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Coles Phinizy
September 17, 1979
Was that famed line, attributed to George Gipp, a real deathbed request or just a Rockne ploy?
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September 17, 1979

'win One For The Gipper'

Was that famed line, attributed to George Gipp, a real deathbed request or just a Rockne ploy?

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Rockne wrote that Gipp "cared little for female company." Chelland says Gipp had a steady girl named Iris, who told him on the morning of the 1920 Indiana game that she had married someone else. If there was an Iris and the incident occurred as Chelland describes it, she picked a heck of a time to brush off Gipp. On the eve of the Indiana game, Gipp already had a lot on his mind. Notre Dame had gone 17 games without a loss and was headed for its second perfect season. Consequently, Gipp was having a hard time getting down the $700 he had won on the Army game two weeks earlier. On Friday night, according to Chelland, he went to places where his face was not known, and was so desperate that he was willing to lay even money that "Gipp alone" would outscore Indiana. Saturday morning he was offering Indiana plus 15. Still, he was unable to find many takers, and fortunately so, because he played his worst game. Notre Dame's undefeated string and Gipp's All-America chances were both preserved that day by halfbacks Barry and Mohardt, who disliked each other.

The Notre Dame Scholastic reported, "The first half of the game had been a battle royal with the advantage to the Indiana men. They had stopped the widely heralded George Gipp, they had smothered the Rockne aerial attack, they had time and time broken through the line.... At this desperate stage came the change. Barry was substituted for Mohardt and Mohardt for Gipp. There was a brief consultation and perhaps a prayer, and then the 'juggernaut' got underway." In his biography of Rockne, Harry Stuhldreher, quarterback of the Four Horsemen, maintained that it was in this "brief consultation" between Barry and Mohardt that the phrase "Win one for the Gipper" was born. Stuhldreher wrote, "Mohardt and Barry shook hands and said, 'Let's forget our troubles. We've got to win this game for the Gipper who has been saving our faces for a long time.' "

Stuhldreher's account is controversial, and not only because of the image most people have of actor Pat O'Brien, playing the title role in the movie Knute Rockne: All-American, growling out the Gipper line in a halftime speech. Barry remembers his "brief consultation" with Mohardt to have been quite different from Stuhldreher's description. "Mohardt and I usually did not speak to each other," Barry says, "but when I went in, I said to him, 'Listen, you Polack, if you don't knock that big so-and-so end out of the ball park, I'll knock you on your ass.' " On this inspirational note, Notre Dame moved the ball inside the Indiana one-yard line as the third quarter ended. Rockne then put Gipp back in the game to go over for the touchdown. The score certainly helped Gipp's All-America chances, but it did not sit well with Barry, whom he replaced.

"When Rockne took me out," Barry says, "I took off my helmet and threw it at him. He was kneeling on the sidelines and ducked. I walked right out of the park in my outfit and hailed a cab. I had no money, so I told the cabman to see Rockne, the coach, and get it from him."

Gipp had dislocated his left shoulder in the Indiana game, which Notre Dame rallied to win 13-10. On a blustery day the following week, while helping Grover Malone, a former teammate, coach high schoolers, he caught cold. Despite the ailments, which kept him in bed for several days, Gipp traveled with the team to Evanston to meet Northwestern. Even with Gipp sidelined, Notre Dame was leading comfortably by the end of the third quarter, thanks, in the main, to two long touchdown runs by Barry. The Alumni Association had billed the game as "George Gipp Day," so in a strange way Barry once again helped Gipp live up to his reputation. With the crowd—Irish alumni and Northwestern home-comers alike—clamoring for Gipp, Rockne relented in the fourth quarter and put in his ailing hero.

It was Gipp's last scene, and a great one. On Notre Dame's first possession after he entered the game, he passed 35 yards to Right End Eddie Anderson for a touchdown. On the next possession he set an intercollegiate passing record for distance, throwing 55 yards to Barry for another score.

By the following Saturday, when Notre Dame finished another perfect season, beating Michigan State 25-0, Gipp was hospitalized with a streptococcus infection that was later complicated by pneumonia. He beat the pneumonia and rallied for a while, but the infection lingered. In the predawn of Dec. 14, 1920, the lights of South Bend's Oliver Hotel, where Gipp had many friends, momentarily flicked off, signaling his death.

He was a tough stag brought down by the small hounds of circumstance. Barry and five other teammates accompanied his casket north to his home in the Keweenaw, making the last six miles by sled. While hospitalized, Gipp learned he had been picked by Walter Camp as a first-string All-America, the first Notre Dame man so honored. Baseball contracts offered by the White Sox and Cubs were buried with him.

Did the dying Gipp ever ask Rockne to tell the Irish someday, when the going was rough, to win one for the Gipper? Because both men are now dead, the question is forever moot. For sure, at halftime of the 1928 Army game Rockne fired up his sagging, underdog team with such a request from Gipp. And for certain, when Halfback Jack Chevigny plunged over for the tying score in that game, Chevigny did cry out, "There's one for the Gipper!" Indeed, as Quarterback Frank Carideo recalls, at least half a dozen times after a gain, when they lined up in T formation for the next play, he could hear Chevigny behind him saying, "One for the Gipper." Final score: Gipp 12, Army 6.

Rockne players went forth to coach across the land at institutions great and small—at Washington in the Far West and Holy Cross in the East, at Mount St. Charles (now Carroll College) in Montana and at Santa Clara in California and Sing Sing prison in New York. The names that came from this wellspring are familiar to all football historians, and many of them are well known even to casual followers of the game: Noble Kizer of Purdue, Marchmont Schwartz of Stanford, Jim Crowley of Michigan State and Fordham, Edgar (Rip) Miller of Navy. Harry Stuhldreher of Villanova and Wisconsin, Frank Thomas of Alabama, Frank Leahy of Boston College and Notre Dame, Eddie Anderson of Holy Cross and Iowa, Hunk Anderson of St. Louis and Notre Dame, Elmer Layden of Duquesne and Notre Dame—they and a dozen more were all Rockne men. "We coached everywhere," Schwartz says, "but there never was another Rockne."

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