers told you. So it was a kind of reciprocal type of thing until I said, I entered the military. Everything changed because they look for character. They didn’t look for what you knew. They look for, can we trust you? And that was why my family ethos was very important because that’s what my parents taught.
John: So, after the military, you wanted to go to Notre Dame?
Rudy: Yes, and no.
Rudy: Yes, it was but can I? And know, it was the big no.
John: How did you though? How did you bridge…
Rudy: This is the trigger.
Rudy: When the trigger is, what inspires you?
Rudy: What inspires you? Then once you’re inspired, you move towards that goal, a move towards that dream. And you don’t think about the past or you don’t think about what people think about you. I think that’s the biggest thing we got to get rid of. All your mistakes you’ve made, all the decisions you made, those are gone. Just move on with your life. And the day that my friend passed on the job was killed because he took a shortcut. He’s like told me a lot, life is too short. Don’t live in regret. And that’s one of the things I understood. To live in regret you’ll be drowned[?] in the boat that I could have should of[?]. But that type of guy I don’t want to be that guy. Well, I’m going to go towards the goal and find out the answers myself. Instead of asking people what I should do because it’ll tell you exactly who you are, how they think of themselves. So I don’t need that information. So when you move towards the goal, new doors open, new opportunities happen because you recognize, because you want to change. That’s the key to changing your mindset. You’re willing to take the risk and just jump out on fate[?] and that’s the difference.
John: So you had the goal but it was going to be an uphill battle?
Rudy: It wasn’t real goals, just a vision of wow, look at how good my dad feels with Notre Dame wins.
Rudy: But then, I love to give that feeling back, but it’s impossible. So, I think once you put that big goal out of the deal and put the realistic goals in the deal, the big goals happen. You don’t change. The process changes all the time. You got to be willing to lose another way with the process. But once you stimulate that’s where I want, this is where I should be because I felt right at home at Notre Dame. When I went to the campus like I belong there. But also felt like a redheaded stepchild, if that makes sense.
John: Yes, definitely.
Rudy: The best of the best. I’m not one of those dudes. Academically, you got valedictorians. You got smart kids, though I wasn’t that. But they assumed you were that if you were there. So you felt right at home. But I had to earn my way there through Junior College. That’s the first thing I saw, was I at Junior College. And we set a game plan with the president of that little College because he was an ex-military kind of a Navy guy. I was ex-military Navy. So we hit it off. We put realistic goals one semester at a time. That made sense to me. Not to happen to refinish one semester, Rudy.
John: One foot in front of the other. You just did it powerful[?].
Rudy: Instead of worrying about whether you’re going to make it or not, let’s worry about what we need to do right now.
John: So now you get out of Junior College, you get into Notre Dame finally. And now you want to play on the team. Explain that journey a little bit? The coaches and the [unintelligible].
Rudy: Contribute. There’s a big difference.
John: Okay. Contribute, okay.
Rudy: Realistically, how about going to start?
Rudy: No, I got to put… Come on, that’s realistic, like contribute. And once you have that attitude, it all changes. You’re going to be looked at as a joke by scholarship players. They don’t know your journey. They don’t know where you can[?], they don’t even know who you are. They just show up in a raggedy uniform that they give you and they kind of like sneaker[?] at you. Why are you here, dude?
Rudy: You don’t have to say it. It’s how they treat you. To this very day, I still don’t feel like I was part of that football team except for a couple of [unintelligible].
Rudy: Although, they don’t accept your part of the lore of Notre Dame football. You have to be an All-American. You have to be someone special. What makes you special dude? But they have accepted the message of the movie.
John: Right. But it’s been…
Rudy: Never the athlete.
John: By the way, and for our viewers and listeners who just joined us, we’ve got “the great”. And I call him the legendary Rudy Ruettiger with us here today. To find Rudy, or to book him for your next speaking event, motivational event, signing, just go to rudyruettiger.com. You can look over my shoulder here, there’s a Notre Dame helmet signed by Rudy Ruettiger. I was so lucky enough about 10 years ago to have Rudy come out to Fresno, speak at my son’s high school and it was the biggest fundraiser ever in the high school’s history. People turned out in droves and Rudy when he comes and does a motivational speech, whether it’s online or whether it’s in person, I’ll tell you what, he brings the house down. So, Rudy, you’re now to bring the heat when you talk about your journey. I’ll tell you that.
Rudy: Yeah, well, you also hide my Notre-Dame helmet, or [unintelligible] on your desk. What’s up in the background, man?
