REMEMBERING RUDY : Golic Reluctantly Sees the Film That He Fears Will Revive Pain of Retirement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bob Golic wasn't sure he wanted to see the movie. He turned down invitations to the premiere and several sneak previews. An aspiring actor since retiring from the Raiders before this season, Golic joked that it had to do with a snub at Central Casting.

"I can't even get a role to play myself in a movie," he said.

"Rudy" is the never-say-quit story of Daniel (Rudy) Ruettiger, son of an Illinois steel-mill worker determined to play football at Notre Dame despite lacking the requisite athletic and academic skills.

Against all odds, Rudy claws his way into Notre Dame, makes the football scout team as a walk-on defensive end and realizes an impossible dream when he suits up for one game in 1975 and plays 27 seconds against Georgia Tech.

Golic was a Notre Dame freshman that season, knew Ruettiger well and was on the field when the real Rudy charged the huddle at Notre Dame Stadium to thunderous cheers.

Yet Golic made up excuses not to see "Rudy."

He also had heard that Dan Devine, a former Notre Dame coach, was unhappy with his gruff portrayal in the movie.

But those were emotional smoke screens.

Golic feared "Rudy" not because he might not like it, but because he might be swept off his feet and fall in love all over again.

Golic--who turned 36 on Tuesday--and football did not part easily last summer when, after 14 seasons in pro ball, he tearfully announced his retirement at a news conference.

"I had apprehensions about seeing the movie because I'm still a little emotional about this whole football thing," Golic said. "I didn't know what to expect. It hasn't been real easy for me."

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Ruettiger, now 45, knew his story was movie material as he was living it. The former insurance and car salesman now basks in the Hollywood glitter as he hopes to ride the "Rudy" wave into a career of motivational speaking.

Ruettiger recently addressed a convention of computer programmers in San Diego. After his 25-minute pep talk, the crowd stood and chanted "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!"

Ruettiger lives about four blocks from the Notre Dame campus. At last count, he had seen his movie 26 times, once at a special White House screening.

Ruettiger also has proof that Golic was smack-dab in the middle of his dream.

"I've got a picture of me being carried off the field, and he's right next to the kids carrying me off," Ruettiger said.

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It's set . Golic agrees to see "Rudy" with a reporter in Torrance. We will meet Tuesday evening, Oct. 19, for the 7:45 showing.

Tuesday comes, show time approaches, and it's pretty clear this is no gala premiere.

Golic arrives in multicolored zebra pants and a long-sleeved black sweat shirt. He has gathered his long hair together in back and tucked it through the expansion band of his baseball cap, making a tidy ponytail.

He is a former nose tackle, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and he has not lost his appetite. Golic stops for a double order of nachos and a large drink.

The lights dim. Asked if he might require a tissue to dab away the tears, Golic gestures to a napkin he got with his nachos.

"If I need one, I'll use this."

Golic then tries to loosen up the crowd.

"I hear he gets a sack in the end and they carry him off the field," he announces, giving away Rudy's fist-pumping finish.

And as the credits roll, so does Golic.

"I heard they were going to get Jim Belushi to play my role," he whispers.

Then, a blast of noisy nostalgia.

"First time I've heard the Notre Dame fight song on a THX sound system," Golic says. "I need to get this for my house."

Sshhhh!

Soon the movie takes hold and the jokes abate. Golic soon realizes that "Rudy" is also a snapshot of his life. Golic was 17 in 1975, one of the youngest freshmen players ever to start at Notre Dame.

His first season had receded into foggy recollection, but it is coming back to him now in Technicolor.

"Our offense broke huddle and it was one of those bright, fall, sunny days," Golic says. "And you could see their helmets just shining. And I remember standing on the sidelines, and I literally almost took a step back and said, 'My God, I'm playing for Notre Dame.' I had been so caught up in it, everything I had to learn and do. I almost took it for granted what was going on."

Ruettiger takes nothing for granted, soaking up his precious seconds on campus, admonishing those who are there for reasons other than for love of school and sport.

