Originally created 09/06/97

Mike Berardino: Rockne was master of locker-room emotion



SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Knute Kenneth Rockne did not invent locker-room pep talks, but he almost certainly perfected them.

When it comes to pre-game and halftime theatrics, nobody else - before or since - even comes close to the stone-faced Norwegian.

"Rockne's final margin over other coaches came from his superior ability to foresee how much of what kind of stimulation his squad needed when, and to provide it," New York Daily News writer Francis Wallace wrote in his 1960 biography of the old Notre Dame football coach. "He could do this because of his insight into human beings and his ability to transfer from himself to his players the energy needed to keep their emotional batteries at the top level of efficiency."

Rockne's most famous locker-room spiel - "the Gipper speech" - came on Nov. 10, 1928 at Yankee Stadium. With the Fighting Irish locked in a scoreless duel with powerful Army after two quarters, Rockne gathered his injury-riddled team in the hushed dressing room and told the story of Notre Dame great George Gipp, who died of pneumonia eight years earlier.

"`Someday, Rock, sometime when the going gets tough, when the odds are against us, ask the boys to win one for the Gipper,"' Rockne told the team, relaying Gipp's dying message. "Boys, those were his dying words. I've never repeated them before because they were meant for just one game.

"Men, this is that game!"

Notre Dame beat Army 12-6, the highlight of an otherwise disappointing 5-4 season that included a loss to Georgia Tech.

In 1930, Rockne allowed Bert McGrane of the Des Moines Register-Tribune to observe his talk before the Northwestern game.

"Twenty minutes of death-like stillness - then the atmosphere is electrified," McGrane wrote. "Rockne bites off every burning word. He speaks in sharp rising tones. He tells them what the game means. He wants it clean as a whistle. He wants them to fight, fight, FIGHT!

"Rockne's talk requires perhaps 40 seconds. His men dash out. Fifty fighting hearts are pumping. Fighting blood is coursing."

Rockne coached the Irish from 1918-30, compiling a record of 105-12-5. He died in a Bazaar, Kan., plane crash on March 31, 1931. He was 43.