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There's still interest in 'The Gipper'/Paul Peterson

October 3, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

George Gipp passed away more than 90 years ago. That's an incontrovertible fact, but the interest in the former Laurium resident and Notre Dame University football legend remains just as hot as it was when he died of a strep throat infection in South Bend, Ind., in December 1920.

Just this past week, former Wisconsin journalist Jim Lefebvre was in the area to do research for a book he has in the works about the Copper Country's most famous athletic figure.

Lefebvre was given a tour of Gipp's former haunts by longtime northend historian Bob Erkkila, who probably knows as much about the "Gipper" as anyone still living.

There's been several books about the Fighting Irish star. Some were factual, some were pure fiction.

"George Gipp probably would have laughed himself silly if he was around to see all the hub-bub surrounding him," Erkkila said recently. "From what I've been told about him ... he didn't take too many things seriously."

Of course, Gipp was portrayed by Ronald Reagan in a 1940 movie about Knute Rockne, the famous Notre Dame coach. Reagan - as we all know - used his movie role to good advantage in some later political arenas he did quite well in.

And then there was the ill-fated ESPN E:60 segment planned a few years back.

That project ended up in the courts when Gipp's relatives objected to a TV crew digging up the remains of Gipp to see if he fathered a child not long before his death.

As far as I know, that show will never see the light of day.

I have had the chance over the past 40 years to talk to former classmates of Gipp's when he was attending Calumet High School. The late Peter Baudino claimed that Gipp likely would have played major league baseball.

"When he (Gipp) hit the ball, it made a sound you didn't hear when other players hit it," Baudino said. "And he had a great throwing arm from the outfield ... no one even dared to run on him."

Gipp hit .494 with power for the Calumet town team that won a Upper Peninsula championship in 1919. The Chicago Cubs were widely rumored to be ready to sign him to a major league contract as soon as he finished his ND career.

A talented all-around athlete, Gipp was a member of the 1914 CHS basketball team that won the U.P. championship. He played forward and was noted for his high-jumping skills - vital in those days of the center jump.

The late Joe Mishica once told me that Gipp had no interest in playing football for the Copper Kings. But he remembered a windy day at Aggasiz Field when Gipp, on his way to the pool hall, picked up a loose football.

"He drop-kicked the ball a good 90 yards right through the goal posts with street shoes on," Mishica recalled. "We all just looked on in amazement."

It remains one of the true ironies of the Gipp legend that he never played a single down for the CHS football team.

Rockne actually recruited Gipp after watching him fooling around in a pickup game at Notre Dame. The rest, as they say, is history.

As noted as Gipp was for his fun-loving ways (he was an expert card player and a pool shark) he was all business on the field.

Mishica, who played for Kalamazoo College and had the chance to meet Gipp on the gridiron, recalled a game collision he had with the sturdily built Irish standout.

"I tackled him head-on, made what I thought was a very good tackle," he recalled. "But he bounced right off me and went for a good gain. He came over to me right after the play and asked me if I was OK. That's just the kind of guy he was."

In the movie "Rudy," the lead character memorized the famous deathbed scene in which the immortal "Win one for the Gipper" phrase came out.

I imagine that as long as there is Notre Dame football, George Gipp will be remembered for that line. And authors and other media types will continue to write about him.



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