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The story of how "Rudy" got made is nearly as compelling as the movie, paralleling the tenaciousness of the film's Rudy.

"Hollywood was harder," Ruettiger said. "It got to the point where you were so committed to it that you were ready to get beat up just like you did on the football field. Every punch, every blow I took in the game, I shook it off. It was sticking in there with the persistence that made them believe this story was worth it."

When Ruettiger first tried to pitch his story in 1982, Hollywood slammed the door in his face.

"People would say, 'It's a great story, kid, but we can't do anything for you,' " Ruettiger said.

As he was against the players at Notre Dame, Ruettiger found himself overmatched against Hollywood.

For one five-year period, Ruettiger actually lost the rights to his own story.

"I fell in with a manipulative con man out there who told me he would get this movie done, but I had to sign away my rights to negotiate," he said.

Ruettiger was down, but not out. He got his second wind in 1986 after seeing "Hoosiers," the movie about an underdog high school basketball team from Indiana that made it to the state finals.

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It is the first movie allowed to be filmed on the Notre Dame campus since "Knute Rockne, All-American" in 1940.

"Rudy" whisks you on a panoramic ride past the golden dome and into the Notre Dame locker room.

"My locker was to the right, next to the door," Golic says excitedly, pointing to the screen.

Players in the film are fictitious in name, Ruettiger notes, because it would have required too much paperwork to get all the releases.

So, there is no Bob Golic in "Rudy." No Joe Montana, the team's freshman quarterback.

Then Golic spots a player in a locker room scene wearing his uniform number, 55.

"That's me," he says.

Golic picks out familiar faces in background shots and cameos. Father James Riehle plays himself as the locker room priest.

"You see little things like that," Golic says later. "You see John Whitmer, our trainer. That was weird."

In one scene, Rudy breaks down and cries after learning he has finally been accepted at Notre Dame.

"That's where we stayed the night before a game, at the Holy Cross seminary," Golic whispers.

By mid-film, Golic is humming the Notre Dame fight song.

In a crucial test, "Rudy" passes Golic's standard for technical football merit.

"I don't know how they did it," he says.

Unlike patty-cake football recreations in other sports films, "Rudy" recruited real football players who weren't afraid to knock heads on film. The game sequences were shot by NFL Films.

Ruettiger, a consultant on the set, did not miss a day of filming.

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Ruettiger decided that Angelo Pizzo, author of the "Hoosiers" screenplay, would be the man to do his film.

With the help of friend-producer Alan Mintz, Ruettiger was able to regain the rights to his own story. By chance, in 1989, Ruettiger was discussing his ordeal with his lawyer in a South Bend hotel lobby when someone overheard his hard-luck story.

"My brother knows the guys who made 'Hoosiers,' " the man told Rudy.

The contact eventually got him close to Pizzo, but the screenwriter wanted nothing to do with the script. Using Pizzo's brother as a go-between, Ruettiger kept hounding Pizzo, calling him regularly.

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Golic recalls Ruettiger as a scrapper who fought to make the scout team, but had no idea as to the depth of his struggle.

"Not only was I a freshman, but I was young," Golic says. "We knew he was a scout guy who was working his butt off, but I didn't know the whole background."

In the film, Ruettiger has been out of high school for several years, resigned to a working life in a steel mill, when his best friend, Pete, dies in an industrial accident. Shocked into a life decision, Rudy packs a duffel bag and heads to Notre Dame, determined to gain acceptance. There, he is befriended by a priest who gets Rudy enrolled at nearby Holy Cross, a community college.

After several setbacks, Ruettiger finally gets into Notre Dame.

But that isn't enough. The pipsqueak decides to try out for the football team.

Through fortitude, and the uncanny ability to absorb punishment, Ruettiger makes the scout squad and spends his season playing the role of practice dummy. Only 60 players are allowed to dress for Notre Dame home games, and Ruettiger, it appears, is never to be among them.

