President Ronald Reagan is basically labeled “The Gipper” as a result of his film portrayal of the legendary Notre Dames football player. The nickname is so firmly attached to the president that the real Gipper is almost forgotten.
The true story is clouded by the mists of time. His hometown of Laurium, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, maintains a website dedicated to his local hero. One thing is certain: he was born on February 1. 18, 1895 to Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Gipp.
He attended Calumet public schools, but never played high school football. However, he was a complete athlete. He participated in track and field, hockey, sandlot football, and organized baseball. The Laurium baseball team were the Upper Peninsula champions in 1915, with George playing center field.
Gipp had not thought about going to college. However, he was an expert in baseball, billiards, poker, and craps. His greatest achievement was winning a gold watch for ballroom dancing.
A Notre Dame grad convinced 21-year-old 6-foot, 180-pound husky Gipp that he could get a baseball scholarship just by asking.
Beyond these statistics, we must rely on sports historians.
James A. Cox presents a colorful account of Gipp’s spectacular career. It begins on a fall afternoon in 1916 with two freshmen playing baseball on the ball field of a Midwestern college.
Without warning, a football flies over the fence from a nearby grill where the school’s varsity team was practicing. Hit one of the youths. He picks up the errant soccer ball and kicks it over the fence 70 yards away.
Across the field, a coach whistles in amazement and runs up. “Hey you! You with the baseball. What’s your name?”
“Gipp”, comes the laconic reply.
“Where are you from?
“Play high school football?”
“Well, I think you’ll be a soccer player,” says the coach. “Come out tomorrow. We’ll follow you and see what you can do.”
The young man shrugged. “I don’t know,” he says vaguely. “I don’t particularly care about soccer.”
Such was the meeting of Gorge Gipp and Knute Rockne. A few days later, Gipp shows up for a test.
* * *
There was no difficulty in switching scholarships when it was learned that he could run 100 yards in ten seconds, throw accurate midfield passes and kick 60-yard punts with ease. He became an All-American running back.
Gipp established a reputation in his first game out of town with the freshman team against the Western Michigan State Normal. Write to Cox:
“Playing running back, Gipp racks up the yardage. But the score is 7-7 as the fourth quarter drags on with just a couple of minutes to go.
“The Irish have the ball. The quarterback calls the punt formation – kicks wide and plays for a tie.
“Gipp objects. He wants to try a field goal. The quarterback looks at him like he’s looking at a crazy man. From where the kicker will stand, to the opposing goal post, which was on the goal line at the time, it was more than 60 yards.However, the quarterback orders, ‘Punt’.
“The ball breaks, Gipp drops it headfirst to the ground, as was the custom then, gets a perfect rebound and blasts the ball through the uprights. It was a 62-yard field goal that earned an enduring spot.” in the minute book”.
* * *
In the spring of his freshman year, Gipp tried out for the baseball team and became an outfielder. He only played one game.
Ignoring a bunt signal, he tossed the ball over the fence for a home run.
“Because?” asked the manager. “Don’t you remember the signs?”
“Sure,” Gipp replied, “but it’s too hot to be running the bases after one bunt.” The next day he turned in his baseball uniform and concentrated on soccer.
He earned his way waiting tables in the college dining room for food and lodging. He earned money playing in nearby industrial and semi-pro baseball leagues.
He also frequented the pool halls and other low-key dives in South Bend.
A hangout called Hullie & Mikes became his second home. He once said, “I’m the best independent player to ever attend Notre Dame.”
His roommate, Arthur (Dutch) Bergman, explained:
“No one in South Bend could beat him at faro, billiards, billiards, poker, or bridge. He studied percentages at dice and could melt those bones in a way that made the pros dizzy. In three-pocket pool, he was the terror. of the halls.
“He never gambled with other students, although his craps skills helped pay for more than a few of his friends to go to Notre Dame. I’ve seen him win $500 on a game of craps and then spend his winnings buying meals for families in need in South Bend”.
Gipp missed so many classes in 1919 that he was kicked out of school. He took a job as a house gambler at the Hullie & Mikes gambling empire.
