Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10, 1928: For the Gipper

BRONX, N.Y. - George Gipp was one of the greatest college football players in the early years of the 20th Century. Joining the Notre Dame football team despite having never played the game before, he went on to lead the Irish in passing and rushing in each of his final three seasons. His career rushing mark was the Notre Dame school record until 1978. He also led the team in punting and was their star defensive back, allegedly never allowing a completed pass in his territory.

During Gipp's career, Notre Dame went 27-2-3, including a 19-0-1 mark in his final 20 games. At the end of the 1920 season, he was named Notre Dame's first consensus All-American.

For all his greatness, though, Gipp is remembered more for events that happened after his career ended. On December 14, 1920, just a few days after leading Notre Dame to a victory over Northwestern, Gipp died of strep throat. It was while the 25-year-old was on his death bed that his legend began to grow. The day before he died, Gipp is reported to said this to his coach, Knute Rockne: "I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys - tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy."

Rockne held that memory in the back of his mind for eight years, before finally breaking it out when Notre Dame traveled to play Army on November 10, 1928. The Irish had already lost two games that year and were fighting many injuries when they went up against the unbeaten Army team. Before the game, Rockne played his trump card: "The day before he died, George Gipp asked me to wait until the situation seemed hopeless, then ask a Notre Dame team to go out and beat Army for him. This is the day, and you are the team."

Inspired, Notre Dame played its best game of the season. After Jack Chevigny scored their first touchdown in the second half, he said "This one's for the Gipper." Notre Dame scored twice in the second half to stun Army 12-6. They had won one for the Gipper.

But George Gipp's inspiration didn't stop there. In 1940, a young Ronald Reagan played Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American. After playing the role, Reagan was known as The Gipper for the rest of his life. He used that nickname to his advantage, using it in his political slogans as he ran for office. At the 1988 Republican National Convention, Reagan encouraged George H.W. Bush to win the upcoming election by telling him to "win one for the Gipper." The line was used again by Bush's son, George W. Bush, who when running for reelection in 2004 shortly after Reagan's death, said it was time to win one more for the Gipper.

George Gipp probably didn't intend for his name to be used to inspire future politicians when running for office - he just wanted to help Notre Dame win a game after he was gone. It's very likely, too, that Reagan and both Bushes would have been elected without using his name. But because of his connection to Reagan, Gipp left a legacy far beyond what he did on the football field.

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