John: That’s more of Rudy. That’s…
Rudy: That’s all right. That’s Rudy. That’s reality. Always in the back, never in the front.
John: Oh, no, no.
Rudy: No, but that’s how you feel as a Walk-on[?].
Rudy: It’s tough. And I now walk-on the look at differently, because now scholarships are taken away. They used to give 140 scholarships and now, it’s only 85. Now, they had this image and likeness deal. Wow.
John: Yeah. NIL; name, image, likeness. A whole new world.
Rudy: I mean, [unintelligible]. Name, image and no one could be anymore. With all these guys’ images, I can imagine how these guys felt down the NFL that played and won Super Bowls. All these kids are walking out multi-millionaires and even in high school the walk-on is[?] millionaires now.
Rudy: Can you imagine what [crosstalk]…
John: It’s crazy.
Rudy: … Cooper manages kids going to get when he walks on. Oh my gosh.
John: So, Rudy your story, you became a part of as you say Notre Dame lore. As you said, you contributed to the team. You never quit. And then, the movie has made. How did that happen? How did you go from getting through this amazing story and journey at Notre Dame contributing to the football team, graduating from Notre Dame, and then, having the movie made? How many years expired in between you? Who are approached you to do the movie to start with?
Rudy: No one.
John: No one?
Rudy: No one.
John: How’d it go?
Rudy: Well, remember the word I used earlier, inspired?
Rudy: I got inspired by the movie “Rocky”.
John: You are the Rocky Balboa of football, that’s for sure.
Rudy: I got so inspired. I said, wow, my journey can help people as well.
Rudy: Because of all the differences, I called it line items in life. First of all, I’m dyslexic. So I have a learning disorder.
Rudy: A lot of kids are dyslexic and we don’t realize that. A lot of great people are dyslexic. Look them up. I mean, I have an attention deficit disorder. Even smart people have attention deficit disorder. I come from a true blue-collar family. No real extra money to put out there. Then academically, I’m poor. So in social, we had all those line items that people deal with every day. I mean, if you’re a great athlete, you overcome all that automatically because you’re a great athlete. That’s what they pay you for. Me, didn’t have any of that. So, people, there’s 97% of Americans like that. What’s the percentage of pearls? What’s the percentage of guys like Tom Brady? And yet, he was considered an underdog which he was. Joe Montana was considered an underdog at Notre Dame when he came to Notre Dame, he was just the 7th string quarterback.
Rudy: Can you imagine feeling, I mean, that is to[?] walk-on ahead of you.
Rudy: Well, that’s what they face when they come to Notre Dame. You’re just not the only guy in town here. And so, they got a deal but their athleticism, well, plus they have a scholarship so they don’t have to worry about money. All they have to do is work at their skill set. I don’t have any of that going for me. So I had to work extra hard and all that, which is why I say the Navy and the family background culture helped me get through those moments but your faith. So you have to believe in something, make a goal bigger than yourself and when you do that, you won’t quit on your family. You won’t quit on your brother or your son or your daughter. That’s what makes it work. If you make it about you, I quit because that’s easy to quit on.
Rudy: Put on your family. That’s why the military taught you, don’t leave a brother behind man. And we believe in that.
John: So you had the vision, you saw Rocky, you saw Sylvester Stallone make the Rocky Balboa story and you saw that you were like Rocky. So how did you then go from that vision to getting the movie done?
Rudy: It’s called boldness. Just go, jump out and do it. Go, find out what you need to do. It’s like going out to California. Start asking a lot of questions and never get the right answer. But I think [unintelligible]. But you’re finding out and discovering what you should be doing as you’re out there. It’s so different going towards Notre Dame. The answer is right in front of you, in junior college. Why wasn’t I told to go to Junior College? They would tell you in high school, dumb kids go[?] to Junior College. So, I believe that for the longest time.
That’s why I don’t go back to those at the energy that school still like that, unfortunately.
Rudy: And it’s sad. You know what, there’s a lot of kids out there and I get off track here a little bit.
John: No, it’s okay.
Rudy: They have so much skill in other areas other than getting to know the history of America. Get to know the mechanics of a car. Get to know electrical. Get them a skill set. They’ll learn all that stuff as they get interested in that stuff. We’re teaching the wrong stuff, man. And we’re in ordained[?] them with class frank[?] aptitude as a to, come on, that doesn’t get these guys anywhere.
I mean, these kids should be taught how to collaborate, how to have interest, how to get a skill set. Not to be the smartest kid
John: Yeah, that’s right.
