History Through the Headsets

It didn’t take long for Notre Dame senior defensive signal-callers Reed Gregory (No. 50) and John Mahoney (No. 25) to get to yes when then-defensive backs coach Terry Joseph asked if they wanted to write about what most likely will remain the most unique time period in the school’s football history.

John Mahoney

The two, both members of the class of 2021, were on the sidelines signaling during practice recalls Maloney when they looked at each and asked, “do we really want to do this?”

They did indeed. After spending spring and summer writing, their book History Through the Headsets: Inside Notre Dame’s Playoff Run During the Craziest Season in College Football History (Triumph Books $26.95) has just been released during what is a much saner season.

Reed Gregory

            Neither was an English major—Mahoney, who majored in finance and minored in history and now works as a management consultant in Minneapolis and Gregory, an economics major with minors in Russian and digital marketing who now works in wealth management in New York City. Still they knew what to do.

            “Once we spoke to each other and decided that’s what we wanted to do, we went to the bookstore and looked through every sports book for the name of the publisher and then contacted everyone we could,” says Gregory. They chose Triumph Books, a Chicago publishing house.

            Next came the writing part. That was easier than they thought as well.

“We wrote a lot of it in first person and a lot of it was recounting the personal memories we have,” says Gregory while Mahoney notes that as defensive signalers they had the inside story on every snap. Plus, they added their owner firsthand experiences about being on a football team during the pandemic. Both mention working out while wearing masks while attempting to keep the correct social distancing. There was also the experience of playing against Boston College where the empty stands were filled with paper cutouts of people.

“More than anything we hope the book is a memento of the time—and hopefully one that will never be repeated—and what our lives were like in the daily process as a football team,” says Mahoney.

Both count the double overtime win against Clemson last November as the best moment in a season of ups and downs.

Their work is appreciated by then-Notre Dame Head Football Coach Brian Kelly who in the book’s forward “This 2020 edition of Notre Dame Football was a very special group to me because of the strong character they possessed, and Reed and John are the epitome of that as much as anyone in our program.”

If These Walls Could Talk by Reggie Brooks

        “I wouldn’t have been so open if I had written my book five years ago,” says Reggie Brooks, author of the just released If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box (Triumph Books 2021, $17.95). “But Covid showed me how important it is to share. There were many people in my life who helped get me to where I am. I also learned that we’re here to serve others and not just ourselves.”

        In many ways his book is a behind the scenes look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish but for those who groan at the thought of another football book, Brooks wants you to know it’s more than that. He discusses both the highs and lows of his life and career, offering a human look at being a gridiron star as he takes us on his personal journey, often peppering his book with humorous anecdotes. That includes the time he scored a 20-yard touchdown against the University of Michigan in 1993 while unconscious.

        “I didn’t even know I was knocked down,” says Brooks about the incident where, after catching a pass, he was able to break through six Wolverine tackles—the last knocking him out—and still managing to make it across the finish line before falling face first in the end zone.

“I didn’t really know about the play until I saw it on Sunday during our film session and team meeting,” he says.

        Brooks, a Notre Dame tailback, ended his senior year with  1,372 rushing yards, averaging about 8 yards a carry and scoring 13 touchdowns. He was named an All-American, finished fifth in the voting that year for the Heisman Trophy and was selected in the second round of the 1993 NFL by the Washington Redskins. But after a stellar first year in the league, his career started stalling, in part, he believes by a disagreement he had with the management over the team’s use of his image.

        Welcome to the NFL. For Brooks, it seemed that he had upset the wrong people and paid the price for doing so. But he’s self-aware of how he responded. Feeling as if he were drowning he retreated into himself and didn’t avail himself of the help he was offered.  Brooks’ experiences in the NFL reinforced his realization of how important Notre Dame had been in his life.

        “It allowed me to see more clearly how special my teammates at Notre Dame were and what it meant to be a college football player,” he writes. “It’s the maturity you have to develop and the care for the others—even if you do not consciously think about it.”

        He also saw the power of the Notre Dame network and how it opened doors for him when he was struggling—how the kindness of those he knew there helped him find his way.

        When I ask what impact he hopes his book will have on readers, Brooks responds that he wants to show how his life and Notre Dame intertwined.

        “I also want to get people to realize the value of ‘you’ and what ‘you’ bring to the community,” he says.

        His father was his first coach and taught him the importance of treating others well. The emphasis was not on football as a way make a lot of money (though no one is arguing that isn’t nice) but the impact you can have on others.

        “I still struggle with fandom,” he says. And we laugh about the old saw about never believing in your own press clippings—in other words not letting the hype change who you are.

“Those who are just starting are as important as the most famous,” he says.

Married to his college sweetheart, Christina Brooks, the couple have five children. Until recently Reggie Brooks worked for Notre Dame as the university’s Director of Student-Athlete Alumni Relations/Engagement and participated in after game shows. Recently he accepted the position of executive director of Holtz’s Heroes Foundation which precipitated a move from South Bend, Indiana to Prairie View, Texas. But that move was in part participated with his wife getting a job in Fort Worth and it was time, he said, to support her as she had always supported his career and many moves.

Still there was a sense of loss about leaving. Brooks had followed his brother Tony, who also played football, to the university after high school, played there throughout college and then returned. He loves the school’s values. When I tell him my brother taught accountancy there for 30 years and never ever was pressured to give a break to an athlete, he laughs, saying “You go to class, you do the work, that’s what makes it Notre Dame.”

He makes sure to complement the university’s accounting program as if wanting to assure me that it’s just as glamorous and important as their fabled football program. It’s just what makes him Reggie Brooks.

What:  Reggie Brooks book signing

When: Saturday, October 23 at 12:30pm CT

Where: Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, 1 Eck Center on the Notre Dame Campus in South Bend, Indiana

FYI: 800-647-4641; http://www.bkstr.com/notredamestore

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