On Knute Rockne and Football

ImageGovernor Coolidge is photographed meeting Amherst’s football captain on Pratt Field, 1920.


As college football season commences and the NFL settles on its concussion suit, it is worth reflecting upon the principles of which the game is supposed to consist. It is more than big jocks slamming into each other for four quarters. It means more than the business of contracts, celebrity and eradication of risk. Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne taught young men the heart of the game was more than all that. The passion for excellence and development of moral strength was the essence of the sport. Coolidge, writing on the sorrowful occasion of the great coach’s death in 1931, offered these thoughts on the man and the abiding worth of what he taught,

     Knute Rockne is gone. As a football coach he ranked at the head of his profession. In the thirteen years during which he trained the Notre Dame team there were one hundred and five victories and but twelve defeats. Five of his teams never lost a game.

     Back of these achievements was a great man, an inspiring leader and a profound teacher. His training was not confined to the physical side of athletics. He put intellectual and moral values into games. He taught his men that true sport was something clean and elevating. Right living and right thinking went into his victories.

     Rockne conducted a course that was only incidental in education. Yet he had a name and fame with the undergraduate world and the public surpassing that of any faculty member in the country. His activities had the benefit of publicity, but that does not account for his hold on young men. We shall find that in his constant demand for the best that was in them. No bluff would answer. Fifty percent would not do. His passing mark was one hundred. He required perfection. That was why men honored and loved him. That was the source of his power (“Calvin Coolidge Says,” April 2, 1931).


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