Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger says people have told him that he isn't the most eloquent speaker. That's not exactly a news flash to him. He agrees.
With Rudy, it's never been about the delivery. It's the message.
As he spoke to the NATM audience, he didn't deliver a highly crafted, exquisitely polished intellectual analysis of his “10 Steps to Success.” He just spoke from the heart, chronicling how he went from being the son of a refinery worker — a kid who had dyslexia and was rejected three times by Notre Dame — to one of the school's most famous graduates and the inspiration for the 1993 movie Rudy.
“We put too much emphasis on grades instead of accountability, responsibility, character, courage, and commitment,” he said. “I know of educated derelicts that are smarter than me that can sit there and watch Jeopardy, and I'm sitting there watching Deal Or No Deal, and I'm happier and I get more things done because I'm excited about a chance that I had instead of a chance I don't have.
“You need dreams. You need goals. You need second chances, third chances. You need to get at it, get after it, get it done with a good attitude, good behavior, good thoughts. No goofy thoughts. Goofy thoughts can ruin your moments. Goofy thoughts ruin your dreams. Goofy people give you goofy thoughts. Goofy movies give you goofy thoughts. Goofy reading gives you goofy thoughts. Goofy radio gives you goofy thoughts. The world's falling apart. We have global warming. Our finances are bad. You're afraid to walk out of your house.
“People will give you gloom and doom so they can look like a hero. Don't look for trouble. Don't look for problems. Handle the problems when they come. When they do come, you can handle them because of your attitude.”
Rudy didn't talk much about the moment that made him famous: On the last play of a 24-3 victory over Georgia Tech in a 1975 game — the only game in which he ever played at Notre Dame — the 5-foot-6, 165-pound walk-on assisted in sacking Tech quarterback Rudy Allen. And then he became the only player in the school's history to be carried off the field on his teammates' shoulders.
He talked about how he got to that point.
“If you think things are bad and you quit preparing, when your opportunity comes, you will not succeed,” he said. “You have to keep practicing and preparing, and expect it to happen.
“My moment at Notre Dame was a moment of preparation. The days I didn't want to go to practice, I went. The days I got beat up and got up, it's not how hard I hit, it's how hard I could take a hit and how I could get back up. That's courage. Courage is about getting up. I prepared and expected it to happen.”
He also expected the movie to happen, even though people told him he knew nothing about Hollywood, didn't have a lawyer, didn't have a script, and only made one tackle in his entire career.
But he met a hotel manager in South Bend, Indiana, who encouraged him — just listened, without giving advice. It turns out that hotel manager's brother knew some people who knew the writer/producer team of Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh that had been responsible for the 1986 classic Hoosiers.
“Positive people will help you get to where you need to go,” Rudy said. “Word of mouth. It's who you are. People talk about how good you are. Things happen because people talk. If people like you, they tell people. If you walk around like you know something, they don't want to know you. You walk around like you care, they want to know you.”
Mostly, he talked about dreams that were inspired as far back as his childhood, when he'd watch The Wonderful World of Disney and feel his imagination being sparked.
“Your imagination is your key to your dreams,” he said. “Think about how powerful your imagination is. Where did it come from? When you were born. It was a gift. And you allow people to take that from you.
“You have to have the courage to fail. That means you're willing to try. Most people won't try because they don't want to fail. Your passion is your attitude. That's how you see life. That's how you see things. That's how you take information and how you look at obstacles. You don't go after obstacles. You handle obstacles and adversity as they come because of your determination. You won't allow goofy thinking to get in the way.
“Persevere. All these market studies and analyses people make. Why? It's up to you, not them. Climb that mountain they say you can never climb. You have passion, dreams, and goals. You are literally reaching for your dreams, and people are inspired by that.”