George Gipp was an American college football player who played at the halfback, quarterback, and punter positions for the ‘University of Notre Dame.’ George was born and raised in Laurium, Michigan, and was interested in athletics ever since he was a kid. He became involved with many sports as a teenager, especially football and baseball. During his high-school years at ‘Calumet,’ he began playing baseball seriously, with the intention of making a career in the sport. He, however, was expelled from high school. However, he received a baseball scholarship to the ‘University of Notre Dame.’ His plans changed when he was spotted by the university football coach, Knute Rockne. Knute asked him to try his luck for the football team, and George made a place on the college team. He played for the university for 4 years, starting in 1917, and ended up becoming ‘Notre Dame’s all-time high scorer in average yards per rush for one season. He also averaged 38 yards a punt, with 21 career touchdowns. He passed away from pneumonia in 1920. On his deathbed, he delivered the famous line “Win just one for the Gipper” to his coach, Rockne.
Childhood & Early Life
George Gipp was born February 18, 1895, in Laurium, Michigan, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, located a little away from the Canadian border, to Matthew and Isabella Gipp. He was one of the eight children of his parents. Theirs was a middle-class family, with his father working as a Christian preacher. His mother was a housewife.
George was far from being an ideal kid. He was neither academically good nor great in extracurricular activities. He avoided school as much as he could by sleeping all day, drinking, or playing pool.
However, he was well-built. When he stepped into his high-school years, he was already over 6 feet tall and had an athletic body. He had an interest in outdoor sports, and in his teenage years, he began playing sports such as football and baseball.
He was extremely strong, too, and it was believed that he could drop kick the ball to a phenomenal 60 yards through the goalpost directly. Although he was bad in academics, his sporting abilities helped him earn a place in a decent high school, the ‘Calumet High School.’
There, he played many sports. His prospects looked good. This was when he explored his sporting talents and became interested in making a career in baseball. He became a well-known young baseball player. However, he ended up getting expelled from his school, as he was apparently caught gambling and playing pool during school hours.
He gave up on his career and moved back to his hometown, where he did small jobs to support himself. He worked for a construction company, waited tables at a restaurant, and also drove a cab. While working at the restaurant, he came in touch with Angelo Pappas, who saw immense talent in him and promised to support him financially.
Following this, George vowed to become serious about his future in sports and began preparing for a good university.
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By 1915, he had started playing baseball for his high-school team and was the best hitter on his team. The stories of his marvellous form reached the coaches at the ‘University of Notre Dame.’ Those were the days of the First World War, and baseball was the main sport in almost all universities.
It was always George’s dream to play for a major college team. He was invited by many universities to play in their teams. He chose the ‘University of Notre Dame,’ as it was his long-time dream to play with their basketball team, the ‘Fighting Irish.’ However, the football coach at ‘Notre Dame’ decided to bring George in for the football team, after observing his ability to drop kick a football for 50 yards with ease.
George had not played football in an organized setting, and the coach, Knute Rockne, still trusted him. During his 4 years with the ‘University of Notre Dame,’ his score of 2,341 rushing yards remained unbroken for over 50 years. It was later broken by Jerome Heavens in 1978.
He was also great as a handler of the forward pass, with a 1789 yards throw. During his 4 years with the team, he scored a total of 21 touchdowns and gained 5 interceptions.
When it came to the average yards per rush for the 1920 season, his score of 8.1 helped him set a record for the ‘University of Notre Dame.’
However, in May 1919, he missed his final exams. His behavior of not taking his academic life seriously continued, and as a result, he was expelled from ‘Notre Dame.’ He was found playing pool instead of studying. Soon, however, he became the best pool player in the entire state of Indiana.
As a result, he received scholarship offers from the ‘University of Pittsburgh’ and the ‘University of Michigan.’ However, by then, he had become highly popular among the fans of the ‘University of Notre Dame,’ businessmen, and his fellow players. He was thus called back to join the ‘University of Notre Dame’s team.
In 1920, the university team played a game against the army, in which George rushed for 150 yards and passed for 123. It was the best performance in the history of ‘Notre Dame.’
His fans and fellow players knew him by the nickname “The Gipper.”
Death & Legacy
In college, George Gipp dated a girl named Eva Bright. Eva had a child and claimed it was George’s. Later, following a DNA test, it was confirmed that George had not fathered the child.
One cold evening in late 1920, George Gipp was trying to enter the ‘Washington Hall.’ He noticed that the gates were locked, and he thus had to spend the entire night outside. He fell sick and was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. However, this story was never confirmed. Nevertheless, it is the most widely believed explanation for his sudden sickness.
He passed away on December 14, 1920, just 2 weeks after he was honored as the first ‘All-American’ by esteemed football player Walter Camp.
He is also known for his last words on his deathbed, a speech consisting of the iconic line “‘Win just one for the Gipper,” which he uttered to his coach, Knute Rockne.
A year after his demise, he was inducted into the national ‘College Football Hall of Fame.’