TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The body of George Gipp, the Notre Dame football player who inspired the rallying cry "Win one for the Gipper," was exhumed recently for DNA testing in his Upper Peninsula hometown.
The test was sought by the Gipp family and met legal requirements, Houghton County Medical Examiner Dr. Dawn Nulf said Wednesday, although it angered some relatives who live in the area where Gipp was born and raised.
Nulf declined comment about why the request was made.
An ESPN crew filmed the exhumation for an upcoming story, but a spokesman said the network played no role in arranging it.
Gipp's remains were taken Oct. 4 from Lake View Cemetery near the village of Laurium, about 550 miles northwest of Detroit, where he was buried in 1920 after dying from pneumonia and a strep infection during his senior year at Notre Dame. They were returned to the grave the same day, Nulf said.
Gipp was a prolific runner, passer and kicker who was Notre Dame's first All-America selection. He scored 83 touchdowns and held the school career rushing record for more than 50 years.
But he's best known for the deathbed exhortation attributed to him years later by coach Knute Rockne. During a pregame pep talk, Rockne inspired his underdog Fighting Irish with the story of a dying Gipp urging the team to "win one for the Gipper."
The phrase became a political slogan for Ronald Reagan, who portrayed Gipp in the 1940 movie "Knute Rockne, All American."
Gipp remains a local hero in the adjacent villages of Laurium and Calumet, the center of a bustling copper mining industry when he was born in 1895. Calumet High School presents a George Gipp Award to its top male athlete each year.
Nulf said she was contacted a couple of months ago by a family representative seeking the DNA test. She determined a court order was not required for the body to be exhumed. Instead, the family presented an affidavit that was approved by the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department.
Nulf declined to identify the relative but referred a reporter to Mike Bynum, a sports author who has researched Gipp and attended the exhumation. Bynum said it was requested by Rick Frueh, whose grandmother was one of Gipp's sisters.
"This is a very sensitive family matter," said Bynum, of Birmingham, Ala., who described himself as a close friend of Gipp's closest living relatives. He said they did not want to comment but would issue a statement in the future.
ESPN was notified about the exhumation and sent a crew because the network is working on a broader story about Gipp for its newsmagazine program "E:60," which will make its debut Oct. 16, spokesman Josh Krulewitz said. The Gipp piece has not been scheduled for broadcast, he said.
The exhumation and DNA testing "were not something we orchestrated or were responsible for in any way," Krulewitz said.
Ron Gipp, a distant cousin of George Gipp who lives in Laurium, told The Daily Mining Gazette of Houghton he watched the exhumation and described it as a "a desecration."
"It's absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for," Karl Gipp, another distant cousin who lives in Skanee, told the Gazette.
Nulf said she sympathized with relatives who were unhappy.
"I completely appreciate the sensitive nature of all this, but all the appropriate paperwork was filed," she said.