How good a coach was Knute Rockne? It hardly matters. Killed in a plane crash at the height of his fame, his 1931 death was dubbed "a national disaster" by President Hoover, and his fable was forever set as a leader of men and the father of the Fighting Irish. Still, this son of Norwegian immigrants was good enough to have deserved most of the legend he so carefully and systematically constructed around himself. In 12 years at Notre Dame, he transformed a regional Catholic college into a football powerhouse of national interest. His teams marched through a stunning five seasons without a loss. When the famed "Four Horsemen" in his backfield flagged, he had the memory of George "Win one for the Gipper!" Gipp, a true reprobate who in no way resembles the sappy deathbed myth Rockne perpetuated, to wave for inspiration. The Rock's knowledge of the game and talent as a coach wasn't nearly as important or lasting as his unabashed ability to promote and market his school, his players, his program, and, ultimately, himself.
A solid sports biographer, Ray Robinson has previously parsed the lives of Lou Gehrig and Christy Mathewson. Here, he takes the stone statue that has come down to us of St. Knute and dusts it off until the cracks are visible. Despite that, Robinson's respect for Rockne and his accomplishments come through clearly both on the field and off. In one telling incident early in his coaching career, Rockne, still several years from embracing Catholicism, stands up staunchly to the anti-Catholic sentiments of an Indiana senator and the KKK. "The more Rockne was exposed to prejudice around him," writes Robinson, "the more he was attracted to the religiosity of his surroundings." Which, in the end, made Notre Dame football not just his job, but his mission. --Jeff Silverman
From Publishers Weekly
Veteran sportswriter Robinson (Iron Horse, etc.) debunks several myths about the Notre Dame football coaching legend. Knute Rockne (1888-1931), he explains, didn't invent the forward pass (although he did increase its use, both as a player and a coach), and it's unlikely that George Gipp, a Notre Dame player who died in 1920, ever told Rockne to utter the famous words, "Win One for the Gipper." Rockne was one of the products of the 1920s, a golden age for sports in the U.S. that produced such stars as Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. He became a spokesman for Studebaker cars and a confidant of New York Mayor Jimmy Walker. Robinson takes a light hand to this controversial figure, who helped build a nationwide following for his school and college football as a whole, noting that his attitudes and behaviors, such as telling jokes that would today be considered racist and his use of professional players in the college ranks, were common at the time. After a childhood sketch, Robinson briefly touches on Rockne's playing career before devoting most of the book to a game-by-game description of Rockne's 12 years as coach, during which his Notre Dame teams, with the help of Rockne's motivational techniques and coaching tactics, won an astounding 105 games while losing only 12. To Robinson's credit, the book is cleanly written and mainly free of sports jargon. But while he does a good job of describing the football culture of the time and, to a lesser degree, American culture in general, Robinson never quite digs deep enough to reveal the man behind the coach. (Sept.)
See all Editorial Reviews
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.