How The Movie “Rudy” Changes The Real Life Story

Athletes | 11/21/19

The decision to make Rudy was made in a very random and fortuitous way. Angelo Pizzo and David Anspagh had success with the movie Hoosiers and were on the lookout for a new sports movie. A brother of their friend overheard Rudy telling his Notre Dame tale and alerted the filmmakers of the story.

To give the movie a bit more drama, Pizzo and Anspagh took some liberties with the actual events. While some changes are major and some are minor, they all had an impact on the final product.

The Movie – Rudy Had An Older Brother

rudy watching football at home
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

In the film version, Rudy had an older brother named Frank. His brother worked at the steel mill with Rudy and his father. Frank was not supportive of his brother and encouraged him to realize that his place was at home working at the mill.

Eventually, after Rudy is able to make the football team and appear in a game for the Fighting Irish, Frank comes around and begins to support his younger brother and takes their father to the game.

Real Life – Rudy Was The Eldest Son

rudy's father in the crowd
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Rudy was actually the oldest son in his family which included 14 children. And he never worked in a steel mill. Following his high school graduation, Ruettiger served in the Navy for two years, then worked in a power plant for two more.

When discussing the movie, Ruettiger said that the Frank character was meant to represent a number of different people who had put him down or underestimated him as he chased his dream of playing for the Irish.

The Movie – Rudy’s Father Wasn’t Supportive

rudy and his father
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

The film begins with Rudy, his father and his family watching Notre Dame on television. The hero of the film, who had just graduated from high school tells his father that he dreams of playing for the Irish and his father laughs at him.

The message is that Rudy belongs in town, starting a family and working at the mill. As he works hard and becomes a member of the football team, Rudy’s father begins to come around and cheers for his son from the South Bend stands.

Real Life – Rudy’s Father Was Supportive

a shot from the crowd in rudy
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Daniel Ruettiger Sr., who Rudy was named for, was quite different from how he is portrayed in the film. While he may have tried to encourage his 5-6 son to have realistic goals, he never put him down when he talked about his dreams.

Rudy, himself, has come out to tell filmgoers that his father didn’t really behave the way he did at times in the film. The character experienced a subtle change to make for a better movie.

The Movie – Rudy Struggled To Pay For School

rudy giving a thumbs up
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

In the movie, Rudy works at a steel mill in the town of Joliet, Illinois. He moves from Joliet to South Bend, Indiana so that he can attend Holy Cross College before eventually qualifying to attend Notre Dame.

Paying for school is a struggle for Rudy as he studies and also tries to make the football team. The homeless student eventually lands a job on the Notre Dame groundskeeping crew and his boss allows him to sleep on a cot in the office.

Real Life – The GI Bill Paid For Rudy’s Education

still shot from rudy with one of his coaches
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

A large part of Rudy’s hardship in the film is his struggle to find both employment and housing. This is eventually solved when he joins the grounds crew at Notre Dame. None of that actually happened.

The film never mentions Reuttiger’s service in the Navy, but that was a real asset when he went to school. The GI Bill paid for both Rudy’s tuition at Holy Cross and Notre Dame and also paid for his place to live.

The Movie – Head Groundskeeper Fortune Took Care Of Rudy

the mentor from the movie rudy
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

In the movie, Rudy had moved to South Bend, Indiana from Joliet, Illinois and did not have much of a support system. He soon became broke and homeless and was eventually helped out by the Notre Dame head groundskeeper named Fortune.

Fortune had been keeping the stadium grass well maintained for over 20 years, but had never actually attended a game there. But when Rudy got the nod to take in his first game, Fortune was there to watch him play.

Real Life – The Was No Fortune

the character fortune from rudy
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

As discussed before, Rudy attended both Holy Cross and Notre Dame on the GI Bill. Since both his education and his housing were paid for, there was no need for him to tend the grounds or sleep on a cot in an office.

Fortune, who has some of the film’s best lines, was created to add a new mentor and foil for the lead character. Ruettiger claims that the character was created to represent a number of different people who supported him.

The Movie- Rudy Spent All His Time Working And Studying

rudy learning his playbook
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

In the film, Rudy does not have much time on his hands. In order to keep attending Notre Dame, he has to work hard at his groundskeeping job and also keep his grades up to stay in school.

And that was on top of his regular practices with the team. The film does show Rudy attempting to tell girls at a local bar that he plays for Notre Dame, but nothing ever really comes of that storyline.

Real Life- Rudy Has An Active Social And Athletic Life

rudy at a bar flirting with a woman
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

We already know that Rudy did not work on the grounds crew at Notre Dame as his school and housing were already paid for. And while at school, Ruettiger took advantage of his college experience.

One thing he regularly took part in where benefit boxing matches called Bengal Bouts. Despite only coming in at about 5-6, Rudy was a fierce competitor in the ring. Ruettiger later claimed he was well known on campus due to his participation in these matches.

