The early life and career of Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger, a former University of Notre Dame football player, was made into a 1993 feature film called "Rudy." He became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on January 21, 2017.
Ruettiger was born on August 23, 1948. He was the third of fourteen children. He played football at Joliet Catholic High School under coach Gordie Gillespie. After high school, Rudy joined the U.S. Navy and served as a yeoman on a communications command ship. After two years, he then worked in a power plant for two years. He applied to Notre Dame, but due to his high school grades he had to attend nearby Holy Cross College. After two years at Holy Cross, where he discovered he had dyslexia, he applied again to Notre Dame and was accepted in 1974 after his fourth attempt.
Ruettiger harbored a dream to play for The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. The head coach encouraged walk-on players from the student body. So despite his size, 5’6” and 165 pounds, Ruettiger earned a place on the Notre Dame scout team, a practice squad that helps the varsity team practice. In his last opportunity to play for the Fighting Irish at home, the new head coach put him into a game as defensive end. Contrary to the movie portrayal, coach Dan Devine told him to dress and Rudy played for three plays: the first was a kickoff, the second was an incomplete pass, and the third he sacked the Georgia Tech quarterback. Rudy is the first of only two players in Notre Dame history ever to be carried off the field by his teammates.
- “That was an embarrassing moment for me because no one has ever been carried off that field. Why are they carrying me off? “Put me down,” I yelled. They said, “No, no, we’re taking you all the way to the tunnel.” Those guys believed in me. Those are guys who were inspired by my work ethic. ... You don’t know who you’re touching by your work ethic and by your beliefs and by your faith. ... You don’t have to go and preach. Just do the work. Go to work. Do the work. Do your job. People see that you are set back, but you get back up.”
Since college, Rudy became an award-winning motivational speaker.
In the film, Rudy played a cameo, appearing as a fan behind actor Ned Beatty, who played his father.
In 2013 Rudy was invited by then BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall to attend a fireside the night before the Fighting Irish took on the BYU Cougars, a game that friends Randy “Rudy” Garn and James Clarke had invited him to. Rudy was impressed by the testimony of the football players from BYU and began asking questions. Rudy’s interest in the Church of Jesus Christ was primarily fostered by his friendship with Randy “Rudy” Garn, a member of the Church. The two men met in October 2005 at the University of Southern California-Notre Dame game, also known as the "Bush Push" in which USC won in the game's final seconds. In the years that followed, their friendship deepened. Both Garn and Clarke attended Rudy’s baptism. Garn performed the ordinance.
On July 10, 2022, Ruettiger spoke to an online audience at an event called "Why I Believe with Rudy Ruettiger." It was streamed on the “My Road to Hope and Peace” Facebook page and hosted by President James Evanson and his wife, Sister Jody Evanson, who preside over the Utah Orem Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He quoted Bible verses, and answered questions for about 45 minutes. He encouraged his audience to not be afraid to follow your dream, believe in yourself, avoid the naysayers, and be true to your faith. “You must always believe in you—that’s the gift the Lord has given you,” he said. “If you don’t believe in yourself, it probably won’t happen because you are going to have doubt your whole life. You got to get rid of doubt and goofy-thinking people. Get rid of all the people who tell you what you can be, and what you can’t be. Go where you want to be, that’s the secret.”
Ruettiger has written three books, Rudy's Insights for Winning in Life, Rudy's Lessons for Young Champions, and Rudy & Friends.