American Football Wiki
Knute Rockne
File:Knute Rockne.jpg
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1888-03-04)March 4, 1888
Place of birth Voss, Norway
Died March 31, 1931(1931-03-31) (aged 43)
Place of death near Bazaar, Kansas
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1918–1930 Notre Dame
Administrative career (AD unless noted)
1920–1930 Notre Dame
Head coaching record
Overall 105–12–5
Bowls 1–0
College Football Data Warehouse
Accomplishments and honors
3 National (1924, 1929–1930)
Career player statistics (if any)'
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1951 (profile)

Knute Kenneth Rockne (March 4, 1888 – March 31, 1931) was an American football player and coach. He is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history.[1] His biography at the College Football Hall of Fame calls him "American football's most-renowned coach." He was a native Norwegian and was trained as a chemist at the University of Notre Dame, where he later coached. He is credited with popularizing the use of the forward pass.

Early life

Knute Rockne was born Knut Larsen Rokne in Voss, Norway to the smith and wagonmaker Lars Knutson Rokne (1858–1912) and his wife Martha Pedersdatter Gjermo (1859–1944). He emigrated with his parents at five years old to Chicago.[2] He grew up in the Logan Square area of Chicago, on the northwest side of the city. Rockne learned to play football in his neighborhood and later played end in a local group called the Logan Square Tigers. He attended North West Division High School in Chicago playing football and also running track.

After Rockne graduated from high school, he took a job as a mail dispatcher with the Chicago Post Office for four years. When he was 22, he had saved enough money to continue his education. He headed to Notre Dame, Indiana, to finish his schooling. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1914 with a degree in pharmacy. After graduating he was the laboratory assistant to noted polymer chemist Julius Arthur Nieuwland at Notre Dame and helped out with the football team, but rejected further work in chemistry after receiving an offer to coach football.

Notre Dame coach


Portions of this section are adapted from Murray Sperber's book Shake Down The Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football

During 13 years as head coach, Rockne led his "Fighting Irish" to 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties, and three national championships, including five undefeated seasons without a tie. Rockne posted the highest all-time winning percentage (.881) for an American football coach, college or professional. His players included George 'Gipper' Gipp, the "Four Horsemen" (Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden), Frank Thomas, Frank Leahy, and Curly Lambeau.

Rockne introduced the "shift", with the backfield lining up in a T formation and then quickly shifting into a box to the left or right just as the ball was snapped. Rockne was also shrewd enough to recognize that intercollegiate sports had a show-business aspect. Thus he worked hard promoting Notre Dame football so as to make it financially successful. He used his considerable charm to court favor from the media, which then consisted of newspapers, wire services and radio stations and networks, to obtain free advertising for Notre Dame football. He was very successful as an advertising pitchman, for South Bend-based Studebaker and other products.

For all his success, Rockne also made what an Associated Press writer called "one of the greatest coaching blunders in history."[3] Instead of coaching his 1926 team against Carnegie Tech, Rockne traveled to Chicago for the Army–Navy Game to "write newspaper articles about it, as well as select an All-America football team."[3] Carnegie Tech used the coach's absence as motivation for a 19–0 win; the upset likely cost the Irish a chance for a national title.[3]

Plane crash

Knute Rockne onboard a ship.

Rockne died in a plane crash in Kansas on March 31, 1931, while en route to participate in the production of the film The Spirit of Notre Dame. Shortly after taking off from Kansas City, where he had stopped to visit his two sons, Bill and Knute Jr., who were in boarding school there at the Pembroke-Country Day School, one of the Fokker Trimotor aircraft's wings separated in flight. The plane crashed into a wheat field near Bazaar, Kansas, killing Rockne and seven others.[4] President Herbert Hoover called Rockne's death "a national loss."[5] A personal envoy represented King Haakon VII of Norway at Rockne's funeral.

On the spot where the plane crashed, a memorial dedicated to the victims stands surrounded by a wire fence with wooden posts; it was maintained for many years by James Easter Heathman, who, at age thirteen in 1931, was one of the first people to arrive at the site of the tragedy.[5]

Rockne was buried in Highland Cemetery in South Bend.


File:Knute Rockne03.JPG

Knute Rockne bronze sculpture in Voss, Norway.

