Knute Rockne (March 4, 1888-March 31, 1931) was an American football player and is regarded by many as the most famous college football coach in history.
Rockne was born Knut Rokne in Voss, Norway, and emigrated while still a child to Chicago, Illinois, USA. He was the laboratory assistant to Julius Arthur Nieuwland at Notre Dame, but rejected further work in chemistry after receiving an offer to coach football.
As head coach of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana from 1918-1930, he set the greatest all-time winning percentage of 88.1ŕDuring 13 years as head coach, he oversaw 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties, and six national championships, including five undefeated seasons. His players included George 'Gipper' Gipp and the "Four Horsemen" â€” Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden.
He died in a plane crash in Kansas 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 aircraft's wings separated in flight after penetrating a thunderstorm and experiencing strong turbulence and icing. The plane crashed into a wheat field near Bazaar, Kansas. On the spot where the plane crashed, a memorial dedicated to the victims stands surrounded by a wire fence with wooden posts. The memorial has been kept up all these years by Easter Heathman, who, at age thirteen in 1931, was one of the first people to arrive at the site of the tragedy.
Rockne was buried in Highland Cemetery in South Bend, and a student gymnasium building on campus is named in his honor, as well as a street in South Bend, 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.
The actor Pat O'Brien portrayed Rockne the 1940 Warner Brothers film Knute Rockne, All American.
Rockne is often credited with perfecting the forward pass. While that is an overstatement, he did play an important role in popularizing the pass. Most football historians agree that a few schools, notably Saint Louis University, had passing attacks in place well before Rockne arrived at Notre Dame. Few of the major Eastern teams used the pass, however. In the summer of 1913, while he was a life guard on the beach at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Rockne and his college teammate and roomate Gus Dorais worked on passing technques. That fall, Notre Dame upset heavily-favored Army, 35-13, at West Point thanks to a barrage of Dorais-to-Rockne passes. The game played an important role in displaying the potency of the forward pass and "open offense" and convinced many coaches to consider adding a few pass plays to their playbooks. The game is dramatized in the movie, "The Long Grey Line."
In 1988, the United States Postal Service honored Rockne with a postage stamp. 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.