In The Gipper, Jack Cavanaugh casts some doubt on the matter of whether Notre Dame football star George Gipp ever asked Knute Rockne to inspire his team in Gipp’s name. The old story has it that Gipp, near death, whispered to “Rock” that he’d be happy if the coach urged his boys to “win one for the Gipper.”
Cavanaugh points out that while Gipp was alive, nobody except a few sportswriters ever referred to him as “the Gipper,” and doubts that the football star ever called himself that. Still, there can be doubt about the matter.
On the other hand, there can be no doubt about the claim of Ronald Reagan, who played Gipp in “Knute Rockne, All American,” that he interviewed Gipp back in Reagan’s broadcasting days. Reagan was nine years old when Gipp died.
For all the debunking that occurs in the pages of The Gipper, Cavanaugh certainly appreciates Gipp’s talents and his achievements on the football field. He makes a case for Gipp as the greatest player Notre Dame has produced. He also makes a case that Gipp, who never graduated from high school, may have set the record at Notre Dame for number of classes missed. Over one two year period during his football career, he didn’t receive a single final grade.
A lot of the fun of the book comes in Cavanaugh’s presentation of Rockne as a con artist and baloney merchant. In one of his most notorious locker room pep talks, “The Rock” begged his players to win for little Billy Rockne, allegedly seriously ill in the hospital back in South Bend. Notre Dame won the game. Rockne’s teams almost always won. When the train carrying the team home arrived at the station, Billy was excitedly jumping up and down on the platform, healthy as any six-year-old in Indiana.