Rudy: It doesn’t work for me. But unlike the dumbest kids, they are the brilliant kids, that become the kids having visions and dreams that do something about what they need to do in order for them to do what they need to do. That’s what’s exciting. If we understand that, you become a great coach, great leader, great Pastor, great whatever you want to be.
John: Rudy, but I’ve been with you in person. I see how people react to you and your story. You saw to have that knack[?]. Then, once you have a vision, you did it at Notre Dame, you did it with the military, you did it in Notre Dame and then you did it in Hollywood. Those are massive odds that you face. Who gave you your break in Hollywood to get your movie produced, even like that? That’s like an unheard-of story. That’s like coming to Hollywood to be a movie star. It’s 1 in 10 million.
Rudy: Oh, some people helped me. The hotel manager and the mailman.
Rudy: Simple. Yeah. The hotel manager got me to the writer of Hoosiers. While the mailman, helped me find a writer Hoosiers up stood me up. So there you go.
John: Wow. That’s all it was. It wasn’t…
Rudy: It was. But they’re deputy[?] of life. You don’t know who’s going to help you.
John: Yeah. So, be kind to everyone because it’s not just the important people that are going to help you.
John: It could be just a regular person.
Rudy: One hundred percent.
John: I love it. That’s so great.
Rudy: Yeah. I want you to understand that.
John: So Rudy, the movie gets done, and then what happens to your life? Because you’re a tremendous motivational speaker. Children love you, adults love you. Everyone seems to love you whenever I see you and you’re in a crowd and you do your public motivational speaking. What happened after the movie? And how did your life take a whole new turn then?
Rudy: Well, you have to reinvent yourself, because you were so locked up in the business of getting a movie made. You didn’t even look for the future.
Rudy: I get a call one day to do a speech. So well, this sounds cool. Maybe that’s what I should do. But I always wanted to speak because I worked for an insurance company, gave sales meetings[?]. And I would always give sales meetings and in fact that helped trained me for what I needed to do. But then I go see a Zig Ziglar little deep[?] and so I want to be like him. Don’t try to be like Zig Ziglar, you know? But if you try to be someone else, you’ll never be that guy. Just be you, Rudy. And that’s what, just be. When I got that advice, my speaking career whether it was good, or whatever, just took off in a different direction because you don’t have to be a great speaker to speak. So, I’m sure you can deliver a message. We look for the perfect guy, perfect tone. Come on. If you try to be perfect yet, I can’t connect to you. I’d rather be someone you can connect to. Say, God, if he made it, I can make it. That type of [unintelligible].
John: True. But that’s why your story still resonates, Rudy. Because just like Rocky Balboa, people love rooting for the underdog in this country. We love the underdog.
Rudy: Well, some people don’t want to be that Underdog, [crosstalk] which is fine.
Rudy: But the underdog gets someone who faces great ads, whether healthwise, spiritual, financial or whatever. They have to fight for their feeling and fight for what they want. And that’s an underdog.
John: That’s true. So now, most of your professional time is spent doing in-person and online motivational speaking and book signings, helmet signings, and things of that such?
Rudy: Right. And got involved with a cheese company. It was a catch[?] on I’m excited about and…
John: Tell us about it.
Rudy: Well, I met a guy, he was kind of like me in the cheese business. I was growing up on a dairy farm, which my family did as well, growing up. My dad did lose a dairy farm because of an issue with the cows. And during the depression, they lost it off. But it was there. And it just comes back full circle. Now, you go out and meet this guy and helped this guy. Now, he meets a farmer who says something, like we won’t be around 20 years from now because of the soya milk, oat milk, they call the milk that’s not good for you. But we need to go back to the real milk and have more nutrition in it. And more protein, and more probiotics. Something that will create the immune system of our kids and make them drink better milk. And I talked to a scientist that worked at NASA that created a formulation for Muscle Milk and said, I need your help. And he went out and saw this farmer and now they have a processor working on right now, as we speak. To have the cows eat better feed, which is the ration right to create this better milk. Like mother’s milk.
Rudy: Well, it’s called New Moo[?]. So we’re in that process.
Rudy: So it’s just something I love that type of challenge to help people get to where they need to go. Not that I know anything about milking or farming, or trees, but I know people, to help people.
Rudy: But that’s the key.
John: Rudy, what about the Rudy Foundation? Tell our listeners and viewers a little bit about the importance of the Rudy Foundation.
