Tests show no DNA link between Notre Dame legend Gipp, woman

Updated: November 10, 2007, 9:14 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- DNA from the recently exhumed body of college football hero George Gipp shows he was not the father of a child born around the time of his death, quelling longstanding rumors, relatives said Saturday.

Gipp's remains were taken Oct. 4 for testing from a cemetery near the Upper Peninsula village of Laurium. Rick Frueh, whose grandmother was Gipp's sister, said in a statement he authorized the exhumation, which angered some family members.

The DNA test results were first reported Saturday by The New York Times.

ESPN was notified about the exhumation and sent a camera crew because the network is working on a broader story about Gipp for its newsmagazine program "E:60," network spokesman Josh Krulewitz said last month.

The exhumation and DNA testing "were not something we orchestrated or were responsible for in any way," Krulewitz said.

Gipp died in 1920 from pneumonia and a strep infection during his senior year at Notre Dame, where he was the school's first All-American and set a school career rushing record that stood for more than 50 years.

He is known for the deathbed exhortation attributed to him years later by coach Knute Rockne, who rallied the underdog Fighting Irish by telling them Gipp had urged the team when the chips were down to "win one for the Gipper."

The phrase became a political slogan for Ronald Reagan, who portrayed Gipp in the 1940 movie "Knute Rockne, All American."

Mike Bynum, an Alabama sports author who is researching a book on Gipp, said he came across an Internet posting several years ago by a woman who believed she was a descendant of the football great. She was a granddaughter of Eva Bright, a South Bend, Ind., woman Gipp had dated for about a year before his death, Bynum said.

Bynum said he helped put the woman in touch with Frueh and other Gipp relatives. Eventually, Frueh decided to have the body exhumed. Gipp's right femur was removed and the other remains reburied, Bynum said in a telephone interview.

The DNA testing of the bone was conducted at a laboratory in Dallas. Results this week showed no link between Gipp and Bright, Bynum said.

In a statement, Frueh said he had no regrets about the exhumation and felt it had been important to learn whether Bright's descendants were part of the Gipp family.

"Helping family is the strongest act of love that we can offer each other. And if it happened again, our response would be the same," Frueh said.

But the Times reported that members of Gipp's family were upset over the exhumation and questioned whether Frueh properly obtained legal approval to exhume Gipp.

"I was furious then and I'm still furious. There was no reason for it, and these people really did a disservice to our entire community," Karl Gipp, a distant relative of George Gipp and the court-appointed representative of the estates of George Gipp and his sister Bertha Gipp Martin, told the Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.