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Notre Dame Football Throwback Thursday: Rockne of Ages

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Rockne Forever!

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Rockne of Ages, by Jeffrey G. Harrell (Author)

I’m always on the hunt for unique Christmas gifts for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans in my life. This past weekend I found a great one. Jeff Harrell has recently (May 2020) published his book on Knute Rockne, “Rockne of Ages,” and I was able to get my hands on a signed copy of it this weekend. If you are like me, and are looking for unique gifts for the Notre Dame faithful in your life, you should definitely check this out.

What is it about you ask?

“‘Rockne of Ages’ picks up less than a year before Knute Rockne’s extraordinary life ended in a Kansas pasture at about 10:45 a.m. on March 31, 1931. Pieced together by a treasure trove of time-period references, including more than 100 time-period newspaper articles and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s official crash investigation report, ‘Rockne of Ages’ shines a long overdue light on the story of Notre Dame’s priest Father John Reynolds. This book’s mission is to uncover the long-lost details that surrounded the epic Rockne plane crash before history swept it under the rug as a tragic accident. Our aim is to present the story through documented and tape-recorded eyewitness accounts, such as Father Reynolds — whose voice is heard saying he gave his plane ticket to Rockne,” explains Jeff Harrell.

Want a little more?

Here is an excerpt from the book:

“Knute Rockne was beat up.”

“Going into the 1930 season, his 13th as head coach at the University of Notre Dame, Rockne’s work-out body moved delicately on a pair of wobbly legs nearly crippled by phlebitis.”

“Twelve grueling years racing non-stop around the clock coaching the best college football team in the land had finally caught up with the legend in his own time. No coach, not Glenn ‘Pop” Warner, not Amos Alonzo Stagg, not even Walter Camp, who was widely considered to be the most important figure in the earliest development of American football, worked as tirelessly as Rockne to build a game for the future.”

“It was Rockne who had perfected the forward pass. It was Rockne who had devised the pre-snap shift. It was Rockne who had installed the first complex passing system to complement the running game. It was Rockne who had not only shaped the modern ball, but designed it with laces and a valve to regulate air pressure to fit comfortably in the quarterback’s hand for passing.”

“Rockne built the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team into a national institution and singlehandedly sold the college football game to an entire nation. Rockne designed and built the 54,000-seat football mecca known as Notre Dame Stadium, a college football hub that has since been expanded several times and now holds more than 80,000 fans.”

...

“The end of the 1929 season saw the Fighting Irish finish 9-0, their fifth undefeated season under his lead. Rockne was a national championship coach for the second time, the first one coming in 1924.”

“When January 1930 rolled in, Rockne flew to Florida to take a welcomed family vacation in Miami with his wife, Bonnie, and his four kids - Knute Jr., Bill, Mary Jeanne, and the youngest, Jackie.”

“His health, particularly his legs, remained shaky. He planned a visit with one of his former players - Charlie Bachman, who was the head coach at the University of Florida - during a stopover in Jacksonville on his way to Miami. But Rockne wrote Bachman a letter saying the visit had to be delayed.”

“‘Did not wire you to meet me at Jacksonville as I could not get out of the berth anyway,’ Rockne wrote. ‘Is there any chance for you to drop down here? We have a great plan for me to sort of vegetate. Will drive up in our car just as soon as I can travel. Have lots of football I have to go over with you...’”

“The Florida vacation agreed with Rockne. He returned home to South Bend before catching a flight in March to the West Coast to conduct business for Studebaker in Los Angeles. He also took time to travel to Seattle, Washington, to partake in one of his favorite leisure activities: golf.”

“Football would remain on hiatus when he returned to South Bend. Again, Rockne was forced to summon Dr. Barborka, who diagnosed the coach with a severe case of bronchitis. Rockne laid low for a few weeks, then caught a train to Rochester, Minnesota, where he wound up being admitted to the Mayo Clinic.”

“By mid-May, Rockne was back home on Notre Dame’s campus. His faltering health prompted letters to Bachman and a handful of other coaching pals informing them that he needed to meet and get their advice. The meeting, he wrote, would be held at 1 p.m. on May 31, ‘... to discuss the problem which affects all of us vitally.’”

“Rockne was not only ill in May, 1930, he was too exhausted to catch his breath from a vacation. The coach was only 42 years old, but hidden underneath that rugged bald head and pug-nose prizefighter’s mug was the body of a worn-out 72-year-old.”

“The meeting with his closest coaching confidants called for a heartfelt discussion over whether Rockne would be able to lead the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for a 13th season.”

“Nine days after that May 31, 1930 meeting at Notre Dame, Rockne traveled to Chicago to attend the Ninth Annual Collegiate Track and Field Championships at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field.”

“The field’s namesake, Amos Alonzo Stagg, had served as mentor to Rockne since the landmark Chicago football and track coach had recognized the teenager as one of the kids sucking wind under the stands after ducking out of a marathon race early. It was a good day for Rockne to take in the collegiate track championships with the coach who had served as a beloved father figure — and to discuss his health and coaching plans with one of his most revered advisors.”

“Just a few short miles north of the South 57th Street stadium up Lake Shore Drive, a series of events began swirling around the corner of Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago that would determine the fate of Knute Kenneth Rockne.”

Want more? Get your copy today!

(I’m not sure I want to give this away as a gift now!)

Happy reading!

Cheers & GO IRISH!