• Rudy: “But I’ve come to realize that God made some people out to be football players and that I’m not one of them.”
  • Ara Parseghian: “I wish God would put your heart in some of my players bodies.”

If you are having football withdrawal missing the traditional Turkey Day Homecoming games at your local high school today, then I recommend curling up on the sofa to watch the feel-good classic, “Rudy”. If “The Blind Side” is the quintessential gridiron film about leadership and management, “Rudy” is its equal for the theme of embracing failure.

  • ·Ever since I was a kid I wanted to go to school here. And ever since I was a kid everyone around me said it couldn’t be done. I always listened to them.”

One of the sub-themes I’ve explored in embracing failure is the death of dreams. “Rudy” is like a horror film from this perspective as his dream is regularly assaulted and beaten for two straight hours. But like a good cinematic hero, it never really dies. And throughout the ordeal, the conundrum of when to pursue a dream and when to let it go is vividly portrayed.

  • “Chasing a dream causes you and everyone around you heartache.” – Rudy’s Dad
  • “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.” – Rudy’s best friend’s Dad

The finale seems to put the “Hail Mary Full of Grace” into a Hail Mary pass to secure victory for his dream. But the key to his triumph is really in the adaptability of his dreaming and finding appreciation in what he can achieve. As his groundskeeper boss, Fortune, admonishes him:

  • You’re 5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’, and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. And you’re gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself. And after what you’ve gone through, if you haven’t done that by now, it ain’t gonna never happen. Now go on back.”

Fortune is just one of a massive squad of characters who support Rudy with a thousand small kindnesses in his brutal odyssey. His childhood mate Pete (whose support is exemplified by his gift of a “Notre Dame” jacket literally worn by Rudy the entire film), his college friend D-Bob tutoring him, the groundskeeper Fortune hiring and lodging him, Father Cavanaugh guiding and lobbying for him, even the parking lot attendant who helps him with his ridiculous request as a ridiculous hour. All the way to the stirring finale with the entire squad supporting him (later building to an entire stadium):

  • Steele: I want Rudy to dress in my place Coach. He deserves it.
  • Dan Devine: Don’t be ridiculous, Georgia Tech is one of the top offensive teams in the country. You are an All-American and our Captain, act like it!
  • · Steele: I believe I am. [lays his jersey down on Devine’s desk and walks out]

As this blog underscores, it is no surprising that such an embrace of failure touches on some powerful leadership lessons as well. Those familiar with the Blanchard Model of Leadership will be familiar with his often overlooked “Supporting Leader” persona. While the story is ostensibly about the all pressures against Rudy in pursuing his dream, in actuality the cast is a collection of people who show leadership through support. But the paragon of demonstrating supportive leadership comes from none other than the protagonist himself:

  • Mateus: Do you understand that if you don’t cool it out there you’re going to get yourself killed?
  • Rudy: If I cool it out there, then I won’t be helping you guys win next week’s game. Got it?

In the end, while his performance on the field is a nearly non-stop litany of failure, it is his spirit in embracing that failure that has more of a legendary impact on the team and the university than any spectacular catch, tackle or run:

  • Jamie O’Hara: Last practice of the season and this asshole thinks it’s the Super Bowl! [referring to Rudy’s energetic work in practice]
  • · Ara Parseghian: You just summed up your entire sorry career here in one sentence! If you had a tenth of the heart of [Rudy] Ruettiger, you’d have made All-American by now! As it is, you just went from third team to the prep team! Get out of here!”

If the spirit of embracing failure is getting up…with gusto…every time you get knocked down, then Rudy is its patron saint.