WASHINGTON -- President Reagan, whose most famous film role was that of fabled Notre Dame gridiron star George Gipp, saluted the national champion Fighting Irish Wednesday, saying the team 'won another one for the Gipper.'
Reagan, who in 1981 received an honorary degree from Notre Dame and last year unveiled a postage stamp in honor of Notre Dame coaching legend Knute Rockne, welcomed the national champions to the White House in a Rose Garden ceremony.
'My life has been full of rich and wonderful experiences,' said Reagan, who portrayed Gipp in the 1941 film 'Knute Rockne, All American.'
'And standing near the top of the list is my long and honored association with the University of Notre Dame and its legendary hero, Knute Rockne. So, I want you to know the INF treaty and George Bush's election were important, but having the Fighting Irish win the national championship is in a class by itself,' Reagan added.
In turn, Notre Dame President Rev. Edward Malloy and Coach Lou Holtz directed Notre Dame players Wes Pritchett and Frank Stams to present Reagan with Gipp's actual gold-and-blue monogrammed letterman's sweater he earned as a halfback for the Fighting Irish from 1917 to 1920, the year of his death from a throat infection at age 25.
'I think that's a great sacrifice by the university,' Reagan said of the gift. 'But, believe me, no one could have it (and) treasure it more than I will. Oh, thank you very much.'
Holtz's Notre Dame team completed a 12-0 season by thrashing West Virginia 34-21 in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 in Tempe, Ariz., for the school's 11th national title.
Reagan agreed with Holtz that Rockne would have taken pride in this year's Notre Dame team.
'I noticed that Coach Holtz thought Rockne would be proud of this team -- and I'm sure he would be,' Reagan said. 'Right now, I can't help but think somewhere far away there's a fellow with a big grin and a whole lot of pride in his school and he might be thinking to himself, 'Maybe you won another one for the Gipper.''
In 'Knute Rockne, All American,' actor Pat O'Brien, portraying Rockne, exorted his team before a 1928 game against Army to 'win this one for the Gipper.' Reagan, playing Gipp on his deathbed, had told Rockne to invoke his name as inspiration in times of challenge.
As a politician, Reagan was sometimes affectionately called 'the Gipper.'
Reagan played offensive guard on the varsity team in the mid-1930s at Eureka (Ill.) College and later was a sportscaster before becoming a Hollywood actor.
Reagan shook hands with every member of the Notre Dame team, as well as the coaching staff. The ceremony was also attended by Vice President-elect Dan Quayle, a former Republican Indiana Senator, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and hundreds of guests. President-elect George Bush did not take part in the ceremony, but conveyed his congratulations to the team beforehand.
Reagan, whose presidency ends on Friday, amused the crowd with anecdotes about Rockne, threw a football to one Notre Dame player and jokingly requested assistance from Holtz for some more mundane Washington chores.
'Lou, what you've achieved in only three years is inspiring,' Reagan said to the Notre Dame coach. 'Maybe you could coach Congress on the deficit. With Notre Dame going undefeated this season, they might listen to you.'