The Notre Dame football team, inspired by gridiron star George Gipp and the most famous halftime pep talk in sports history, rallied to upset the undefeated army in front of 85 000 fans at Yankee Stadium on this day in history, November 10, 1928.
Legendary head coach Knute Rockne’s impassioned “Win one for the Gipper” speech has echoed through the decades – far beyond the football field – and has entered into American cultural, political and military lore.
The struggling Notre Dame team of 1928, newly dubbed the Fighting Irish a year earlier, scored two second-half touchdowns to come from behind and stun the mighty Cadets, 12-6.
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“Rockne was trying to salvage something from his worst season as a coach at Notre Dame,” the University of Notre Dame records note.
Rockne lost just 12 games in 13 seasons as head coach of Notre Dame – including four in 1928. Army had dominated on their way to a 6-0 start that year and only lost only two games since 1925.
“To inspire the players, [Rockne] told them the story of the tragic death of Notre Dame’s greatest player, George Gipp,” the University noted.
“The Gipper” was the all-around star of Rockne’s dynamic teams in the early 1918-1920s; he was famous for his tough lifestyle off the pitch and his dominance on it.
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Gipp suffered from pneumonia at the end of the 1920 season and died suddenly that year, on December 14. The Michigan native, who excelled in running, passing and kicking, was just 25 years old.
Her alleged deathbed request from Rockne for the team to win a game in her memory entered the lexicon of American pop culture when she appeared in the star-studded 1940 film, “Knute Rockne: All American.”
Hollywood leader Ronald Reagan played Gipp.
“I have nothing to say to the world, Rock. I’m not afraid,” the future president whispered from his bed into the ear of the coach, played by Pat O’Brien, describing the last hours of Gipp’s life.
He then implores the coach with a 1940s Hollywood melodrama, as Rockne holds his hand: “Rock, someday when the team’s against them and the breaks beat the boys, have them go with it. all they have and to win just one for the Gipper.”
“George Gipp was a man I had always admired.” -Ronald Reagan
Reagan treasured the role, adopted the nickname “Gipper” in his later political career, and was known to use “Win one for the Gipper” as a campaign rallying cry.
Gipp was “a man I had always admired” and “one of the greatest football players of all time,” the actor wrote years later in an article for the Saturday Evening Post.
The real Rockne waited eight years – sickly and confined to a wheelchair – for the right time to tell the story of the Gipper’s supposed dying wish on his upgraded team.
“Men, it’s that day! Let’s go! Notre Dame star halfback Jack Chevigny allegedly screamed as the Irish stormed out of the locker room after hearing Rockne’s impassioned plea, according to multiple accounts.
Whether or not Gipp’s deathbed request was real, the tactic worked brilliantly.
The inferior Fighting Irish roared to overcome a 6-0 deficit and shock the army.
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“That’s one for the Gipper!” Chevigny screamed after scoring a touchdown to tie the game at 6-6.
Chevigny later became a Notre Dame assistant and NFL and college head coach. He was the head coach at the University of Texas when the Longhorns upset Notre Dame, 7-6, in 1934.
He continued to more heroism off the pitch.
Chevigny joined the Marine Corps in 1943 as a 37-year-old officer. He was killed on February 19, 1945, the first day of combat on Iwo Jima.
Game legend “Win one for the Gipper” followed the war hero into death.
Stories swirled for years that he carried a cherished souvenir pen with him, given to him after Texas defeated Notre Dame, with an inscription dedicated to his victory over his alma mater.
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Legend claims the pen was pulled from his body by an enemy soldier and appeared in the hands of a Japanese officer aboard the USS Missouri during surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay on September 2. 1945.
The story has been largely debunked, but it bears witness to the game’s impact on the identities of the men it immortalized.
There are real examples of the game’s impact on US military history: Gipp, Rockne and Reagan all had US Navy ships named in their honor.
The SS Gipp and SS Rockne were Liberty Ships that saw service in World War II.
The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered super aircraft carrier, patrols the world’s oceans today in defense of America.
The 1928 Notre Dame-Army game was the biggest sporting event in America that year, played in New York and covered by the best journalists of their time, like Damon Runyon.
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The caption “Win one for the Gipper” came to overshadow the sporting spectacle that unfolded at Yankee Stadium that day.
“Even without the Gipper mythology that followed, it was considered one of the greatest college football games ever played,” Sports Illustrated reported in 2014.