Weis embraces intangibles only ND can offer

Charlie Weis continues to embrace the ghosts of Notre Dame past by welcoming Rudy -- who had never spoken to the Irish until last Sunday -- back to campus.

Originally Published: August 11, 2005
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Notre Dame players reported for the 2005 football season Sunday. After checking into their dorms, the first order of business was a team meeting in the theater of the posh new Guglielmino Center.

The purpose of the meeting? Charlie Weis had his team watch "Rudy."

Only natural, right? Notre Dame players watching the stirring story of the little walk-on who would not be denied his chance to suit up for the Irish?

But when the movie was over, Weis took the motivational ploy over the top. And in the process he showed that when it comes to grasping his unique new job, he simply gets it. Gets it better than any Notre Dame coach has gotten it in a long time.

Weis walked to the podium and told the team, "I could tell you what 'Rudy' was all about. But why don't I have the real Rudy tell you?"

With that, 5-foot-6 Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger popped out of his seat in the theater. Invited from his home in Henderson, Nev., to South Bend, Ind., by Weis for this special screening, he'd snuck in near the end and had been sitting anonymously among the players.

"We were just like, 'wow!' " said linebacker and defensive captain Brandon Hoyte.

"I felt kind of bad," said quarterback and offensive captain Brady Quinn. "He was only a row or two behind me, and I was laughing when he was getting knocked on his butt."

Rudy didn't mind. It was the getting up off his butt that made his story movie material.

By the time Ruettiger got to the stage, the players got over their shock and got on their feet. They gave Rudy a standing O.

"They were like little kids," Ruettiger said. "Eyes wide open, clapping and cheering."

Ruettiger, who now makes his living as a motivational speaker, gave the players 15 minutes of Grade A Notre Dame rah-rah.

"You cannot ever quit on yourself," Rudy told them. "That's when you lose it. If you're going to quit now, you're going to quit a lot more important things later on. ... Your belief system must be this university. That's why you're here."

It should be noted that this was the first time Ruettiger had spoken to the team at his alma mater. The movie that made him famous is more than 10 years old and has been used as motivational material for Florida State, Alabama, Wisconsin and other college teams -- but not at the school where it was filmed.

That all changed when Ruettiger picked up the phone one day this summer.

"Charlie Weis here."

"Charlie Weis?" Rudy responded. "You gotta be kidding."

Ruettiger said that Weis wanted to make sure Rudy knew he was welcome to come back, and asked him if he'd speak to the team. You had me at hello was the gist of Ruettiger's reply.

The plan for this August appearance was hatched, and the favorite Fighting Irish underdog officially became a big Charlie Weis fan.

"If you don't understand the movie, you don't understand Notre Dame," Ruettiger said. "Charlie understands Notre Dame."

And he understands motivating young people. This beats castrating a bull, doesn't it?

When it comes to winning the hearts and minds of his players and Notre Dame Nation, Charlie Weis is doing all the right things. We'll see whether he has enough hands and feet to do winning work on the field, but Weis has done a brilliant job of tapping into the intangibles of the Golden Dome.

First it was the tireless tour of the Notre Dame dorms, meeting with students to talk football and reinforce the best student body-athletics bond in the country. Then it was the play to bring back Irish icons Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Tim Brown and Chris Zorich as honorary spring game captains/story tellers/legacy educators. Now he's got Rudy welcoming the players in for fall camp.

What does Weis pull out on the eve of the Sept. 3 opener against Pittsburgh? A sťance to bring back the Four Horsemen?

I detested the way Notre Dame dealt with Tyrone Willingham, firing him with unprecedented haste. But that doesn't mean I was convinced that Willingham was the best coach for the school over the long haul.

Among the problems: He was a dispassionate man at a passionate school.

Charlie Weis doesn't have that problem. His offense might be coldly analytical, but he's not -- not when it comes to Notre Dame. Weis is willing to plant a wet one on the school's spirit and see if he can't make that spirit do some work for him.

The Notre Dame grad is a real-life Rudy -- went to school in South Bend as a regular student, returns as its head football coach -- with a graduate's feel for the myth and lore of the place.

Of course, it should be noted that Gerry Faust had a limitless love of the ND intangibles, as well, and look where it got him. Whistling the fight song on your way to work doesn't necessarily make the work easier. But Weis is bringing an NFL mind and a fistful of Super Bowl rings to campus, not the Moeller High School playbook.

And it's nice to see that a career NFL man can connect with the rah-rah stuff that still makes college football one of America's coolest enterprises. It's been known to work.

Pete Carroll won't hesitate to play cheerleader with his guys at USC. Urban Meyer is a solid bet to sing the Florida fight song with the band and students after every victory, just as he did at Utah. And Charlie Weis isn't afraid to tap into his inner leprechaun.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.