Knute Rockne

Knute Rockne
Position: End
Personal information
Date of birth: (1888-03-04)March 4, 1888
Place of birth: Voss, Norway
Date of death: March 31, 1931(1931-03-31) (aged 43)
Place of death: Bazaar, Kansas, United States
Career information
College: Notre Dame
Career history
As player:
As coach:
As administrator:
Career highlights and awards

Knute Kenneth Rockne (/kəˈnt/ kə-NOOT; March 4, 1888 – March 31, 1931) was a Norwegian-American football player and coach at the University of Notre Dame.

Rockne is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history.[2] His biography at the College Football Hall of Fame identifies him as "without question, American football's most-renowned coach." Rockne helped to popularize the forward pass and made the Notre Dame Fighting Irish a major factor in college football.

Early life

Knute Rockne was born Knut Larsen Rokne[3] in Voss, Norway, to smith and wagonmaker Lars Knutson Rokne (1858–1912) and his wife, Martha Pedersdatter Gjermo (1859–1944). He emigrated with his parents at 5 years old to Chicago.[4] He grew up in the Logan Square area of Chicago, on the northwest side of the city.[5] Rockne learned to play football in his neighborhood and later played end in a local group called the Logan Square Tigers. He attended North West Division High School in Chicago, playing football and also running track.

Rockne as a Chicago postal worker, 1906

After Rockne graduated from high school, he took a job as a mail dispatcher with the Post Office in Chicago for four years. When he was 22, he had saved enough money to continue his education. He headed to Notre Dame in Indiana to finish his schooling. Rockne excelled as a football end there, winning All-American honors in 1913.

Rockne helped to transform the collegiate game in a single contest. On November 1, 1913, the Notre Dame squad stunned the highly regarded Army team 35–13 in a game played at West Point. Led by quarterback Charlie "Gus" Dorais and Rockne, the Notre Dame team attacked the Cadets with an offense that featured both the expected powerful running game but also long and accurate downfield forward passes from Dorais to Rockne. This game was not the "invention" of the forward pass, but it was the first major contest in which a team used the forward pass regularly throughout the game.

Pro ball

Rockne scoring on Army, 1913.

He was educated as a chemist at Notre Dame, and graduated in 1914 with a degree in pharmacy. After graduating he was the laboratory assistant to noted polymer chemist Julius Arthur Nieuwland at Notre Dame and helped out with the football team, but rejected further work in chemistry after receiving an offer to coach football. In 1914, he was recruited by Peggy Parratt to play for the Akron Indians. There Parratt had Rockne playing both end and halfback and teamed with him on several successful forward pass plays during their title drive.[6] Knute wound up in Massillon, Ohio, in 1915 along with former Notre Dame teammate Dorais to play with the professional Massillon Tigers. Rockne and Dorais brought the forward pass to professional football from 1915 to 1917 when they led the Tigers to the championship in 1915.[7] Pro Football in the Days of Rockne by Emil Klosinski maintains the worst loss ever suffered by Rockne was in 1917. He coached the "South Bend Jolly Fellows Club" when they lost 40–0 to the Toledo Maroons.[8]

Notre Dame coach

The Notre Dame Box

During 13 years as head coach, Rockne led his "Fighting Irish" to 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties and three national championships, including five undefeated seasons without a tie.[9] Rockne posted the highest all-time winning percentage (.881) for a major college football coach.[10] His schemes utilized include the eponymous Notre Dame Box offense and the 7–2–2 defense. Rockne's box included a shift.[11] The backfield lined up in a T-formation, then quickly shifted into a box to the left or right just as the ball was snapped.[12]

Rockne was also shrewd enough to recognize that intercollegiate sports had a show-business aspect. Thus he worked hard promoting Notre Dame football to make it financially successful. He used his considerable charm to court favor from the media, which then consisted of newspapers, wire services and radio stations and networks, to obtain free advertising for Notre Dame football. He was very successful as an advertising pitchman, for South Bend-based Studebaker and other products. He eventually received an annual income of $75,000 from Notre Dame, which in today's dollars is millions.[13]


George Gipp (pictured)

Rockne took over from his predecessor Jesse Harper in the war-torn season of 1918, posting a 3–1–2 record, losing only to the Michigan Aggies. He made his coaching debut on September 28, 1918, against Case Tech in Cleveland earning a 26–6 victory.[14] In the backfield was Leonard Bahan, George Gipp, and Curly Lambeau. With Gipp, Rockne had an ideal handler of the forward pass.[15][16]

The 1919 team had Rockne handle the line and Gus Dorais handle the backfield.[17] The team went undefeated and was a national champion.