A promise by Coach Ara Parseghian to dress Ruettiger for one game in the 1975 season is dashed when Parseghian retires because of health reasons. His successor, Devine, knows nothing of this deal and Ruettiger's dream appears doomed when he is not among the list of 60 designated to dress for the final home game against Georgia Tech.

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Rudy finally got Pizzo on the phone.

The screenwriter was blunt.

"He said, 'Well, it's a good story, but you know, Rudy, I really don't want to do another Indiana sports story and, frankly, I hate Notre Dame.' "

Others might have cowered. But not Ruettiger. He annoyed Pizzo to the point that the writer finally agreed to have lunch with him in Santa Monica.

Ruettiger and Mintz arrived at the restaurant, but Pizzo never showed. After two hours, Ruettiger looked at Mintz.

"Either we go home or I go find him," Ruettiger said.

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Demanding that Ruettiger suit up in their places for the last game, prominent members of the team file into Devine's office, one by one, and drop their uniforms on his desk.

Golic, for the record, does not remember offering his jersey.

"Uh, must have been the older players," he says defensively when questioned during the film.

Golic is relieved later to learn that the scene with Devine was fabricated.

Actually, four Notre Dame seniors approached an assistant coach, who relayed their feelings to Devine.

The bottom line in the movie is that Devine relents and allows Rudy to lead the charge out of the tunnel on Nov. 8, 1975.

With Notre Dame leading late in the game, players strike up a chant for Ruettiger.

With 27 seconds to play, Ruettiger runs onto the field, sacks the quarterback on the game's last play, and is carried off the field by teammates.

"I remember him coming out on the field," Golic recalls. "I remember the sack. It was incredible. We were all pumped, even us young guys. We knew about Rudy. We knew he was out there working his butt off. He played hard, and didn't let up just because he was supposed to. A lot of times the starting unit would say, 'Don't hit him so hard,' but he was committed to making those guys work."

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Rudy took to the streets, having no idea where Pizzo lived.

"I just wanted to walk," he said. "I was mad. I took a left out of the restaurant instead of a right and left happened to be where he lived down the street, about eight blocks."

How did he know?

"I didn't. I saw a mailman."

Ruettiger told the man he was Pizzo's friend but had forgotten his address. Could he help?

The postal carrier pointed the way.

Ruettiger rapped hard on Pizzo's door.

"I said, 'It's Rudy, and you're late for lunch, Angelo.' "

The meeting did not sway Pizzo, but the seed had been planted.

A few years passed, and Pizzo was having lunch with producer Robert Fried and David Anspaugh, director of "Hoosiers" and Pizzo's college chum from Indiana University.

Fried said he was looking for more stories like "Hoosiers."

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Golic exits the theater a changed man. The nacho napkin was never required, but he is moved.

"As a player who was there, I was excited for him when it happened," Golic says. "And now that I know everything, I'm proud of him. That's incredible."

Golic had worried that the movie would stoke the football flames he has been trying to extinguish.

But "Rudy" has a healing effect.

"Actually, it's been kind of good medicine for me," he says, standing outside the theater. "I've been kind of down about everything, not playing and stuff, and it brings up some really good feelings. Not just memories, either, not just doing this and doing that. But you know how sometimes when something is so deeply ingrained that not only do you look at it and remember it, but you see it, you physically, emotionally can feel what you felt then? The excitement?"

Like looking at a photo album.

"Exactly. This was kind of therapeutic. . . . The reason I didn't want to see it was football. That harkens back to my roots. That's taking it deep. But it actually did some good for for me."

Golic has not visited Notre Dame for several years but decides then and there to fly back to South Bend for the USC-Notre Dame game.

Golic wonders if Ruettiger will be there.

"The movie is incredible," Golic says. "The story is incredible. What he did was incredible. I mean there's no other word for it."

Golic's spirits are lifted, his humor restored. He uncovers only one major flaw in "Rudy."

At the film's conclusion, it is noted that since 1975, Ruettiger remains the only Notre Dame player to have been carried off the field.

"That's BS," Golic says. "In 1978, I got a concussion and they carried me off on a stretcher."

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