Rockne’s innovative coaching skills and ability to use the media for publicity helped popularize both the college football game and the University of Notre Dame, and the Norwegian-born Rockne became an American icon.
Born in Norway, Knute Rockne came to America with his family when he was five years old. As he grew up in late nineteenth century Chicago, he rapidly assimilated into the midwestern city’s multiethnic melting pot and quickly discovered such American pastimes as the game of football.
After graduating from Indiana’s University of Notre Dame with honors, Rockne accepted a position as a graduate assistant in chemistry on the condition that he be allowed to help coach football. When head coach Jesse Harper retired in 1917, Rockne took over the team, which he coached through the remainder of his life. Over the ensuing twelve seasons, his teams compiled an exceptional record of 105 victories, 12 losses, and 5 ties, and were honored with six mythical national championships.
Rockne transformed college football into a game that was exciting for spectators to watch by employing forward passes and motion backfields more than they had ever been used before. He changed what had previously been primarily a running game into a contest that favored speed and intelligence. His teams “stretched” the field by constantly threatening to score. Moreover, his personal gift for showmanship and ability to manipulate the media helped bring enormous crowds to see Notre Dame play. His innovations laid the groundwork for the modern popularity of both collegiate and professional football.
Under Rockne’s coaching, the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish teams were also an important symbol of hope to the nation’s
Maggio, Frank P. Notre Dame and the Game That Changed Football: How Jesse Harper Made the Forward Pass a Weapon and Knute Rockne a Legend. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007. Robinson, Ray. Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Rockne, Knute, and Bonnie Skiles Rockne. The Autobiography of Knute K. Rockne. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1931. Steele, Michael R. Knute Rockne: Portrait of a Notre Dame Legend. Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing, 1998.