Gipp died December 14, 1920, just two weeks after being elected Notre Dame's first All-American by Walter Camp. Gipp likely contracted strep throat and pneumonia while giving punting lessons after his final game, November 20 against Northwestern University. Since antibiotics were not available in the 1920s, treatment options for such infections were limited and they could be fatal even to young, healthy individuals. It was while on his hospital bed and speaking to Rockne that he is purported to have delivered the famous,"win just one for the Gipper" line.[18][19][20]

John Mohardt led the 1921 Notre Dame team to a 10-1 record with 781 rushing yards, 995 passing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, and nine passing touchdowns.[21] Grantland Rice wrote that "Mohardt could throw the ball to within a foot or two of any given space" and noted that the 1921 Notre Dame team "was the first team we know of to build its attack around a forward passing game, rather than use a forward passing game as a mere aid to the running game."[22] Mohardt had both Eddie Anderson and Roger Kiley at end to receive his passes.

Rockne in 1921.

The national champion 1924 team included the "Four Horsemen" backfield of Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden. The line was known as the "Seven Mules". The Irish capped an undefeated, 10–0 season with a victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

For all his success, Rockne also made what an Associated Press writer called "one of the greatest coaching blunders in history."[23] Instead of coaching his 1926 team against Carnegie Tech, Rockne traveled to Chicago for the Army–Navy Game to "write newspaper articles about it, as well as select an All-America football team."[23] Carnegie Tech used the coach's absence as motivation for a 19–0 win; the upset likely cost the Irish a chance for a national title.[23]

The 1928 team lost to national champion Georgia Tech. "I sat at Grant Field and saw a magnificent Notre Dame team suddenly recoil before the furious pounding of one manPeter Pund", said Rockne. "Nobody could stop him. I counted 20 scoring plays that this man ruined."[24] Rockne wrote of an attack on his coaching in the Atlanta Journal, "I am surprised that a paper of such fine, high standing [as yours] would allow a zipper to write in his particular vein . . . the article by Fuzzy Woodruff was not called for."[25]

On November 10, 1928, when the "Fighting Irish" team was losing to Army 6–0 at the end of the half, Rockne entered the locker room and told the team the words he heard on Gipp's deathbed in 1920: "I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are going wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy."[26] This inspired the team, which then outscored Army in the second half and won the game 12–6. The phrase "Win one for the Gipper" was later used as a political slogan by Ronald Reagan, who in 1940 portrayed Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American.

The 1929 and 1930 teams were also declared national champions. Rockne was struck with illness in 1929, and the de facto head coach was assistant Tom Lieb.[27] Rockne's all-time All-America backfield was Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, George Gipp, and George Pfann.[28]

Personal life

Interior of Saints Peter and Paul Church (Sandusky, Ohio)

Rockne met Bonnie Gwendoline Skiles, an avid gardener, of Kenton, Ohio while the two were employed at Cedar Point. Bonnie (December 18, 1891 – June 2, 1956) was the daughter of George Skiles and Huldah Dry. Knute and Bonnie were married at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Sandusky, Ohio, on July 14, 1914 with Father William F. Murphy as the officiant and Gus Dorais as the best man.[29][30] They had four children: Knute Lars Jr., William Dorias, Mary Jeane and John Vincent.[31] He converted from the Lutheran to the Roman Catholic faith on November 20, 1925. On that date, the Rev. Vincent Mooney, C.S.C., baptized Rockne in the Log Chapel on Notre Dame's campus.[32]

Plane crash and public reaction

Main article: TWA Flight 599

Rockne died in the crash of an airplane—TWA Flight 599—in Kansas on March 31, 1931, while en route to participate in the production of the film The Spirit of Notre Dame (released October 13, 1931). He had stopped in Kansas City, to visit his two sons, Bill and Knute Jr., who were in boarding school there at the Pembroke-Country Day School. A little over an hour after taking off from Kansas City, one of the Fokker Trimotor's wings broke up in flight. The cause of the break up was determined to be the fact that the plywood outer skin of the plane was bonded to the ribs and spars with aliphatic resin glue that was water based, and flight in rain had deteriorated the bond the point that sections of the plywood suddenly separated inflight. The plane crashed into a wheat field near Bazaar, Kansas, killing Rockne and seven others.[33][34]

