Ruettiger harbored a dream to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, despite being undersized at 5'6" and 165 pounds. Head coach Ara Parseghian encouraged walk-on players from the student body.
After working as hard as possible and showing that he was willing to work as much as he needed to, Ruettiger earned a place on the Notre Dame scout team, a practice squad that helps the varsity team practice for games. After the 1974 season, Notre Dame coach Parseghian stepped down, and former Green Bay Packers coach Dan Devine was named head coach. In Ruettiger's last opportunity to play for Notre Dame at home, Devine put him into a game as defensive end against Georgia Tech on November 8, 1975. In the movie Rudy, Devine is given a somewhat antagonistic role, not wanting Ruettiger to dress for his last game. In the real life scenario, however, it was Devine who came up with the idea to dress Ruettiger. In the final play of Ruettiger's senior season with the Fighting Irish, he recorded a sack, which is all his Notre Dame stat line has ever shown. Ruettiger actually played for three plays. The first play was a kickoff, the second play was an incomplete pass, and on the third (and final) play he sacked Georgia Tech quarterback Rudy Allen. Ruettiger was carried off the field by his teammates following the game.
This full size Notre Dame Fighting Irish white panel football was signed in black by Ruettiger and includes a JSA sticker and COA.