Remarks Congratulating the Championship University of Notre Dame Football Team


January 18, 1989


The President. Well, I thank you, and thank you all very much. Vice President-elect Dan Quayle and Reverend Edward Malloy, Coach Lou Holtz, Members of the Congress that are here, and distinguished guests and players and coaches and the Irish at heart -- [laughter] -- welcome to the White House. My life has been full of rich and wonderful experiences. And standing near the top of the list is my long and honored association with the University of Notre Dame and its legendary hero Knute Rockne. So, I want you know the INF treaty and George Bush's election were important, but having the Fighting Irish win the national championship is in a class by itself. [Laughter] And Lou, what you've achieved in only 3 years is inspiring. Maybe you could coach Congress on the deficit. [Laughter] With Notre Dame going undefeated this season, they might listen to you.


You know, Coach Rockne believed there are no shortcuts to success. Practice and hard work combined with respect for your opponent is the path one must take to achieve the greatest glory. And as Rockne himself once wrote: ``Sportsmanship means fairplay. It means having a little respect for the other fellow's point of view. It means a real application of the golden rule.'' Well, you young fellows here today are living proof of the truth of Rockne's ideas. All of you, coaches and players, have made sacrifices and bore many a burden, and you did it all for one goal: to be the very best.


Well, as I mentioned when I was on your campus last year, Knute liked spirit in his ballplayers. Once when he was working with the four backfield stars who became known as the Four Horsemen, one of the them, a fellow named Jim Crowley, just couldn't get it right. Now, you know, I never tell ethnic jokes -- unless they're about the Irish. [Laughter] But maybe today I can be permitted some leeway. Rockne, who by the way was Norwegian, was commonly called the Swede. He finally got exasperated after Crowley muffed a play and hollered, ``What's dumber than a dumb Irishman?'' And without missing a beat, Crowley says, ``A smart Swede.'' [Laughter]


Well, at this year's Fiesta Bowl, you showed us what you're made of and reached the goal of being the very best. The West Virginia Mountaineers didn't luck into playing you for the national championship. No, just like you, they fought hard all season and earned the right to play for the title of being number one. And just like the Fighting Irish, they're a talented, well-coached team, and they deserve a salute. Their records should make them proud.


And speaking of pride, I noticed that Coach Holtz thought Rockne would be proud of this team. And I'm sure he would be. Right now, I can't help but think that somewhere, far away, there's a fellow with a big grin and a whole lot of pride in his school. And he might be thinking to himself that maybe you won another one for the Gipper. [Laughter]


Congratulations, and God bless you all.


Reverend Malloy. Mr. President, we are extremely proud of this team and of its fine coaching staff headed by Lou Holtz. You have honored our campus twice during the term of office as President, once as commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient, which obviously makes you a Notre Damer, and more recently for the Knute Rockne stamp commemoration. We thought it would be fitting, on this time in which you have honored the university and its winning football team, to make a small presentation to you. Since I'm a little puny, I've asked two of our seniors and leaders this year to bring over a particular plaque that I'd like to read the inscription for. This is Frank Stams and Wes Pritchett. It reads, ``Monogrammed sweater awarded to George Gipp, halfback of the Fighting Irish, 1917 - 1920, presented to Ronald Reagan by the University of Notre Dame.''


The President. I think that's a great sacrifice by the university. But believe me, no one could have it and treasure it more than I will. Oh, thank you very much.


Reverend Malloy. Thank you very much.


Mr. Holtz. Mr. President, it's indeed a thrill for us to be here. It's the number one football team in the country, and we're exceptionally proud of that. We're also exceptionally proud of the fact that we've won an award for graduating 100 percent of our football team of 5 years ago. We also realize that to reach a position such as this you have to be very lucky and very fortunate. We're also aware of the fact that many other teams could have been standing here rather than us had it not been for many good, fortunate things that happened to us.


It's a great thrill to be number one, but it's also a great thrill for any American -- it's a dream to be able to come to the White House to meet the President. I know I speak on behalf of our football team when we say we're deeply gratified and feel blessed to be here. It's been a great honor for us, but it's also a great honor to come here representing the University of Notre Dame family.


We have just a small gift, and we have three captains here, Mark Green, Andy Hech and Ned Bolcar. And we know that you're going to be packing up, Mr. President. [Laughter] We just brought you something that you can pack in. It says ``Notre Dame.'' It says ``Ronald Reagan.'' And it said ``The Gipper.'' We brought you a sweater that said ``The National Championship.'' But we brought you something that signifies a great accomplishment for us. But we consider the accomplishments that you've made since you've been in the Oval Office -- this may seem very small. But we wanted to share our greatest accomplishment with you, Mr. President. Thank you.


[At this point, the team gave the President a football.]


The President. Right guards stick together. [Laughter] This is a great day. Well, I won't find anyone else to throw it to. I'll just hang on to it. [Laughter] Well, I thank you all very much. Congratulations. Thank you.


The idea of guards in the line, instead of charging forward against the other linemen on many plays, backing out and coming out of the line and leading the interference -- and I don't know whether I could have had a football career if he hadn't done that, because our coach copied it. I weighed 175. And I remember one day when the player opposite me on the line would go on to play with the Chicago Bears and then later be 8 years all pro tackle, and he weighed 275 pounds to my 175. His name was George Musso. And I can't tell you how grateful I was to Rockne as I went back out of the line to run the interference -- [laughter] -- made the job possible.


Well, I've got to go to work. Thank you all very much.


Note: The President spoke at 2:04 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Edward A. Malloy, president of the university.