I hate Rudy. I’ve probably watched the movie two dozen times in my life because I don’t really watch non-football movies, and I get angrier and angrier with every viewing.
I could write an entire book about the problems with Rudy - the shameless fetishization of Notre Dame, portraying Rudy’s teacher as the “bad guy” for not letting him crash a bus trip to Notre Dame for serious students, making the Notre Dame student seem heartless when she kicks Rudy out of the helmet painting club (LOL) for lying about being a student, and painting Dan Devine as a villain for actually doing his job (trying to win) and not wanting to play some walk-on loser who sucks. The list goes on and on. But today, I want to address the most disturbing aspect of Rudy’s personality.
Anyone who played football in high school almost certainly played with someone like Rudy. And we all hated him. He’s the guy who shouts while lifting weights. He shows up to early-morning summer workouts and claims it’s “his favorite part of the day.” He asks the coach if the team can run more gassers at the end of practice. He stays out on the practice field for an extra hour hitting the blocking sled. He tries to be a “coach on the field” and yells at his teammates for not “playing through the whistle.” He makes a dramatic show of hitting himself in the helmet in frustration when he misses a tackle, which is pretty much every play. He always has the defensive playbook under his arm and reads it at lunch. He makes awkward attempts to be friends with the coaches. But above all, he absolutely sucks as a football player and has no hope of ever contributing on the field.
In a just world, there would be no Rudys. High school coaches would have the ability and the willingness to run these asswipes off before they have a chance to poison practices with their overeagerness and “hustling.” But we do not live in a just world. We live in a world where this kind of behavior is not only tolerated, but celebrated. And the most shining example of that is Rudy.
There are countless examples of this in the movie, including the scene where Rudy begs the offensive tackle to “hit me” and claims he should be treated like the defense end for “the Purdue.” But one scene in particular stands out. It is the last practice of the season, and as best I can tell, the third string offense is scrimmaging against the scout team defense. In other words, who really gives a shit? It’s a time to just go through the motions and get done with practice. Instead, Rudy decides to be Billy Badass and goes blowing through the line at full speed and tackles running back Jamie O’Hara, portrayed by Vince Vaughn. If Hollywood had any sense of fairness, O’Hara would have kicked Rudy’s ass on the spot, and Notre Dame’s head coach, Ara Parseghian, would have thrown Rudy off the team for good.
That doesn’t happen. Instead, we have Parseghian self-righteously lecturing O’Hara about his own lack of hustle and Rudy’s “heart” and then demoting O’Hara to the “prep team” for doing the right thing.
It’s a scene that makes me shake with rage every time I see it. As a result of Paraseghian’s lack of a championship attitude and sending a message to Rudy’s teammates that we should praise useless players who “hustle,” Dan Devine is forced to deal with a near mutiny the next year when he correctly concludes that Rudy shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an actual game.
The scene has had some practical value for me. I show Rudy to my youth football team every year and explain to them that if any of them act like that, they will be forced to wade through the copperhead-infested creek in the woods near the field. If Ara Parseghian had done the same, Notre Dame might have more than one national championship since the ‘70s.