Rudy: Well, the Rudy Foundation was formed to help the youth, not so much[?]. They help young kids get to where they need to go. They don’t have to go to college. They don’t have to be this, as long as [unintelligible] all for a skill. Some type of skill and they want to change. And we gave up thousand dollars scholarships to Middle schools because that’s where the growth is. That’s where you start right there and give them an opportunity. And when they do get the scholarship, they have to show, they can’t give it to the family because they’ll spend it. So, they give it to the people, or maybe they needed a computer. Maybe they need a voice lesson, you pay for that. So that’s what we do.
John: That’s so nice. That’s so awesome. Rudy is there anything you want to share in terms of when you’re giving your motivational speeches, what’s the most important message that you want people in the audience to come away with? I want you to lay that on our audience today before we have to sign off for the day.
Rudy: Yeah, no problem. Be yourself, one. Understand that all your goals are important but pick all as you could do. Well just start the day off just by making your bed, or cleaning your room. That’s a good start. Or doing something that makes you feel good. Take something that will take two minutes or a minute out of your day, do something that makes you feel good. I think that’s one. Two [unintelligible], you can do every day and change every day. Get rid of your goofy thoughts, stop playing around with goofy friends, goofy information, and that confuses you. Stay away from confusion. So eliminating confusion is easy, but hard. Stay away from the people who confuse you, that’s simple. Stay away from information that confuses you. Stick with something that you can connect to. That’s what I did. I didn’t have to know what you think I needed to know. I just didn’t know what I needed to know and that helped.
John: That is just great. To book Rudy, go to rudyruettiger.com. You could find Rudy on Facebook at Rudy International, or on Twitter, Rudy 45. And of course, Rudy Ruettiger is on Instagram as well. Let me just tell you now, I’ve had the pleasure to be with Rudy two or three times in person, hear him speak. Book him now. He’ll change your life. He’ll get you excited and fired up to be the next Cinderella story out there, to be the next person who never gives up. Rudy Ruettiger, you’re a legend in my mind. I’m so thankful for you joining us today. I love you, your helmets have been an inspiration to me. Every day that I’ve had it in my office…
Rudy: Put it in the front.
Rudy: Put it where people can see it.
John: It’s in front, it’s right here, Rudy. Right here. Out of… Oh, [unintelligible] here. The helmet is right there.
Rudy: Well, you go to The Rudy Ruettiger: The Walk-On, the documentary.
John: Okay. The Rudy Ruettiger, the documentary…
Rudy: On Amazon Prime.
John: Say that again. Give a plug for that again, Rudy.
Rudy: The Rudy Ruettiger: The Walk-On.
John: Rudy Ruettiger: The Walk-On.
Rudy: Got an Emmy for that.
Rudy: Then, you go on Dream Big on Broadway, Rudy Ruettiger. Got a Telly Award for that. So you can go to those different things to find out the journey in a different… When you see the movie, see the walk-on and say, wow.
John: And you do speaking events both in-person and online. Right, Rudy?
Rudy: Yes, of course. Yeah.
Rudy: I’m going to the Senior Bowl tomorrow.
John: Are you, really?
Rudy: Yeah, the company is called the Walk-Ons restaurant. Walk-On restaurants. I’ve been with them for years, but a walk-on was actually established. My God, they’re grown big. We’ll be in Mobile, Alabama. So it’s been interesting to lead a way[?].
John: Hey and for those out who want their own helmet, hire Rudy to come to speak at your next great event. He’ll sign a helmet that you can put right on your desk. And mine’s going right on my desk right here.
Rudy: Where? So, at least it’s somewhere now.
John: Rudy, you’re the best. You’re always welcome back on the Impact Podcast for all of our friends and people out there. Rudy Ruettiger, you’re making a huge impact, you made a huge impact on my life on my children’s life. Thank you for doing all the great work you’re doing. And we asked you to come on back on the Impact at another time and talk about the success of your Cheese Company.
Rudy: Yeah, the milk, the milk.
John: I mean, the milk company. And what’s it called again? What’s it going to be called?
Rudy: New Moo[?].
John: New Moo. New Moo with Rudy Ruettiger.
Rudy: What is it? A milk makes better cheese. If the cows eat the feed it has better meat after they’re done milking. And they have to go get the meat away. So it’s all one. And it’s less, are you ready for this?
Rudy: Less methane in the air. That’s what this food does too.
Rudy: You have taught innovation[?], anyhow. Well, God bless you guys. Rock and roll.
John: Enjoy the Senior Bowl. [crosstalk] Can’t wait to have you back on.
Rudy: Yeah, I will. God bless you, brother.
John: You too, God. Bless you, Rudy. Thank you.
Rudy: Thank you.
John: Be well, man.
Rudy: You have fun. Thank you.
John: Take care.
John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform, revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com.