Horrified, Notre Dame alumni sports fans flooded the university with complaints. The university gave him a special exam, which he passed, and reinstated him. From then on, Gipp came to practice whenever he wanted, doing what he felt like doing. Nobody complained. Coaches and players knew that he was proudly dedicated to winning. The team revolved around him.
The 1920 season established Gipp as “immortal”.
On a Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame found itself trailing the Army 17-14.
In the locker room, Rockne unleashed one of his famous halftime fight speeches. Gipp looked bored. Rockne turned to Gipp and challenged him: “I guess you have no interest in this game.” Gipp replied, “Don’t worry, I have $500 and I don’t intend to spend my money.”
By the end of the game, Gipp had amassed 385 rushing yards, more than the entire Army team. He scored a running back touchdown on a kickoff, threw two pinpoint passes to set up a touchdown. Almost single-handedly led Notre Dame to a 27-17 comeback victory.
Gip paid a price for that day’s performance. He was tired, pale, and a little bloody. His anguish was so obvious that the West Point crowd stood up and watched in amazement as he walked off the field.
There were four games left in the season. A clean sweep would give Notre Dame a shot at the national championship.
Purdue fell 28-0. At Indiana the following week, Gipp suffered a dislocated shoulder that sent him to the bench in bandages. The Hoosiers built a 10-0 lead, which they held until the fourth quarter.
The Irish pushed to the 2-yard line but stalled. Gipp jumped off the bench and yelled at Rockne, “I’m coming in!”
‘Go back!’ Rockne roared.
Gipp ignored the order. On the second play, he crashed for a touchdown. He then kicked the extra point, and went back to his bench.
On Notre Dame’s next possession, as time expired, the Irish carried the ball to the 15-yard line. Once again, Gipp rushed off the bench to take over.
He dropped back for a game-tying dropkick to tie the game. The Hoosiers stormed in to block it. Quietly, Gipp tossed the ball to a receiver at the 1-yard line. On the next play, with the entire Indiana team converging on Gipp, he tackled him with his injured arm nearby. it was a gimmick. The Notre Dame quarterback danced into the end zone with the ball for the game-winning touchdown.
While the team returned to South Bend, Gipp went to Chicago to teach a high school team how to kick. The icy wind brought aches, fever and sore throat. Back in South Bend, Gipp went to his sickbed.
The following Friday, against Northwestern, Rockne kept the feverish Gipp on the bench until the fourth quarter. Then to the chants of the crowd – “We want Gipp!” – allowed his star to get in on a few plays, capped with a 55-yard touchdown pass to put together a 33-7 victory. .
* * *
On Thanksgiving, Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 25-0 to complete its second straight season of outright wins, but Gipp wasn’t there. He was in the hospital with pneumonia and strep throat, a serious illness before antibiotics.
It was clear that Gipp was doomed. On December 14, 1920, he converted to Catholicism and received the last rites. His mother, his brother, his sister, and Coach Rockne kept vigil by his bedside as the entire student body knelt in the snow on campus praying for him.
While he was in a coma, someone whispered, “It’s hard to go.”
Gipp heard it and woke up. “What’s so hard about it?” he said he dismissively.
Beyond this, we only have Rockne’s version.
Gipp turned to Rockne. “I have to go, Rock,” he whispered to himself. “Okay. Sometime when the team is against you, when things are going bad and the breaks are beating the guys, tell them to go in there with everything they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.”
There are doubts that the usually modest Gipp delivered the dramatic deathbed speech, but Rockne always swore it was true.
However, eight years passed before Rockne felt the need to invoke George Gipp’s last words.
It was at Yankee Stadium, New York, on November 12, 1928. Notre Dame had lost two games. An unbeaten army side held the regular Fighting Irish to a goalless draw at half time. In the locker room, Rockne stood up and addressed the tired players to him.
“Guys, I want to tell you a story that I never thought I would have to tell.”
Then Rockne related, in a serious voice, George Gipp’s final challenge. As he climaxed, “he Gets in there and wins one for the Gipper”, the players are said to have opened the locker room door by running onto the pitch. The Irish played the second half as if the legend of Notre Dame led the way.
At the end of the game, the score was Notre Dame 12, Army 6.
The Gipper had dialed one last time, from the grave.