For 13 weeks, Showtime’s “A Season With Notre Dame Football” brought us into the lives of Brian Kelly’s football team and Notre Dame’s football family. It will go down as another unique cinematic rendering of what makes Notre Dame football about more than just football.
Critics might suggest that the series was a bit sappy at times, which it was. A positive spin usually was placed on most obstacles along the way, right on down to bypassing any mention of the suspensions of Max Redfield and Jerry Tillery for the Fiesta Bowl.
But the series was never promoted or depicted as a tell-all reality show. It didn’t try to be HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” It didn’t try to create havoc like so many of the staged reality shows of today where conflict is promoted and relished.
The violent nature of the game and the cruel intrusiveness of injury and defeat served as the real-life drama that is college football.
In the end, “A Season With Notre Dame Football” was a 13-week commercial for the uniqueness that is this one of a kind college program where family, brotherhood and honor truly do play a significant role in a world that gets much uglier than Showtime depicted on the campus of Notre Dame.
“I’m so proud of everybody that stepped on the field today and left it out there,” said Brian Kelly to his team after the 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. “You gave everything you had for four quarters. It doesn’t surprise me. All year you’ve played that way. Team 127 should be proud of what they accomplished.”
The final episode gave us one more look at the Notre Dame squad forever etched in our minds as Team 127, perhaps an overused term by the conclusion of the series, but one that resonated with the leadership of the team, right on down to its decision not to put individual names on the backs of the Fiesta Bowl jerseys.
“That is so emblematic of what we have been all year, to not have a name and just to be regarded as a team,” Kelly said. “Now, if you put your name on the jersey, it just didn’t make sense.”
The final episode put a bow on the stories of the three most visible players throughout the series – DeShone Kizer, Joe Schmidt and Sheldon Day.
Of Kizer shortly after he took over for injured quarterback Malik Zaire, Brian Kelly said: “I wouldn’t say he was the most confident, but he was faking it until he started making it, and I thought he did a great job of that. When he started making it, he gained a lot of confidence.”
Schmidt’s emotional tale came to a close the way it should have – in the loving arms of his parents as he exited University of Phoenix Stadium for what certainly sounded like his attempt in a football uniform.
“It was never about playing after this or trying to make the NFL or anything else,” Schmidt said. “It was using football to get the best education possible at Notre Dame. It’s time to move on, and I’m okay with that.”
The final episode followed Day through a painful week in which the medical staff thought he had suffered a broken foot. Yet there was Day, battling to the end of a game in which Notre Dame’s defense simply wasn’t stout enough to hold off the Buckeyes.
One of the more interesting sidelights of the final episode – in addition to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer publicly relating that he wanted to “win this game so damn bad” – was the brief talk by Fiesta Bowl representative Nick Smith, a former Irish linebacker and Class of ’93.
“It’s important that you make great choices while you are here,” said Smith as Showtime flashed between him speaking and the players in attendance, including Redfield, who soon would be sent home for violation of team rules.
“Be smart,” Smith said. “Don’t engage people who are screaming at you, yelling at you if you’re at a club. Like I said, I don’t want to preach at you, but it’s important you hear it from me. I was in that chair. Making those good decisions is what’s going to help you get through this week.”
The dream fell short, but not without a valiant effort against a team – even without two of its best players in Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington – that clearly was better than Notre Dame.
“We got everything out of them, every ounce of their will,” Kelly said. “That’s what they’ve done for us all year. They battled.”
Narrator/actor Barry Pepper put the finishing touches on “A Season With Notre Dame Football.”
“The 2015 Fighting Irish have left their legacy, adding a compelling chapter to the enduring tradition that is Notre Dame football. Not simply for what they achieved on the field, but for the collective spirit that captured the essence of Team 127.”