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"One for the Gipper" – The original story

President Ronald Reagan is affectionately labeled “The Gipper” as a result of his film portrayal of the legendary Notre Dames football player. The nickname is so firmly attached to the president that the real Gipper is almost forgotten.

The true story is clouded by the fog of time. His hometown of Laurium, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, maintains a website dedicated to his local hero. This is true: he was born Feb. 18, 1895 to Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Gipp.

He attended Calumet public schools, but never played soccer in high school. However, he was a versatile athlete. He participated in track and field, hockey, sandlot football, and organized baseball. The Laurium baseball team was the Upper Peninsula champion in 1915, with George playing center field.

Gipp hadn’t thought of going to college. However, he dominated baseball, billiards, poker, and dice. His greatest achievement was winning a gold watch for ballroom dancing.

The beefy six-foot, 180-pound Gipp at age 21 was persuaded by a Notre Dame graduate that he could get a baseball scholarship for asking.

Beyond these statistics, we must trust sports historians.

James A. Cox offers a colorful account of Gipp’s spectacular career. It begins on a fall afternoon in 1916 with two freshmen playing baseball on the playing field of a Midwestern college.

Without warning, a soccer ball passes over the fence from a nearby playing field where the school’s varsity was practicing. Hit one of the young men. He grabs the errant soccer ball and kicks it over the fence 70 meters away.

Across the field, a coach whistles in amazement and runs up. “Hey you! You with the ball. What’s your name?”

“Gipp” is the laconic answer.

“Where are you from?

“Michigan.”

“Play high school football?”

“No.”

“Well, I think you will be a soccer player,” says the coach. “Get out tomorrow. We’ll follow you and see what you can do.”

The young man shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says vaguely. “I don’t particularly care about soccer.”

This was the meeting of Gorge Gipp and Knute Rockne. A few days later, Gipp shows up for a test.

* * *

There was no difficulty in switching scholarships when it emerged that he could rush 100 yards in ten seconds, throw accurate passes to the middle of the field, and kick 60-yard punts with ease. He became an All-American running back.

Gipp built a reputation in his first out-of-town game with the freshman team against Western Michigan State Normal. Cox wrote:

“Playing as a running back, Gipp accumulates yards. But the score is 7-7 as the fourth quarter runs out with just a couple of minutes to go.

“The Irish have the ball. The quarterback calls punt formation: kick and play for the tie.

“Gipp objects. He wants to try a field goal. The quarterback looks at him as he would a madman. From where the kicker will be, to the opposite post, which at that moment was on the goal line, there were more than 60 yards However, the quarterback orders “Punt.”

“The ball snaps, Gipp drops it to the ground, as was the custom then, gets a perfect bounce and throws the ball through the studs. It was a 62-yard field goal that earned a lasting place in the book. register “.

* * *

In the spring of his freshman year, Gipp tried out for the baseball team and succeeded as an outfielder. He played only one game.

Ignoring a signal to knock, he threw the ball over the fence for a home run.

“Why?” asked the manager. “Don’t you remember the signs?”

“Sure,” Gipp replied, “but it’s too hot to be running around the bases after a hit.” The next day, he turned in his baseball uniform and concentrated on soccer.

He made a living by waiting tables in the university canteen for food and lodging. He raised money playing in nearby industrial and semi-professional baseball leagues.

He also frequented billiard halls and other low places in South Bend.

A hangout called Hullie & Mikes became their second home. He once said, “I’m the best freelance player to ever attend Notre Dame.”

His roommate, Arthur (Dutch) Bergman, explained:

“No one in South Bend could beat him at the lighthouse, billiards, pool, poker, or bridge. He studied percentages in throwing the dice and he could fade those bones in a way that made the pros dizzy. pockets, he was the terror of the salons.

“He never played with other students, although his littering skills helped pay the way through Notre Dame for more than a few of his friends. I’ve seen him win $ 500 at a game of dice and then spend his winnings buying meals for homeless families in South Bend “.

Gipp cut so many classes in 1919 that he was expelled from school. He took a job as a house player at the Hullie & Mikes gambling emporium.

