The legacy of Knute Rockne
Remembering a legend
Professor Emeritus, Ohio University
On the 90th anniversary of his death in a plane crash in Chase County, Kan., several dozen Notre Dame University football fans gathered recently in Cottonwood Falls to memorialize Knute Rockne, the famous football coach of the “Fighting Irish.”
Rockne, a native of Voss, Hordaland, Norway, died March 31, 1931, when TWA flight 599, bound from Kansas City to Los Angeles, fell to the ground near Bazaar in the Flint Hills of east central Kansas.
Investigators blamed bad weather conditions and icing on the wooden wings of the Fokker 10-A tri-motor plane for the accident that took the lives of Rockne and seven others.
Every five years Notre Dame fans meet in Chase County to honor Rockne’s memory, visit the crash site, and view memorabilia in the Chase County Historical Museum and Library in Cottonwood Falls. The museum’s permanent Rockne exhibit includes pictures and mementoes from the crash site as well as a 1932 Studebaker Rockne automobile. Before his death, Rockne had become a spokesman for the Studebaker auto company.
The mishap shocked the sports world and contributed to significant improvements in aviation regulation and safety. To improve the reliability of commercial aviation, the airline industry turned to metal propeller-driven planes, such as the Douglas DC-3, one of the first successful commercial airplanes.
Among those attending the 2021 memorial were Rockne’s grandsons Nils and Knute III, as well as relatives of the other victims.
Rockne emigrated with his parents to Chicago in 1893, and attended Notre Dame University, graduating with a degree in chemistry in 1914. He excelled on the football gridiron as a player and a coach. During his 13 years coaching Notre Dame, Rockne won 105 games, and three national championships.
In 1962, a memorial stone and plaque were unveiled in Rockne’s home town, Voss, another enduring tribute to the young Norwegian pioneer who became the most renowned coach in American college football.
This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.