Though Rockne's contribution to this memorable afternoon was considerable, it was his coaching, not playing, that led to the erection of monuments to him in widely scattered places. There is one in the Norwegian town where he was born and there are two near the spot where he died in Kansas. There is a
Memorial athletic building at Notre Dame. There is a plaque in his honor on the wall of a bathhouse in Cedar Point, Ohio, hard by the Lake Erie beach where in the summer of 1913 he and Dorais developed the passing and catching skills that beat Army in November. In 1932 the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Ind. produced a six-cylinder motor car called the Rockne. The Liberty ship Knute Rockne served in World War II. A service area on the Indiana toll road is named for him.
He was a much-loved storybook hero, and for love and/or money, a lot of people had a lot to say about him. Within a year of his death in 1931, five Rockne biographies were published. Now there are 11, and about one and a half dozen other books on Notre Dame football that feature him. Two full-length movies were made about his life as player and coach and about the great players he coached. Because the films were Hollywood products, the scenarists took liberties in depicting Rockne's life—but then so did just about everyone else.
Who's to blame? Rockne more than anyone. For all his precision when it came to coaching football, he was at heart theatrical and romantic—and inaccurate. Many of his admirers emulated him, at times even disregarding logic if it happened to get in the way of romance.
Typical of the Rockne biographies hastily published following his death is one by Harry Stuhldreher, the quarterback in the Four Horsemen back-field of 1923-24. His book,
Knute Rockne: Man Builder, begins with a vignette of Rockne on the sidelines at a big away game. As the scene opens, Rockne is seated in a camp chair in front of the visiting team's bench, within earshot of his assistant coaches and substitute quarterbacks. "Watching his team operate on the field," Stuhldreher wrote, "he chatters constantly." As the unspecified opposing team tries an end sweep, Rockne says, "Now they are coming back with the same play. Kosky diagnosed the play properly this time. He's floating wide with their interference. Doing a good job, too. Running low, crossing over his legs, with his arms outstretched, keeping the opponents away from his body. He doesn't necessarily have to make the tackle but he's keeping them from getting outside him. He has chased the runner out of bounds."
If spattered out at machine-gun rate, the above monologue takes about 15 seconds to say. Any back who needed 15 seconds to run a sweep could have been ridden out of bounds by Fatty Arbuckle. But let's just chalk that off as poetic license.
Stuhldreher's sideline glimpse of Rockne in action ends at halftime, with Notre Dame leading 13-0. Considering the names of the players Stuhldreher mentions in other portions of his vignette, the scene could have occurred only at the Pitt or Penn game of 1930. On the Saturdays when Notre Dame played these teams, Stuhldreher was in other cities coaching Villanova against Temple and Bucknell. Stuhldreher's vivid scene must be largely fabrication, and apparently not even he had much faith in his contrivance. After elaborately portraying Rockne as a chatterer on the sidelines, Stuhldreher begins his very next chapter by describing Rockne as "a quiet man who doubled up in a camp chair and twirled a cigar" while watching his men play.
A Rockne autobiography that first appeared as a serial in Collier's in 1930 was published a year later in book form with a foreword by Rev. John Cavanaugh, who was president of Notre Dame in Rockne's playing and early coaching years. Cavanaugh wrote of Rockne's arrival at Notre Dame in September 1910: "He was duly matriculated after severe examination and was assigned to 'the subway' in Sorin Hall. The subway was a group of half subterranean and half superterranean rooms. There he met his roommate.
" 'My name is Dorais.'
" 'Mine's Rockne.'
" 'Evidently we're going to room together.' "