Horrified, Notre Dame alumni sports fans flooded the university with complaints. The university gave him a special exam, which he passed, and reinstated him. From then on, Gipp got to practice when he wanted, doing what he wanted to do. Nobody complained. The coaches and players knew that he was fervently dedicated to winning. The team revolved around him.

The 1920 season established Gipp as “immortal.”

On a Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame found itself a 17-14 deficit to Army.

In the locker room, Rockne unleashed one of his famous fight speeches at halftime. Gipp looked bored. Rockne turned to Gipp and challenged him: “I guess you have no interest in this game.” Gipp replied, “Don’t worry, I have $ 500 and I don’t intend to spend my money.”

By the end of the game, Gipp had accumulated 385 yards rushing, more than the entire Army team. He scored a touchdown by executing a kickoff, threw two precise passes to set up a touchdown. Almost single-handedly he led Notre Dame to a 27-17 comeback victory.

Gip paid a price for the performance that day. He was tired, pale, and a little bloody. His distress was so obvious that the West Point crowd stood and watched him in amazement as he left the field.

There were four games left in the season. A clean sweep would give Notre Dame a shot at the national championship.

Purdue fell 28-0. In Indiana the following week, Gipp suffered a shoulder dislocation that makes him bench with bandages. The Hoosiers built a 10-0 lead, which they held in the fourth quarter.

The Irish advanced to the 2-yard line, but stalled. Gipp jumped off the bench and yelled at Rockne, “I’m going in!”

“Come back! ‘Roared Rockne.

Gipp ignored the command. On the second play, he crashed for a touchdown. He then kicked the extra point and returned to his bench.

On Notre Dame’s next possession, as time ran out, the Irish worked the ball to the 15-yard line. Once again, Gipp rushed from the bench to take over.

He drew back for a tying dropkick to tie the game. The Hoosiers broke in to block it. Calmly, Gipp threw the ball to a catcher at the 1-yard line. On the next play, with the entire Indiana team converging on Gipp, he slammed into the tackle with his injured arm stuck. It was a ruse. The Notre Dame quarterback danced into the end zone with the ball for the winning touchdown.

As the team returned to South Bend, Gipp went to Chicago to teach a high school team how to throw kicks. The icy wind caused pain, fever and a sore throat. Back in South Bend, Gipp went to his sickbed.

The following Friday, against Northwestern, Rockne kept Gipp feverish on the bench until the fourth quarter. Then to the chants of the crowd: “We want Gipp!” – allowed his star to play a few plays – finished off with a 55-yard touchdown pass to rack up a 33-7 loss. .

* * *

On Thanksgiving, Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 25-0 to complete its second straight win-win season, but Gipp wasn’t there. He was in the hospital with pneumonia and strep throat, a serious illness before the antibiotics.

It was clear that Gipp was doomed. On December 14, 1920, he converted to Catholicism and received the last rites. His mother, brother, sister and Coach Rockne watched by his bed, while the entire student body knelt in the snow on campus praying for him.

While I was in a coma, someone whispered, “It’s hard to go.”

Gipp heard him and woke up. “What’s so tough about it?” he said dismissively.

Beyond this, we only have Rockne’s version.

Gipp turned to Rockne. “I have to go, Rock,” he whispered. “Okay. At some point when the team faces that, when things go wrong and the counterattacks are beating the guys, tell them to come in with everything they have and win just one for the Gipper.”

There are doubts that the generally modest Gipp actually delivered the dramatic deathbed speech, but Rockne always swore it was true.

Yet eight years passed before Rockne felt the need to invoke George Gipp’s last words.

It was at Yankee Stadium, New York, on November 12, 1928. Notre Dame had lost two games. An undefeated Army team held regular Fighting Irish to a goalless draw at halftime. In the locker room, Rockne stood up and addressed his tired players.

“Guys, I want to tell you a story that I never thought I would have to tell.”

Then Rockne recounted, in a serious voice, George Gipp’s final challenge. When it climaxed – “Come in and win one for the Gipper” – the players are said to have opened the locker room door and ran onto the field. The Irish played the second half as if the legend of Notre Dame led the way.

At the end of the game, the score was Notre Dame 12, Army 6.

The Gipper had scored for the last time, from the grave.

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