Rockne was not the first coach to use the forward pass, but he helped popularize it nationally. Most football historians agree that a few schools, notably Saint Louis University (under coach Eddie Cochems), Michigan, Carlisle and Minnesota, had passing attacks in place before Rockne arrived at Notre Dame. The great majority of passing attacks, however, consisted solely of short pitches and shovel passes to stationary receivers. Additionally, few of the major eastern teams that constituted the power center of college football at the time used the pass. In the summer of 1913, while he was a lifeguard on the beach at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Rockne and his college teammate and roommate Gus Dorais worked on passing techniques. These were employed in games by the 1913 Notre Dame squad and subsequent Harper- and Rockne-coached teams and included many features common in modern passing, including having the passer throw the ball overhand and having the receiver run under a football and catch the ball in stride. That fall, Notre Dame upset heavily favored Army, 35-13, at West Point thanks to a barrage of Dorais-to-Rockne long downfield passes. The game played an important role in displaying the potency of the forward pass and "open offense" and convinced many coaches to add pass plays to their play books. The game is dramatized in the movie The Long Gray Line.


File:Knute Rockne memorial.jpg

Memorial plaque to Knute Rockne in his birth town of Voss, Norway

  • A student gymnasium building on campus is named in his honor, as well as a street in South Bend and another in Stevensville, Michigan (where Rockne had a summer home on Lake Michigan), and a travel plaza on the Indiana Toll Road.
  • The Matfield Green travel plaza on the Kansas Turnpike, near Bazaar, contains a memorial to him.
  • Allentown Central Catholic High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania dedicated its gymnasium, Rockne Hall, to Knute Rockne.
  • Taylorville, Illinois, dedicated the street next to the football field as "Knute Rockne Road".
  • The town of Rockne, Texas was named to honor him. In 1931 the children of Sacred Heart School were given the opportunity to name their town. A vote was taken, with the children electing to name the town after Rockne, who had died in a plane crash earlier that year. On March 10, 1988, Rockne opened its post office for one day, during which a Knute Rockne twenty-two-cent commemorative stamp was issued. A life size bust of Rockne was unveiled on March 4, 2006.

Knute Rockne memorial on the Kansas Turnpike.

  • The Studebaker automobile company of South Bend marketed the Rockne automobile between 1931 and 1933. It was a separate product line of Studebaker and priced in the low cost market segment.
  • Symphonic composer Ferde Grofe composed a musical suite in Rockne's honor shortly after the coach's death.
  • In 1940, actor Pat O'Brien portrayed Rockne in the Warner Brothers film Knute Rockne, All American in which Rockne used the phrase "win one for the Gipper" in reference to the death bed request of George Gipp, played by Ronald Reagan.
  • In 1988, the United States Postal Service honored Rockne with a 22 cent postage stamp in his honor.[6] President Ronald Reagan, who played George Gipp in the movie "Knute Rockne, All American", gave an address at the Athletic & Convocation Center at the University of Notre Dame on March 9, 1988, and officially unveiled the Rockne stamp.
  • A biographical musical of Rockne's life premiered at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, on April 3, 2008. The musical is based on a play and mini-series by Buddy Farmer.[7]

Personal life

Rockne was married to Bonnie Gwendoline Skiles (December 18, 1891 – June 2, 1956), the daughter of George Skiles and Huldah Dry. They had four children. He converted from the Lutheran to the Roman Catholic faith in 1923.

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Independent) (1918–1930)
1918 Notre Dame 3–1–2
1919 Notre Dame 9–0
1920 Notre Dame 9–0
1921 Notre Dame 10–1
1922 Notre Dame 8–1–1
1923 Notre Dame 9–1
1924 Notre Dame 10–0 W Rose
1925 Notre Dame 7–2–1
1926 Notre Dame 9–1
1927 Notre Dame 7–1–1
1928 Notre Dame 5–4
1929 Notre Dame 9–0
1930 Notre Dame 10–0
Notre Dame: 105–12–5
Total: 105–12–5
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title


  1. Rites of autumn: the story of college football,Whittingham, Richard (2001). pp. 58–61. The Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2219-9.
  2. "Death of Rockne", Time Magazine, April 6, 1931. Retrieved on 23 January 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Robinson, Alan. "Rockne's gaffe remembered", The Daily Texan, Texas Student Media, September 9, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-06. 
  4. The Official Knute Rockne Web Site. URL accessed 03:54, 29 January 2006 (UTC)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sudekum Fisher, Maria. "J. E. Heathman; found crash that killed Rockne", Associated Press, Boston Globe, 2008-02-01. Retrieved on 2008-02-14. 
  6. Scott catalog # 2376.
  7. Playbill News: Notre Dame Coach Gets Spotlight in Knute Rockne Musical in Indiana, April 3-May 11


  • Ray Robinson, Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend (1999)
  • Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (1993)
  • Norsk Biografisk leksikon (NBL)

External links

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