'Rudy' parlays his success on football field into a career

By Tamara El-Khoury, Times Staff Writer
Published February 15, 2008

TAMPA - The subject behind one of the best-known underdog stories ever told is in town. Women and men have cried at his triumph. They've watched the movie countless times. They chanted his name.

Ru-dee, Ru-dee, Ru-dee!

In 1974, Rudy Ruettiger fulfilled his dream to play for football giant Notre Dame despite his small size and not-so-great grades. He went to junior college and after three rejection letters from Notre Dame, he was accepted and walked on to the football team.

Since pitching his story to Hollywood, the result of which was the 1993 movie Rudy, Ruettiger has become a motivational speaker. He's in Tampa this morning speaking to the Florida Adlerian Society, which promotes and studies the ideas of psychologist Alfred Adler. He let the St. Petersburg Times ask a few questions about his life.

What are you speaking about?

Empowerment and encouragement and decisions. Why good decisions can help mental health and why empowerment can help mental health.

Have you met any other Rudys?

We had to write a book because we got so many e-mails from people. ... Matt Damon being the sexiest guy in Hollywood because of the Rudy style.

What's the Rudy style?

The way you do things is not sometimes the way people say you need to do things. There are other ways of getting there. Go to junior college then Notre Dame. ... That's the Rudy style. The back door way to get there. ... Matt Damon had to become a star then a sexy guy.

How much of your success came from never giving up vs. the loyalty of friends and teammates?

You need a combination of that because when you want to give up they don't let you give up. ... It's almost like a team effort once you believe in yourself other people get inspired by you and they don't let you quit.

Notre Dame's football team isn't doing well. How does that make you feel?

Notre Dame always comes back.

Do you ever tire of talking about it?

The movie, yes, but not the message. ... Hope. Give people hope that they can do it. That's the message. Paying the price. Get in there. Don't quit. ... Remember there are other ways of getting to your goal. Most importantly, believe in yourself.