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In March 1988, a commemorative stamp for beloved and renowned football coach Knute Rockne was unveiled. Rockne was known for helping Notre Dame’s football team become a powerhouse in the sports world and for popularizing the forward pass.
At the ceremony, President Ronald Reagan remembered Rockne and making Knute Rockne: All American.
1. The film was Reagan’s idea.
“Having come from sports announcing to the movies, I said I thought that the movies ought to make the life story of Knute Rockne…. [Pat O’Brien, who was cast as Rockne] told me bluntly that I talked too much and that's where Warner's got the idea.”
2. Reagan wanted to play “The Gipper”.
“…Knute Rockne: All American – how I had wanted to make that movie and play the part of George Gipp. [The] role was a young actor's dream: It had a great entrance, an action middle, and a death scene right out of the opera. But it was more than that. I know that to many of you today, Rockne is a revered name, a symbol of greatness and, yes, a face now on a postage stamp.”
3. The studio wanted a star.
“[Producer Hal Wallis] was, to put it mildly, unimpressed with my credentials. He started by telling me I didn't look big enough for the part. Well, I wasn't very polite, because I told him, ‘You're producing the picture, and you don't know that George Gipp weighed 5 pounds less than I weigh right now’… And then I went home… and I dug down in the trunk and came up with my own pictures of myself playing football in college and brought them back and showed them to Hal Wallis.”
4. Reagan knew the character.
“Well, [Hal Wallis] finally let me do a test for the part, and Pat O'Brien, knowing of my nervousness and desire, graciously agreed to be a part of it and play in the scene with me. Well, of course, I had an advantage. I had known George Gipp's story for years, and the lines were straight from Knute Rockne's diary.”
5. The part was meaningful.
“…the Rockne legend stood for fairplay and honor, but you know, it was thoroughly American in another way. …the Rockne legend meant this… that on or off the field, it is faith that makes the difference, it is faith that makes great things happen. And believe me, it took faith – and a lot of it – for an unknown actor to think that he could get the part of George Gipp.”