Jeff Harrell | May 21, 2019
Knute Rockne needed a plane ticket to fly to Los Angeles.
Since leading his Fighting Irish to their third undefeated and untied national championship season in his 13 years as Notre Dame’s head football coach — culminating with a 27-0 thrashing of USC in front of a crowd of 90,000 at Los Angeles Coliseum on Dec. 7, 1930 — Rockne’s offseason calendar overflowed into the first three months of 1931 with speaking engagements that took him from coast to coast.
Nobody commanded the spotlight like the Class of 1914 alumnus except Babe Ruth. When Rockne’s business manager, Christy Walsh, called with a $50,000 offer from Hollywood to work as a production consultant on the film, The Spirit of Notre Dame, the coach was scurrying for a seat.
What happened the day Rockne bumped into his friend, Father John Reynolds, CSC, on campus introduced a chapter of Chicago mob lore that surrounded one of the country’s saddest cultural episodes of the 20th century — the airplane crash that killed Rockne and seven others on March 31, 1931.
Just days before, Reynolds — a Notre Dame priest and 1917 graduate who, on June 9, 1930, witnessed the murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle in a downtown train station during rush hour — had testified in the trial of Leo Brothers, a member of Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit charged with Lingle’s slaying.
All along, Reynolds insisted that Brothers was not the gunman. But Chicago’s police and prosecutors needed a conviction to soothe public demand for justice in the killing of the newspaper reporter. (Lingle had moonlighted delivering payments from Capone’s Cicero headquarters to crooked politicians and judges to the tune of $60,000 a year — nearly $1 million today).
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