Laurium is known for the legend of George Gipp. The mere mention of his name brings to mind the immortal words "win one for the Gipper". Gipp has been enshrined in the National Football and Michigan Halls of Fame and more recently in the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame. He was born at 432 Hecla Street, in Laurium on February 18, 1895, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Gipp. Gipp attended the Calumet Public Schools, but he never played high school football. However, he was an all-around athlete. He participated in track, hockey, sandlot football and organized baseball. The Laurium Baseball Team was the champion of the Upper Peninsula in 1915 with George Gipp playing center field.
Gipp had a four-year, 32 game college football career at the University of Notre Dame. The Gipper scored 83 touchdowns while the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame won 27, lost 2 and tied 3 games. During Gipp's final 20 games, Notre Dame amassed a record of 19-0-1, scoring an incredible 560 points to their opponents' 97. On defense, Gipp was truly invincible. Not a single pass was completed in his protective zone during his four years at Notre Dame. As a college freshman, Gipp drop-kicked a 62 yard field goal against Western State Normal.
Off the field, though, Gipp had a sweet spot for life on the other side of the tracks, and little liking for the stiff-collared academic life.
In 1919, Gipp was expelled from Notre Dame, allegedly for cutting classes. Not quite true, says another account. Gipp, it is said, had a craving for the delights offered at a notorious dance hall verbotten to Notre Dame students. Caught exiting this den of delight, Gipp was expelled.
The expulsion raised a howl across this land. Hardware stores within marching distance of the university did a brisk sale in tar and feathers. The commotion quickly reached through the stalwart walls of the administration office and Gipp was soon back on the field tossing touchdown bombs.
Gipp enjoyed combining the sport of football with the sport of gambling, it's said. One Saturday afternoon Notre Dame found itself down 17-14 to Northwestern. Irate, Coach Knute Rockne aimed holy Irish fire at his players' ears during halftime. Rockne glanced over at his star player, leaning and dreaming against a locker, perhaps replaying a missed eight ball shot from the night before.
The locker room fell silent as Rockne glowered at Gipp, a gaze that could melt holes in lead walls. "I don't suppose you have any interest in this game," Rockne said through a snarl. "You're wrong there, coach," Gipp answered, straight and sure of himself, "I have $500 bet on it and I don't intend to blow my money."
It was during the Illinois game on November 20, 1920 that Gipp contracted a serious streptococcic infection of the throat. The late Dr. Andrew C. Roche of Calumet had wanted to remove Gipp's infected tonsils in the summer of 1920. Gipp said he would have them removed before he returned to school in the fall. The tonsils were not removed.
Gipp's last game was against Northwestern at Evanston, Illinois. Notre Dame trailed Northwestern. Rockne held Gipp out of the game because of the throat infection plus a painful shoulder injury. The crowd chanted "Gipp! Gipp!" They wanted this win. Rockne relented and let the pleading Gipp onto the field. He responded on the very next play with the winning touchdown. Gipp stayed in the game until the Notre Dame victory was assured; then walked nonchalantly off the field. But the sore throat worsened, and two weeks later Gipp entered the hospital. Diagnosis: pneumonia and strep infection.
Slowly, Gipp's life ebbed away despite the doctor's efforts and blood donated by his teammates. Somber Rockne entered Gipp's room. "Gipp," he said to the ailing young man, "you've been selected Notre Dame's first All-American." But Gipp was fading fast and sure. "Sometime, Rock," Gipp said, "when the team's up against it, when things are wrong, when the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they've got and win one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, but I'll know about it and I'll be happy."
Shortly after, the Gipper passed on.
He died on December 14, 1920 at 3:27 AM. He was buried in section 20 lot 70 of Lakeview Cemetary, located outside of Calumet, on December 18th with military rites from the old Calumet Lightguard Armory. Calumet and Laurium businesses closed for the funeral.
It was in 1928 and the mighty Army football team had Notre Dame stalled, stymied and staggered. Rockne, know for his fiery halftime talks, changed character in this scene. In a soft and calm voice Rockne related the story of Gipp, the hospital and his dying star player. He concluded with the immortal words: "Win one for the Gipper." Not a single eye was dry.
In the second half of the Notre Dame players erupted from the tunnel with blood in their eyes and steel in their bones. The Notre Dame line beat invincible Army, back, back, back toward the goal line. With a cry of "There's one for the Gipper," the Nother Dame fullback tumbled over the line for the winning touchdown.
A memorial to the Gipper was erected at the coner of Lake Linden Avenue and Tamarack Street. The property was donated to the Village of Laurium by John Niemela, proprietor of Niemela Market, located at the present site of Daytona Body Shope. The George Gipp Memorial Park was dedicated on August 03, 1935. The triangular shaped park was a gift from the Laurium Commercial Club to the Village of Laurium. Rocks in the monument were gathered from local mines and the shore of Lake Superior. A 15 foot high monument foundation was built. In the center is a bronze plate incribed "In memory of Goerge A. Gipp, All-American, 1895-1920." The park is watered by an underground sprinkling system. A flower plot in the shape of a football is at the apex of the triangle.
The Calumet High School annually awards the George Gipp Award to the outstanding senior athlete. The award winners are denoted on the bronze plaque located at the Gipp Park site. The award started in 1934.