Georgia Tech Blog

A sports blog about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What if Rudy had been blocked?

Before we get to the game, I did want to make note that this is the 40th anniversary of the “Rudy” game, the Georgia Tech-Notre Dame game that inspired the movie about Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger and his story of persevering to achieve his dream of playing for the Fighting Irish.

I’ve wanted to make mention of it on the occasion of Tech playing at Notre Dame, not to offer another review but mostly because I came upon actual footage of the game broadcast on Youtube and found something about the play hard not to notice. The play is at the 1:30 mark.

One, I’ve heard plenty of times he was offsides. It’s hard to tell from the angle – I’d say he isn’t – but it’s almost irrelevant because he had a terrible get-off at the snap. (Which is understandable. His first college game, a moment he had waited his life for, he was probably a little overwhelmed.)

Two, he was unblocked by the right tackle and then the fullback overran him. I spoke with Pepper Rodgers, the coach of that time, last week about it, and he concurred. The tackle blocked down on the defensive tackle on the play before, actually, so it might have been his assignment.

But the fullback didn’t account for him, which gave Ruettiger a free run at Tech’s quarterback, Rudy Allen. So what’s funny to me is, what if the fullback had just gotten a body on Ruettiger?

Presumably, we would never have heard of him. Ruettiger himself wouldn’t have become a sought-after motivational speaker. (He apparently still is in demand, 22 years after the movie’s release.)

But, the other thing is, consider how much a part of sports culture the movie has become. The movie itself didn’t actually do that well – it was 69th that year in box office domestic gross (right between “Guilty as Sin” and “Much Ado About Nothing”). But, here, two decades after its release, what sports fan doesn’t understand a reference to Rudy?

I remember covering Falcons training camp in 2000, maybe, and there was an undrafted rookie free agent who veterans had taken to calling Rudy. Justin Thomas this week said he’d seen it. Thomas wasn’t even born when it came out. It seems any undersized walk-on gets tabbed "Rudy." In more recent years, any blond player gets stuck with "Sunshine," thanks to "Remember the Titans."

It was also, among other things, a big break for actor Jon Favreau, who had a supporting role in the movie.

The other funny thing – the identity of the fullback. It turns out it was Pat Moriarty, whom you may know went on to become the Baltimore Ravens vice president of football administration. (He handles the salary cap for the team.) He is among the highest-ranking Tech grads in sports administration. Moriarty started for Tech for two seasons and played one season for the Cleveland Browns.

He was a terrific player, clearly, and Rodgers had a hard time believing it was him. He just happened to miss a fairly meaningless block at the end of a blowout, a play that would otherwise be forgotten save the power of the movie industry and a story that’s hard to resist. Moriarty's greater contribution to the game is providing the Ravens with a financial framework to win two Super Bowls. But, 40 years ago, he unwittingly helped give birth to a legend and a movie that has become part of American sports culture.


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About the Author

Ken Sugiura covers Georgia Tech sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.