NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Reality TV is here to stay. From Snooki and The Jersey Shore to Kim, Cait/Bruce and Keeping Up With The (many variations of the) Kardashians. It’s all high drama and it’s all in your face and in high definition on your TV screen.
Notre Dame’s own version of reality TV – Showtime’s A Season With Notre Dame Football – is, predictably, none of that. The 30-minute weekly look at the Fighting Irish is high on football and low on anything that resembles reality tabloid fodder.
And that’s just how Notre Dame wants it.
HBO’s own reality show – Hard Knocks – showed us this year that Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien likes to drop f-bombs at a faster rate than Toronto Blue Jays fans like to throw Labatt Blue cans on the field. It showed a few years ago that current Buffalo Bills and then New York Jets coach Rex Ryan used his f-bomb dropping to work up an appetite for popping a snack.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly—known to work himself into a red-faced rage while dropping his own salty verbiage,—has been far more tame by comparison through the first seven episodes of Season.
Salty language isn’t the only thing that has been absent from the behind the scenes look at the Irish during their 2015 season. The show has been high on football and high on the “student” in student-athlete, but actual revelations of any substance have been few and far between.
And that’s just how Kelly and Notre Dame want it.
The biggest “revelation” to come during the first 3 1/2 hours of the series is less a revelation and more a confirmation of what the media has always known – coaches coach their players, err…student-athletes, on what to say when they speak to the media.
News broke early in the week Notre Dame was prepping to play its arch-rival, Southern Cal, that Trojan head coach Steve Sarkesian had been fired. At a team meeting shortly afterward, Kelly gave his guys the company line to regurgitate if they were asked about Sarkesian when the cameras and microphones were on later in the week.
“(The) only thing that I know about is what I gotta take care of this week,” Kelly began. “I gotta take care of my school work, I gotta take care of my preparation this week.”
School work has been a recurring theme in the series as well. Season has followed defensive lineman Jerry Tillery to his chemistry class and the cameras shadowed the freshman and members of the Irish throughout the week as they studied in the library for their mid-term exams in the lead-up to last Saturday’s USC game.
The cameras have been there when players like Jarron Jones (whose injury in training camp pushed Tillery up the depth chart), quarterback Malik Zaire, running back Tarean Folston, defensive back Drue Tranquill and others went down with unfortunate season-ending injuries. Some of the most poignant moments came when Kelly was shown talking to Zaire and then to Zaire’s mother, reassuring them that everything would be alright.
It looked early in the season like a natural story arc might develop when corporate guru and motivational speaker Joe Plumeri gave the Irish a speech. “Burn Your Boats” was Plumeri’s message. He told of how ancient Vikings were so committed to conquering new lands that they burned their boats as they went ashore.
“Burn Your Boats” impacted that week’s “Trick shot Monday” ritual and permeated throughout the episode, but has (mercifully) come up rarely (if at all) in ensuing weeks.
Otherwise, season has shown things like DeShone Kizer—pressed into action after Zaire’s injury—getting notes of encouragement from fellow students on his dorm room door after leading a comeback win. Assistant coaches spending time with their families at youth football games and before the school bus arrives in the morning, players getting rehab. Captain Joe Schmidt doing Braveheart-like screams (does he really do it before every game?) to implore his team, players talking to their families and roasting marshmallows with their friends, and teammates talking to teammates about girlfriends.
You know, real life people doing real life things, because when you peak behind the curtain it’s not all glitz and glamour and shiny golden helmets under the Saturday night lights.