FILMS : Rudy and a proposal in favor of intentional attention.

A few years ago, we watched
The Karate Kid with the kids.

Last year, we watched

And this weekend, we watched

Rudy the movie poster

( image:


1984, 1986, 1993. Some good years.

These three films have something in common. Something besides being sports stories or movies about underdogs.

All three are ones I loved as a kid, and was a little afraid to watch later with our children, for fear that I had mis-remembered, and the magic would be gone. Just a good childhood memory from my past that the kids won't understand and that I'll watch with my adult eyes and be unimpressed; tarnishing the beloved recollections of the past.

That's happened. But not with these three. The above three films are ones that I loved when I was younger, and loved possibly even more after seeing them with my own children. 


Rudy is the 1993 true story retelling of an undersized, underachieving kid who refused to let anyone stomp on his dream of playing football for Notre Dame.

How does everything end up? Watch the movie. Three things though that stand out. I made up an acronym:


I don't wish to go through life grumbling about " good things used to be." What a waste of time. At the same time, it's valuable to look to history and to the past if we really care about learning and growing - learning from what worked, what didn't, and figuring out what we can do better.

Camille Paglia, in her aptly-titled collection of essays Provocations writes about the "...preoccupation with our own modern period." Did she envision or intend for an essay on her problems with modern university campuses and free speech be used as a defense for the beauty of a tiny little sports film? Maybe not. But I couldn't help but note the relationship between a particular character trait of Rudy's and the way in which that particular trait seems more and more archaic. Without wishing for all to return to how it was, I was reminded of some of the ways in which as a society at large, we did...better.

Specifically with attention.

As a culture and country, we used to give better attention. Educators and parents and many people love to bemoan the decreasing attention spans of youth today, and they frequently bemoan these things without offering the best thing they can offer:

themselves as model for what it means to

be present and to give your attention, your focus to what's happening in the moment and to what is important to you in the future, and to hone in on that with intensity and drive and purpose and stay after it. 

Written for children

We've been reading and studying Shakespeare this year with the kids. Not his original words, not yet. That'll come. The wonderful Charles & Mary Lamb adaptations early in the 19th century. The collection was written for children.

Written for children. Designed to "...make the stories of Shakespeare's plays familiar to the young." A focus on plot and character, with simple forays into theme and language was a way to introduce young readers to the beauty of the Bard...and ideally provide a gateway to exploring his work in all its complexity and richness.

Here's the thing: they were written for children at the time. Early 1800s. But now you crack open the first pages and compare them to the majority of children's lit written today, and your first impulse is to say...

huh? This isn't for children! It's over their heads! The language is weird and those words are too big for them to understand and they won't be able to follow what's happening and...

Here's the thing though. It's not.

It's not.

Our expectations have changed, and our ability to give attention, to modelattention, and to teach attention has changed.

In perhaps a not-so-positive-way. The net affect the attention dilution has had is in lowering expectations.

When you lower expectations, you lower people's ability to rise and become their best.

Children are still capable of understanding, comprehending, and enjoying Shakespeare - including the Lamb siblings' adaptations.

We need to reframe our expectations of what they're capable of and show them the importance of sticking with something; of giving attention to something because we know they can.

And because we know that it will bring them joy, satisfaction, and a sense of competence and confidence once they achieve that threshold. 

That's what Rudy did. He set his sights on something difficult, if not impossible, and went after it. And kept his attention on it.

There's a point where some teammates become irate at him for making him look bad in practice because he's going too hard. He's pushing them too hard.

Just chill, man. Slow down. Take it easy. it's just practice.

What does he do?

He stands his ground. He does not back down.

No. I will not give less than what I'm capable of. If I don't give you everything I have, then I won't be helping you be as prepared as you can be when it's game time. 

He stands his ground and he demands that his teammates give everything. Starting with their attention and focus in every moment they are preparing.

He's not a great student, but it's imperative that he

figure out how to get better grades because if he doesn't, his dream will fail and he'll never play football for Notre Dame.

So he gives his attention, his focus, his everything to whatever will help him achieve that dream. He doesn't do one thing one day, and something else the next, and get distracted by this or that.

He gives his attention. And here's one of the things I love about this movie: he doesn't just give his attention in a big sense to pursuing the dream. He gives his attention in all his interactions with others. Parents, professors, priest, coaches, groundskeeper, friends, teammates. He gives his attention in the moment.

And that is a reminder that is timeless.


I love Rudy's sincerity; his transparency about his dream. He owns it. He doesn't pretend like it's something that he'd like to happen, but if it doesn't, well...

no big deal.

No. He lets people know it's everything. He cannot understand why anyone would not give everything they had to be part of something important.

He fights hard and he isn't afraid to let people know when something's gotten to him. When he's betrayed in a big way by people close to him, he doesn't hide or try to disguise how it affects him. It hits him hard and he acknowledges it.

Even as he's made fun of, over and over and over by those close to him, he still keeps his relationships with them, even while they're hurting him. He lets them know in spite of their cynicism, their belief in his inevitable failure, he still keeps coming back to let them know:

this is still important to me and I'm still going after it.

He doesn't take the sneering, slouching, post-modern tack of "..whatever."


He is not a "whatever" guy. He is a "whatever I need to do" fellow.


“My whole life, people have been telling me what I could do and couldn’t do. I’ve always listed to ’em, believed in what they said. I don’t wanna do that anymore.”

Who's in his corner? Who's fighting for him? Who's saying

you can do it!

Uh, it's a small list. Mostly himself and his indomitable, inextinguishable dream.

I asked the kids, as his family mocked him repeatedly, " that the kind of support you'd like to be for your family's dreams?"

He pursued his dream mostly alone. He made some friends and built up respect with his teammates and those around him, but he fought alone. And that is so...


We all feel alone at some point. Pretty sure of that.

I feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world when I feel like that - and I do sometimes - because if there is someone who can never use the excuse that "I've done it alone," it's me.

Self portrait of male lumberjack in his 40s with dirt-strewn face

(above: the face of an active dreamer who has been busy dreaming while working)

I've had incredible support my whole life, beginning with my parents, siblings, family. Unlike Rudy.

He went it alone, and eventually...well, watch the movie.

But how sad is that, to have to pursue your dream alone?

I want to be a dream-enabler.

I want to help be a support system for other people and help provide both emotional and tactical support for their focused dreams.

I don't know if I'll ever be on a stage accepting an Academy Award.

But maybe I'll someday be watching and have somebody say:

"...and thank you to Joseph Long, who listened to me, who supported me, and who believed in my dream. Thank you."

That would mean something too.

I will do my best to provide dream support with everything I've got to those important to me.