The friend of all: Knute Rockne’s death casts grief over all parts of the nation

South Bend in sorrow – Business is suspended as Notre Dame faculty and students bow in prayer

His a large following – Seldom has a similar tragedy had such widespread reaction

South Bend, Ind., April 1 [1931] — From throughout the entire nation today came to this seat of Notre Dame University such widely expressed sorrow at the death of Knute Rockne and such tributes to his memory as to give rise to this speculation: Was his the largest personal following of any man in the United States?

knute-rockneExpression received at the university, at the Rockne home and at the Chicago residence of the famous coach’s mother reflected far more than the reactions of personalities of the sporting realm to the airplane tragedy yesterday.

Expressions are widespread

Seldom, if ever, has the death of a man who was not engaged in public service or in any official capacity provoked such widespread expressions of grief as that of the Notre Dame coach. From those whose sphere of interest is far removed from the gridiron, and from those who perhaps rarely, if ever, have joined huge throngs in the university and college stadia of the country, came these messages of condolence.

Comment upon Rockne, the man, gave ample evidence how extensively his personality had transcended his own immediate concern with Notre Dame’s football history. Men whom he had coached were eager to tell how the Rockne influence had shaped their lives and their careers long after school days were ended and a sterner quest than that for sports glory had been begun. Recurring again and again was the expression of persons who declared the famous coach their “best friend.”

The city in sorrow

Meanwhile here in South Bend, where Rockne’s fame had its inception in 1911 when he appeared as a football candidate, this community threw aside virtually all its daily concern to mourn its hero. Business was suspended.

The great bell of Sacred Heart church here tolled a solemn, musical note of mourning this morning as student body and faculty knelt before the altar upon which Father Charles L O’Donnell, president of the university, celebrated a solemn mass for the repose of the soul of the man who will become a legendary hero here. Virtually all the Catholic students received communion.

Flags throughout South Bend flew at half-mast today. Wherever groups gathered there was just one subject of conversation, and there were tears in the eyes of those who related anecdotes of “Rock” and expressed their observations of him.

Don Miller, backfield coach at Ohio State University, and one of the famous “Four Horsemen” of 1924, sounded the keynote of the estimate of Rockne voiced by scores after word of his death in an airplane accident was received.

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knute-rockne-on-ship“He was a lovable character whose beautiful personality made him legions of friends,” Miller said.

The idol of millions

He was the idol of millions who had never seen him.

Perhaps Elmer Layden, one of Rockne’s famous “Four Horsemen,” best expressed the way Notre Dame trained players felt:

“I can’t explain the bond between the great man and his players,” said Layden, “as family troubles, football troubles, classroom troubles, all were taken to ‘Rock’ and somehow all became a little lighter after he sized up the situation and gave us his help. Why, if we fell in love with a girl we’d go and talk the whole thing over with him.”

And then there was Tom Lieb, who handled the team when Rockne was disabled by illness in 1929:

“He was more than a teacher of football,” said Lieb. “He was a genius, but more than that he was a father to all of us at Notre Dame.”

Glenn S (Pop) Warner, Stanford’s veteran coach, called Knute the “greatest figure in football today — one man with no enemies,” and Gil Doble of Cornell termed him “undoubtedly the most conspicuous figure American football has known.”

Mourn at West Point

“We at West Point,” said Maj Philip B Fleming, graduate manager of athletics, “mourn the loss of a man whose sterling qualities endeared him to all persons who had the privilege of knowing him.”

William J Bingham of Harvard called him “one of the greatest football coaches the game has ever produced; I will always think of him as one of the finest, best and truest friends a man ever possessed.”

Sam Willaman, head football coach at Ohio State University:

“His death removes one of the finest characters in college football circles and it will be years, and perhaps never, that a man of Rockne’s ability and caliber will be found.”

Joe Meyer, head football coach at Xavier University, Cincinnati:

“Rockne was a lovable character. During my college days at Notre Dame and while serving as a freshman coach I numbered Rockne among the men I knew best.”

Loss to sport world

LW St John, athletic director, Ohio State University:



rockne-child“The death of Knute Rockne is an irreparable loss not only to Notre Dame, but to the world of intercollegiate sports.”

Dr JW Wilce, former football coach at Ohio State University:

“There never will be another one quite like Rockne. His contributions to the game were tremendous.”

Gordon Locke, director of athletics of Western Reserve University:

“Coach Rockne was without doubt the most brilliant and successful football coach in the country.”

“Unquestionably the greatest of football teachers,” said Mal Stevens of Yale. “His delightful sense of humor, his quick sympathy for a fallen adversary, his indomitable spirit are more than a legend and will carry on as an inspiration to all who love the game of football.”

And so the tributes poured in from the West, the South, the East, the middle West — mourning the passing of a sportsman and a gentleman, whose football genius lives in the teachings of ex-pupils from Yale in the East to St Mary’s in the West.


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About this story

Source publication: Kansas City Star

Source publication date: April 1, 1931

Filed under: 1930s, Newspapers, Notable people, Sports

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