The Film – Rudy Attends A Notre/Dame-Penn State Game

rudy lighting candles
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

One striking moment from the film is when Rudy’s hard work begins to pay off and he becomes a student at Notre Dame. The hero had found out that he was dyslexic and having that diagnosis, was able to improve his grades.

To celebrate, Rudy attends a game in South Bend between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Penn State Nittany Lions. The majesty of the stadium reminds Rudy of his goals and allows him to push forward.

Real Life – Notre Dame Didn’t Play Penn State in the 1970’s

rudy in his jersey
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Rudy couldn’t have possibly seen a game against Penn State because the two teams did not play each other while he was attending the University. That wasn’t the only game discrepancy either.

The Notre Dame/Georgia Tech match-up in which Ruettiger took part was shown to be the last game of the season. The Irish played two games following the Georgia Tech bout in 1975. There is also a fan seen holding a Boston College banner. Many of the scenes were filmed during a ND/BC game.

The Movie – Dan Devine Was A Villain

rudy coach dan devine
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

During the film, Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian promises Rudy that he will dress for a football game while he is the coach. Unfortunately for our hero, Parseghian is replaced by Coach Dan Devine who is not a fan of Rudy.

The movie paints Devine as a villain who wants nothing to do with Rudy or his story. It takes a near revolt from his entire roster of players for Devine to turn around and give Ruettiger the opportunity to play.

Real Life – Dan Devine Totally Supported Rudy

coaching scene from rudy
Via Getty Images
Via Getty Images

Coach Devine, who came to Notre Dame from the Green Bay Packers in 1975, was completely supportive of his practice squad player and appreciative of what Rudy provided for the team. He was not someone who stood in his way.

In fact, the idea that Rudy would play in the game against Georgia Tech came from Devine, himself. Prior to the game, the coach declared that everyone who dressed would play in the game, including Ruettiger.

The Movie – Rudy’s Teammates Layed Down Their Jerseys For Him

notre dame players in jerseys
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Late in the film, Rudy learns that he will not be dressing out with Notre Dame in the final game of the season. This irritates his teammates that have been witnesses to his passion and drive over the last two years.

In a stirring scene, each of Rudy’s teammates walks into Coach Dan Devine’s office and lay down their jerseys saying that Ruettiger deserves it over them. The sacrifice from his teammates leads Devine to let Rudy dress.

Real Life – This Sacrifice By His Teammates Wasn’t Necessary

rudy getting talked to by a teammate
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Dan Devine was actually happy to dress Rudy for the Georgia Tech game as a thank you for his hard work. Since the coach was supportive of the player to begin with, his teammates didn’t have to lay down their jerseys.

When the filmmakers approached Devine about the movie, he told them they could make him out the be the bad guy. The former coach, though, was very upset with the jersey scene and felt that it painted him in an unfair light.

The Movie – The Crowd Chants For Rudy Until He’s Put In The Game

a scene from rudy outside of notre dame
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

In the film version, the Notre Dame student body is alerted to Rudy’s story via an article in the school paper. When it is clear that the game is an easy win for Notre Dame, the crowd begins to stir.

That stirring develops into raucous chanting of Rudy’s name by the entire Notre Dame crowd. Moved by the crowd’s reaction, a chagrined Dan Devine is finally swayed and tells the coaches to put Ruettiger into the game.

Real Life – The Crowd Chanted For Rudy But Only After He Made A Play

sean astin from rudy
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Some at the game did know of Rudy and what he meant to the team, but not the entire crowd. They certainly didn’t influence the coach to put the player in a game her otherwise wouldn’t have.

It is more likely the fans noticed Ruettiger when a 5-6 man joined a game full of giants. And the crowd did end up chanting for Rudy, but that is only after he ended up making a big play.

Rudy Is Carried Off The Field By His Teammates

rudy being carried off the field by teammates
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

The movie ends with a true fairy-tale moment. After participating in a kickoff, the coaches decide to keep Ruettiger in for one more play. Getting a great jump on the play, Rudy is able to get into the backfield and sack the quarterback.

The crowd loses its mind. Rudy’s teammates, amazed at his incredible feat, carry him off the field. The film ends by noting that no Notre Dame player had been carried off the field since.

Real Life – Carrying Rudy Off Was Tongue In Cheek

joe montana rudy connection
George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

During an interview conducted a number of years ago, Rudy’s teammate, Joe Montana talked about Rudy’s triumphant moment. According to the Hall of Famer, carrying Ruettiger off, “was kinda playin’ around … I won’t say as a joke, but playing around.”

Another teammate of Ruettiger was Bob Golic who became an actor after many years in the NFL. He joked that he too was carried off the field by his teammates, but only after he had hurt his ankle.