Coincidentally, Jess Harper, a friend of Rockne's and the coach whom Rockne had replaced at Notre Dame, was living about 100 miles from the spot of the crash and was called to identify Rockne's body.[35][36] On the spot where the plane crashed, a memorial dedicated to the victims stands surrounded by a wire fence with wooden posts. It was maintained for many years by James Easter Heathman, who, at age 13 in 1931, was one of the first people to arrive at the site of the crash.[37]

The unexpected, dramatic death of Rockne startled the nation and triggered a national outpouring of grief, comparable to the deaths of presidents. President Herbert Hoover called Rockne's death "a national loss."[37][38] King Haakon VII of Norway, Rockne's birthplace, posthumously knighted Rockne, and sent a personal envoy to Rockne's massive funeral. More than 100,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession,[39] and the funeral itself was broadcast live on network radio across the United States and in Europe as well as to parts of South America and Asia.[39][40]

Rockne was buried in Highland Cemetery in South Bend, which is several miles from the Notre Dame campus.[41]

Driven by the public feeling for Rockne, the crash story played out at length in nearly all of the nation's newspapers, and gradually evolved into a demanding public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of the crash.[35][42][43]

The national outcry over the air disaster that killed Rockne and the seven others triggered sweeping changes to airliner design, manufacturing, operation, inspection, maintenance, regulation and crash-investigation—igniting a safety revolution that ultimately transformed airline travel worldwide, from the most dangerous form of travel to the safest form of travel.[35]

PHOTOS: Knute Rockne airplane crash

Ceremony to mark 85th anniversary of Knute Rockne plane crash: Read more here:


Knute Rockne bronze sculpture in Voss, Norway.

Rockne was not the first coach to use the forward pass, but he helped popularize it nationally. Most football historians agree that a few schools, notably St. Louis University (under coach Eddie Cochems), Michigan, Carlisle and Minnesota, had passing attacks in place before Rockne arrived at Notre Dame. The great majority of passing attacks, however, consisted solely of short pitches and shovel passes to stationary receivers. Additionally, few of the major Eastern teams that constituted the power center of college football at the time used the pass. In the summer of 1913, while he was a lifeguard on the beach at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Rockne and his college teammate and roommate Gus Dorais worked on passing techniques. These were employed in games by the 1913 Notre Dame squad and subsequent Harper- and Rockne-coached teams and included many features common in modern passing, including having the passer throw the ball overhand and having the receiver run under a football and catch the ball in stride. That fall, Notre Dame upset heavily favored Army 35-13 at West Point thanks to a barrage of Dorais-to-Rockne long downfield passes. The game played an important role in displaying the potency of the forward pass and "open offense" and convinced many coaches to add pass plays to their play books. The game is dramatized in the movies Knute Rockne, All American and The Long Gray Line.

Coaching tree

Rockne's disciples include:

  1. Eddie Anderson: played for Notre Dame (1919–1921), head coach for Iowa (1939–1949)
  2. Heartley Anderson: played for Notre Dame (1918–1921), head coach for Notre Dame (1931–1933), NC State (1934–1936)
  3. Joe Bach: played for Notre Dame (1923–1924), head coach for Duquesne (1934), Pittsburgh Pirates/Steelers (1935–1936; 1952–1953)
  4. Charlie Bachman: played for Notre Dame (1914–1916), head coach for Kansas State (1920–1927), Florida (1928–1932), Michigan State (1933–1946)
  5. Dutch Bergman: played for Notre Dame (1915–1916; 1919), head coach for Catholic (1930–1940), Washington Redskins (1943)
  6. Frank Carideo: played for Notre Dame (1928–1930), head coach for Missouri (1932–1934)
  7. Stan Cofall: played for Notre Dame (1914–1916), head coach for Wake Forest (1928).
  8. Chuck Collins: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), head coach for North Carolina (1926–1933).
  9. Jim Crowley: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), head coach for Michigan State (1928–1932), Fordham (1933–1941).
  10. Gus Dorais: played for Notre Dame (1910–1913), assistant for Notre Dame (1919), head coach for Gonzaga (1920–1924).
  11. Rex Enright: played for Notre Dame (1923–1925), head coach for South Carolina (1938–1942; 1946–1955).
  12. Noble Kizer: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), head coach for Purdue (1930–1936)
  13. Elmer Layden: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), head coach for Duquesne (1927–1933), Notre Dame (1934–1940)
  14. Frank Leahy: played for Notre Dame (1928–1930), head coach for Boston College (1939–1940), Notre Dame (1941–1943; 1946–1953).
  15. Tom Lieb: played for Notre Dame (1919–1922), head coach for Loyola Los Angeles (1930–1938), Florida (1940–1945).
  16. Slip Madigan: played for Notre Dame (1916–1917; 1919), head coach for Saint Mary's (1921–1939) Iowa (1943–1944)
  17. Harry Mehre: played for Notre Dame (1919–1921), head coach for Georgia (1928–1937), Ole Miss (1938–1945).
  18. Don Miller: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), assistant for Georgia Tech (1925–1928), Ohio State (1929–1932).
  19. Edgar Miller: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), head coach for Navy (1931–1933)
  20. Chuck Riley: played for Notre Dame (1927), head coach for New Mexico (1931–1933)
  21. Marchmont Schwartz: played for Notre Dame (1929–1931), head coach for Creighton (1935–1939), Stanford (1942–1950).
  22. Buck Shaw: played for Notre Dame (1919–1921), head coach for NC State (1924), Nevada (1925–1928).
  23. Maurice J. "Clipper" Smith: played for Notre Dame (1917–1920), head coach for Gonzaga (1925–1928), Villanova (1936–1942)
  24. Harry Stuhldreher: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), head coach for Villanova (1925–1935), Wisconsin (1936–1948).
  25. Frank Thomas: played for Notre Dame (1920–1922), head coach for Alabama (1931–1946)
  26. Adam Walsh: played for Notre Dame (1922–1924), head coach for Santa Clara (1925–1928), Bowdoin (1935–1942; 1947–1958)
  27. Earl Walsh: played for Notre Dame (1919–1921), head coach for Fordham (1942).
  28. John Weibel: played for Notre Dame (1923–1924), assistant for Vanderbilt (1925–1926), Duquesne (1927).
  29. Chet A. Wynne: played for Notre Dame (1919–1921), head coach for Creighton (1923–1929), Auburn (1930–1933), Kentucky (1934–1937).


Memorial plaque to Knute Rockne in his birth town of Voss, Norway
Knute Rockne memorial on the Kansas Turnpike.

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Independent) (1918–1930)
1918 Notre Dame 3–1–2
1919 Notre Dame 9–0
1920 Notre Dame 9–0
1921 Notre Dame 10–1
1922 Notre Dame 8–1–1
1923 Notre Dame 9–1
1924 Notre Dame 10–0 W Rose
1925 Notre Dame 7–2–1
1926 Notre Dame 9–1
1927 Notre Dame 7–1–1
1928 Notre Dame 5–4
1929 Notre Dame 9–0
1930 Notre Dame 10–0
Notre Dame: 105–12–5
Total: 105–12–5
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title

