The Ruettiger Hypothesis

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Keep moving forward" is the famous saying by Walt Disney concerning reaching your dreams, goals, or potential. Now, with college football fresh in everybody's mind with the recent passing of bowl season, I find it somewhat impossible not to make a football reference here.

Almost everybody knows the story of Daniel "Rudy" Ruttiger: the walk-on from Notre Dame who recorded three plays in his entire collegiate career. Whether you know it through the lore of the school or through the 1993 movie, the message is quite the same, despite the certain inaccuracy in the film. Yet if you have watched the movie as I have, you will recall the scene when the discouraged Rudy is talking with the head groundskeeper of the football stadium. Ruttiger had just quit the team because he found out that he wasn't dressing for his final game: thwarting his last chance to be on the sidelines in uniform. He had stuck on for two years, preparing the varsity players by acting as a tackling dummy. Dyslexic, he had below-average grades and barely got to college. With help, he enrolled at nearby Holy Cross. While there, he studied hard, slept a spare room in the basketball arena (the maintenance room in the football stadium in the movie) and kept applying to Notre Dame until his acceptance on his fourth and final try.

Through perseverance, he earned a walk-on spot on the scout team. For two years he got his bell rung in hopes that he would one day run out of that tunnel. Games passed and the roster for the final game came out. The name "Ruttiger" was not on there. The movie divulges into fiction here as Rudy WAS on the roster, but in any event, we return to that moment where the groundskeeper, Fortune, is giving a good lecture to the disheartened Rudy.

We learn in this scene that the reason Rudy quit was because he wasn't able to prove to everybody that he was something. Fortune hotly retorts, "in this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself. And after what you've gone through, if you haven't done that by now, it ain't gonna never happen."

It was true; Rudy was 5'6" and weighed 165 pounds, hardly football material. Yet through perseverance he had stuck it through. By studying hard he had stuck it through. And in the end, he did dress. More than that, he played. His third play was the last play of the game, and on that play, he broke through the defensive line and sacked the quarterback. Afterward he was carried off the field.

This story, like many others, shows that you can always do great things once you set your mind to it. But this story, more than others, shows that you can even create potential, just as long as you have the heart and the drive. For Rudy wasn't born as a football player, but through much hard work his wish of running out of that tunnel wearing a Notre Dame Jersey came true. Since it is still early in the New Year, a hypothesis to me becomes clear.

Everybody has the potential to do something great. Even when potential isn't visible, it has been shown that it is important to not neglect the potential of the heart.

It is tragic when that potential is wasted. After all, nobody really knows the extent of what they can truly do. At times we may get a gleam of it and when we do, all it takes is a little believing, a little hard work, and a little moving forward to see the great things we are capable of.