NORMAN — Late one night a few years ago, Chris Kochendorfer was running the stairs of Oklahoma's football stadium. He used those cement steps as extra training to stay in shape for his gig as an OU cheerleader.
As he finished and walked out, he saw Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops' car parked just off the field. Stoops was near his car, so Kochendorfer went over and talked with the coach for a few minutes before both went their separate ways.
“I never told him about my lineage,” Kochendorfer said.
That night, one of Oklahoma's greatest football coaches met the great-grandson of one of college football's greatest coaches.
Christopher Knute Kochendorfer’s lineage is traced through his father’s mother, the daughter of legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne. Kochendorfer's grandmother, Mary Jane, moved to Oklahoma with her husband, who studied seismology.
Rockne was head coach at Notre Dame from 1918 to 1930, where he set the greatest winning percentage of .881 with 102 wins, 12 losses and fives ties. In 13 seasons, Rockne led the Fighting Irish to six national championships and five undefeated seasons without a tie.
Rockne's memory lives on through a statue at Notre Dame Stadium. Through his famous practice sweater that is framed in the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind. Through the office of his great grandson's Oklahoma City home.
Hung on the wall across from his desk is a shadow box containing some of Rockne's belongings.
There's a faded black-and-white photo of the Rockne family, and a photo of his great grandfather and a friend with the writing of their conversation on the back. There's the yellow-stained coaches' card from the American Football Coaches Association for K.K. Rockne in 1926.
“One day, I'll pass it along,” Kochendorfer said about giving the things to the University of Notre Dame. “Right now, it's still too personal.”
There's also a worn blue-bound book of Rockne's autobiography that he was working on before he died in a plane crash in March 1931.
Only 1,000 of the books were made, Kochendorfer said. He has been passed down book No. 36.
A scrap piece of paper lies on page 59. It's the page that explains how to say his great grandfather's name, the correct way, the way Sean Astin does in the glorified Notre Dame movie “Rudy.”
“It's Ka-Nute,” Kochendorfer said.
His great grandfather, who was from Voss, Norway, had his name pronounced wrong his entire life and was setting it straight in his autobiography.
One day, Kochendorfer hopes to pass along the “Knute” middle name to a son. Right now, he and his wife Laura have a 20-month old daughter, Jemma.
“Maybe we'll pass it along if we have another girl,” Kochendorfer said as he looked at his wife.
“Um ... maybe,” his wife replied.
Then the husband and wife were off talking again about their family history, how neither has been to South Bend, Ind., but want to visit and the huge Notre Dame fandom of Chris' side of the family. His brother, who works on a submarine for the Navy, was able to get one day off. This Friday, he will fly in from Jacksonville, Fla., to watch the Notre Dame-OU game with his little brother.
On Saturday, sitting in the stands at the 40-yard line, two great grandsons of Notre Dame's greatest coach will watch the No. 5-ranked Irish take on No. 7 Oklahoma in one of the biggest matchups of the season. One will be dressed in blue and gold, the other in cream and crimson.
“He's a huge Irish fan,” Kochendorfer said of his older brother. “Don't get me wrong, I love the Irish. I'm a huge fan, but they don't play the Sooners that often and because I went there, I'm going to have to root for Oklahoma.”