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Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football Paperback – August 13, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 664 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (August 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253215684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253215680
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #919,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Sperber (English, Indiana Univ.) chronicles Notre Dame and its football dynasty, from the institution's early days as a small school founded by French priests to the hiring of coach Frank Leahy in 1941. He covers not only the university's football program but the anti-Catholicism and the academic/athletic issues of the period. For the most part, however, he focuses on one man and his tremendous influence upon American sports: Knute Rockne. Sperber skillfully compiled this work by poring through previously uncataloged archival papers, which included Rockne's personal correspondence. Other vibrant personalities, such as Father John O'Hara and Grantland Rice, are also examined, as are the discrepancies between reality and myth in such campus legends as the "win one for the Gipper" speech and the Notre Dame victory march. This volume is destined to become a sports classic. For most collections.
- Albert Spencer, Coll. of Education, Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The Notre Dame football program has long been the flagship of major-college athletics. Its squeaky-clean image, however, has been tarnishing quickly of late, thanks mostly to Yeager and Looney's controversial expos{‚}e, Under the Golden Dome (see "The Manley Arts," BKL O 1 93). Current Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz takes a pounding in that book; here it's the legendary Knute Rockne, of "Win one for the Gipper" fame, who comes under the microscope. Sperber, author of College Sports, Inc. (1990), parlayed access to extensive, previously unexamined Notre Dame sports archives into an incisive portrait of Rockne and the mostly fictional legend that has grown around him. Rockne was not a saint; nor was he a devil. He was a wildly successful coach in the 1920s who virtually created the image of Notre Dame football. He was also self-promoting, ambitious, manipulative, and always willing to circumvent the rules. There was no NCAA to police college sports then, but the Carnegie Foundation--which kept an eye on sports but had no enforcement status--continually reported transgressions at the Golden Dome regarding recruiting, payments to athletes, and class attendance. Sperber reports a self-perpetuating cycle; as Rockne's reputation grew, the administration's ability to control him shrank. Sperber also provides a context for Rockne's years with profiles of the program both before and after his regime. This is an extraordinarily researched cultural history that provides a basis on which readers can build a deeper understanding of the current sad state of collegiate sports in general and Notre Dame football, at least as Yeager and Looney tell it, in particular. Wes Lukowsky --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Peter Kenney on August 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
SHAKE DOWN THE THUNDER is a scholarly look at a sports phenomenon - the creation and early development of football at Notre Dame to 1941 and the hiring of Frank Leahy as coach. Much of the book is devoted to the politics within the university community among the coaches, administrators and influential alumni. It is also a story about the rise of Notre Dame football during a period when Catholics were striving for more influence politically and more acceptance in general in the United States.
The author makes much use of the private correspondence of Knute Rockne and paints a very unromantic picture of the great coach and some of his star players. Based on this book Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum instead of Ronald Reagan are the best choices to play the part of George Gipp in a movie.
SHAKE DOWN THE THUNDER is more of a cultural history than a football story. It contains very little football action. The book is well-researched and shows how both the urge to overemphasize college football and the resulting forces trying to contain it have been in existence for a long time.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Certo on May 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
Dr. Sperber unearthed Knute Rockne's personal and athletic department correspondence in the basement of Hesburgh Library and relied heavily upon it to create this insightful account of the times and tenure of Knute Rockne. Anyone who longs for the old days but wants to know what they were really like will find this book fascinating. Over time, the world has forgotten the way the nation mourned the passing of the great coach. It has also forgotten the genius, showman, businessman, and competitor that produced football's greatest record of achievement.
This book relies upon primary documents to breathe life into old attendance figures, names enshrined in Monogram Hall, and won-loss records. Newspaper accounts of the time and Rockne's correspondence reveal the corruption of the officiating, eligibility rules, and recruiting of his contemporaries but does not absolve him from his role. Preview: "Pop Warner football" should bear a different name.
Shortcomings include the meandering accounts of coaches, trends, and University presidents that can quickly become confusing. I strongly recommend "The Notre Dame Football Encyclopedia" (Marder, Spellen and Donovan, Citadel Press, 2001) as a companion to put the results of critical wins, losses, and seasons into perspective. The author's treatment of individual topics (the Rockne biopick, Geoge Gipp, etc.) separately tends to make the context of the seasons and their results hard to follow.
Dr. Sperber also shows his opions about big-time college athletics too boldly. He describes the "reform" movement of Rockne's era deftly but cannot help editorializing from his own campaigns at Indiana University, going so far as to name Coach Bob Knight in a footnote as an example of sport gone awry. Although his distinguished American Studies background serves him and the reader very well, his views come through clearly.
This book is excellent and provides wonderful insight into how Notre Dame football came to life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Best Of All on December 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
In the 2002 reprint of the early-1990s publication, Murray A. Sperber utilizes unexamined documents from the Notre Dame sports archives and digs even further into unmasking the myths surrounding the beginnings of football as a (inter)national institution at the university.

For example, Sperber found Knute Rockne's personal and athletic department correspondence in the basement of a campus library. And though the rules for recruiting were much different in Rockne's time, Sperber concludes that institutional control became nearly impossible as the coach became a living legend. Some things never change, I guess.

Though Rockne takes center-stage in the history, Sperber devotes ample space to the founding of the school by French priests and the growth of the university during the times of rampant anti-Catholicisim. Go no further than what the "Orange" nickname actually meant at Syracuse University to understand that issue.

Sperber follows the path of the program through the hiring of Frank Leahy in 1941, though his conclusions - as timely now as they were more than a decade ago - takes aim at the money-go-round of major college athletics and the rumblings it can cause in the foundation of the university framework.

In 2006, Sperber presented several lectures on the Rockne legend and ND football, proving the book is still reaching fans and those interested in the college's rich tradition on the gridiron that has made it "America's Team," to love or hate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Jotz on January 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
To most Americans, the idyllic, idealistic era of college football in the early 20th century was summed up by Pat O'Brien as Knute Rockne and Ronald Reagan as George Gipp in the film "Knute Rockne All-American." Sperber's meticulously-detailed and well-researched book debunks many of the popular myths about Rockne that grew from the film while chronicling the growth of college football into a big-time endeavor that is sometimes only tenuously connected to collegiate education.

While the author does not explicitly connect the sport of the 1920s with the sport of today, the cliche about history repeating itself comes to mind again and again when reading this book. College football in the days of Knute Rockne, similar to college football in the present days of the BCS, was filled with highly-paid coaches threatening to leave their team for more lucrative pastures, questionable recruiting tactics, players who spent more time in pool halls than in the classroom, allegations over weak "cupcake" scheduling, huge payouts by boosters for matchups in Soldier Field or Yankee Stadium and other headlines that still appear in modern sports pages.

Notre Dame fans would enjoy an objective, unique story about the most famous program in collegiate athletics, while sports fans in general should also enjoy this revealing picture of how college football was transformed into the multi million dollar behemoth it is today.
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