Further reading

See also


  1. "Order Blood Test Online – Lab Tests Portal Login".
  2. Whittingham, Richard (2001). "3". Rites of autumn: the story of college football. New York: The Free Press. pp. 58–61. ISBN 0-7432-2219-9.
  3. "Baptism certificate".
  4. "Death of Rockne". Time Magazine. April 6, 1931. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  5. Cutler, Irving (2006). Chicago, Metropolis of the Mid-continent. SIU Press. p. 75.
  6. Roberts, Milt (1979). "Peggy Parratt, MVP" (PDF). The Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 1 (6).
  7. PFRA Research (n.d.c). "Thorpe Arrives: 1915" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved March 27, 2012.
  8. Emil Klosinski. Pro Football in the Days of Rockne. p. 135.
  9. Portions of this section are adapted from Murray Sperber's book Shake Down The Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football
  10. Fortuna, Matt (July 9, 2012). "Numbers don't tell story of Knute Rockne". Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  13. Kelly, Jason. "St. Knute had a ruthless side too." South Bend Tribune. July 28, 2006.
  14. Dame, ENR // MarComm:Web // University of Notre. "This Day In History: Rockne Takes The Reins // Moments // 125 Football // University of Notre Dame".
  15. "Shaping College Football".
  16. "Leslie's Weekly".
  18. Keyes, Ralph (2006). The quote verifier: who said what, where, and when. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-34004-4.
  19. "Letter From The Publisher". Sports Illustrated. April 14, 1969. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  20. "'Win One For The Gipper'". Sports Illustrated. September 17, 1979. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  21. Keith Marder; Mark Spellen; Jim Donovan (2001). The Notre Dame Football Encyclopedia: The Ultimate Guide to America's Favorite College Team. Citadel Press. p. 148. ISBN 0806521082.
  22. Grantland Rice (December 3, 1921). "Where The West Got The Jump: In Addition To Developing Strong Defense and Good Running Game, Has Built Up Forward Pass" (PDF). American Golfer.
  23. 1 2 3 Robinson, Alan (September 9, 2007). "Rockne's gaffe remembered". The Daily Texan. Texas Student Media. Retrieved 2007-09-06.
  24. "Henry R. "Peter" Pund". Inductees. Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
  25. Murray A. Spencer (1993). Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football. Indiana University Press. p. 278.
  26. Homiletic Review. Volume 102, Page 421. 1931.
  27. Associated Press, "Rockne's Double Keeps Ramblers in Front", The Reading Eagle, p. 14 (November 25, 1929). Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  28. Wheeler, Robert W. (28 November 2012). "Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete". University of Oklahoma Press via Google Books.
  29. "Bonnie Gwendolyn Skiles". geni_family_tree.
  30. "File:Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church (Sandusky, Ohio) - Erie Co. Historical Marker, Knute Rockne Wedding.JPG".
  31. "Around the Bend: Knute Rockne".
  32. "Tom and Kate Hickey Family History: 20 Nov. 1925: Tom Hickey Became Knute Rockne's Godfather".
  33. The Official Knute Rockne Web Site. URL accessed 03:54, 29 January 2006 (UTC)
  34. EAApilot magazine, August 2016
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 Fans & Family Remember the Crash Heard 'Round the World, 2011, by aviation historian Richard Harris
  36. The Gipper: George Gipp, Knute Rockne, and the Dramatic Rise of Notre Dame
  37. 1 2 Sudekum Fisher, Maria (2008-02-01). "J. E. Heathman; found crash that killed Rockne". Boston Globe. Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
  38. Hoover, Herbert, President of the United States, message to Mrs. Knute Rockne, 119 – "Message of Sympathy on the Death of Knute Rockne", April 1, 1931, Washington, D.C., cited on the web site of The American Presidency Project
  39. 1 2 Niemi, Robert (May 17, 2006). History in the Media: Film and Television. ABC-CLIO. p. 210. ISBN 978-1576079522.
  40. Lindquist, Sherry C.M., "Memorializing Knute Rockne at the University of Notre Dame: Collegiate Gothic Architecture and Institutional Identity", in Winterthur Portfolio, Vol_ 46, No_ 1 (Spring 2012), pp_ 1-24 on
  41. "In Search of Rockne's Grave",
  42. Johnson, Randy, M.A. (Ph.D. candidate, Ohio Univ., Athens, OH; certified airline transport pilot & flight instructor), "The 'Rock': The Role of the Press in Bringing About Change in Aircraft Accident Policy.", Journal of Air Transportation World Wide, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2000, Aviation Institute, University of Nebraska at Omaha.
  43. O'Leary, Michael, "The Plane that Changed the World", Part 1., Air Classics, vol.46, no.10, Nov.2010, pp.28-48, including sidebar: "Effects of the Rockne Crash".
  44. Sherry C. M. Lindquist. "Memorializing Knute Rockne at the University of Notre Dame: Collegiate Gothic Architecture and Institutional Identity", Winterthur Portfolio (Spring 2012), 46#1 pp 1-24
  45. The 16-minute film was featured in American theaters as a short feature in connection with "I Am an American Day" (now called Constitution Day). I Am an American was produced by Gordon Hollingshead and written and directed by Crane Wilbur. Besides Rockne, it featured Humphrey Bogart, Gary Gray, Dick Haymes, Danny Kaye, Joan Leslie, Dennis Morgan and Jay Silverheels. See: I Am An American at the TCM Movie Database and I Am an American at the Internet Movie Database.
  46. Scott catalog # 2376.
  47. "Notre Dame Coach Gets Spotlight in Knute Rockne Musical in Indiana, April 3-May 11". Playbill.
  48. List of Liberty ships: Je-L
  49. Knute Rockne, Dick Vermeil and Ki-Jana Carter to be Inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, Tournament of Roses Association, August 26, 2014
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