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'Rudy' Uses His Story to Inspire Hometown Crowd

Joliet native Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger spoke to a crowd at Joliet Catholic Academy Tuesday about his life and the movie inspired by his playing football for the University of Notre Dame.

Daniel Ruettiger's met presidents and received honorary degrees, rubbed elbows with movie stars and seen his life story up on the big screen.

Monday night he threw out the first pitch at the White Sox game.

Not bad for a kid from Joliet's East Side who most people know by his nickname: Rudy.

Ruettiger made a sentimental trip back to his alma mater Joliet Catholic Academy Tuesday night to regale an audience of more than 100 with stories of his life and to promote his new autobiography, Rudy: My Story.

His one-hour talk bounced from topic to topic: How they cast the 1993 movie Rudy, which was inspired by his desire to play on the University of Notre Dame football team; how he thought going to Notre Dame would be his ticket to heaven; and how he explained to his 10-year-old son that dyslexia was actually a good thing.

Throughout, however, he returned to two themes -- to not let people who say "you can't" stop you from pursuing your dreams and to embrace the joy of finding something that inspires you.

"You need to watch movies that inspire you, listen to songs that inspire you," Ruettiger, 64, said. "(For me) it all started with someone saying, 'We can do this Rudy. We'll figure it out.'"

Now a motivational speaker, Ruettiger's best known for the story that inspired the movie: His ambition to attend Notre Dame and to play on their football team. At just 5-foot-6 and a lousy student, it was a goal no one thought he would achieve.

But Ruettiger did get into the school after four attempts and, as the movie shows, got his shot at gridiron glory when the coach put him in for the final three plays of the last home game of the 1974 season. He scored a sack, and his teammates triumphantly carried him off the field on their shoulders.

When he was in the locker room after the game, a sports writer said to him, "This only happens in Hollywood."

"He didn't know he was giving me a new dream," Ruettiger said.

It was kernal of an idea until he saw the movie Rocky, and it dawned on him that his own Rocky-like story that would make a great film.

It took him years of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, going as far as to get a mailman to tell him where a screenplay writer's home was so he could make his plea in person, he said.

Ruettiger said he was particularly proud that his movie helped other achieve their dreams as well. Actor Sean Astin, for example, would later be cast in the Lord of the Rings trilogy after the director saw him play the title role in Rudy, he said. Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, unknown actors at the time, met when they were cast in Rudy and would go on to not only collaborate on such films as Swingers but achieve independent fame as actors and directors.

"If I didn't push to make the movie, I wouldn't have created all of these opportunities for others to have their dreams," Ruettiger said.

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