After making his mark in the Notre Dame record books as a running back and later joining the school’s athletic department, former All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist Reggie Brooks knows what it means to live and breathe Fighting Irish football.
In If These Walls Could Talk: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Brooks provides insight into the inner sanctum of one of the most iconic college football programs, from The Snow Bowl under legendary coach Lou Holtz to the modern rosters guided by Brian Kelly. Featuring conversations with players and coaches from past and present as well as off-the-wall anecdotes only Brooks can tell, this indispensable volume is a front-row seat to Notre Dame history, with incredible memories such as:
· Being knocked unconscious while scoring a touchdown against Michigan in September 1992
· Catching a diving, two-point conversion in the end zone to defeat Penn State in the “Snow Bowl” in November 1992
· Returning to South Bend after retiring from playing professional football
· Insider stories from more than three decades of Irish football across the Holtz, Davie, Willingham, Weis, and Kelly eras
· Reflections on the unusual yet successful 2020 campaign in the middle of a pandemic
If These Walls Could Talk: Notre Dame Fighting Irish is a behind-the-scenes perspective on Fighting Irish history as told through the eyes of a man who has witnessed so much. Notre Dame fans will not want to miss out on this outstanding book on the modern era of Irish football.
I had the chance to jump on a call with Reggie on Friday to speak with him about his new book, and here’s what he had to say:
What made you want to write a book?
I had thought about doing it for some time, but it always seemed to be too daunting. I didn’t really know the ins and outs of writing a book, and I didn’t know what it would take to write a book. I really have to wrap my head around attacking a project like that. The book idea came to me from the series, If These Walls Could Talk, and I thought to myself, “I can do this!” Then, the pandemic happened, and I was home and didn’t have as much to do per se, and everything just fell into place from a timing standpoint. When the project was brought to me, and I was told that John Heisler wanted to work on it with me, how could I say no? John was the perfect partner to write this book with, especially since he had spent so many years at Notre Dame and has such a depth of knowledge on Notre Dame football. I still can’t believe I wrote a book. I got a call from my sister and she said, “You wrote a book and didn’t tell me??” And I responded, “I guess I did!” (laughs)
Did you enjoy the experience?
It was a fantastic experience, and it was quite cathartic for me. We were in the middle of doing the “Rally House” calls, last fall, with former ND players, seeing as no one could attend games during the pandemic. We would get on these virtual zoom calls during the games, with guys from different eras of Notre Dame football, and it really meshed well with what I was doing with the book. The best part of the “Rally House” calls was seeing them interact with each other, and how even though they were from different eras of Notre Dame football, they all still had a commonality based on the brotherhood they shared. Watching a bunch of guys from Rocky Bleier, to Joe Montana, to Tim Brown, to Theo Riddick interact as if they’d known each other for years was such a cool dynamic. Watching them sort through the “six degrees of separation” was so fascinating.
I’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many Notre Dame football players during my time working at Notre Dame, from the 1966 national championship team all the way through today, so I’ve seen a whole spectrum of players and can see the common threads that weave through the decades. We’ve had so many guys come back to campus, and I’ve had the chance to get to know them and learn their stories. To see how they got to Notre Dame from all corners of this country and meld together as a team even though they were from so many different walks of life. Notre Dame gave us all a common goal and focus. To see the success stories, along with the stories of guys who faced adversities and overcame them ... the stories often repeated themselves. The “dorm stories’ from the guys in the 1960s were very similar to ours!
One of my favorite people is Rocky Bleier. Not because of what he did on the field at Notre Dame, but because of the person he is today. I saw him recently, supporting one of his teammates, and that 100% describes Rocky. There is so much more to him than his four years at Notre Dame. We’ve always gotten along, but when you meet someone who also went to ND, the bond is an immediate connection. And as I’ve shared and listened to stories with Notre Dame players over the years, we all learn how very similar we are. And that’s what I tried to showcase in the book.
When you are a student, or student-athlete at Notre Dame, you hear about the ND Network, but you really don’t see it, or get it. And then, when you get out into the world, tapping into the ND Network requires a level of openness to reach out, and that was something I was not good at early on. I was shocked when I would meet former Heisman winners, and they would know who I was, and all I could think was, “Man, I remember watching you play, how do you know who I am?” As a Notre Dame football player, you are representing something bigger than you, and it’s not just what you do on the field, but off the field, too. It’s a brotherhood that spans the decades.
My era of Notre Dame football was really good and delving in to why we had the success we did was so interesting. Honestly, I think we could have been even more successful than we were if we had some of the offensive schemes they run today.
What was the most surprising thing that you learned while writing the book?
It was very cathartic to be able to reminisce about the things I went through and to talk about the relationships I built during my time working at Notre Dame. I just think to myself, “Wow, I know quite a few people!” You don’t really think about it like that, but as I reflected about it, I noticed that it’s not the volume of people I know that’s impressive, but the genuineness of those relationships. When you do fundraising, it can be superficial at times, but for me it was about building relationships, from the high-profile guys all the way down. My job was to make sure when guys came back to campus, they were valued not for what they did at Notre Dame, but for who they are today.
Playing for Coach Holtz was no walk in the park, but it built me into the man I am today. Trust. Love. Commitment. The guys who played for Coach Holtz still live by that mantra today. It’s how we built families and became men. It has given us the ability to overcome adversity, no matter what you are going through. If you treat people right, and do the right thing, you’ll be successful. And by successful, I don’t necessarily mean being rich monetarily.
The relationships I’ve built through Notre Dame are what impact me the most today. Even through my struggles, I’ve always been given opportunities through my Notre Dame connections. And I always knew if I treated people with respect and dignity, I was doing the right thing. It fits right in with Coach Holtz’s “What’s Important Now.” I live daily just trying to win.
Everyone knows about the concussion touchdown against Michigan (1992), and the huge touchdown you had in the Snow Bowl against Penn State (1992) … is there another play/moment that is memorable for you?
The USC game (1992) is also very memorable to me because I came very close to not playing in that game. I was as sick as a dog and was literally running on instinct in that game. We had one of the best offensive lines in the country, and I just went out there and did what I was supposed to. When I’m in a game, or moment, like that ... it really doesn’t seem like I’m doing anything spectacular. It just seems like I’m doing my job. I didn’t realize what I had accomplished at Notre Dame until I was able to sit back and look at some of the games where I made an impact. Honestly, I credit the guys around me who gave me the opportunity to accomplish all that I did. Leading up to that USC game in 1992, I really wanted to tell Coach Holtz I just was not well enough to play, but ND-USC is such a huge rivalry and there was no way I was going to miss the game. I told the trainers, ‘Pump me with fluids and get me out there!” I didn’t even participate in pre-game warmups; it was all I could do to pull myself together to be able to play in the game.
With the Purdue game next weekend … do you have any favorite ND/Purdue memories you can share?
Looking back at the ND-Purdue games I played in, it always seemed to rain when we played Purdue. (We both laughed because it was SO true!!) Even if the sun was out before the game, the game would start and so would the rain.
I am somewhat of a Drew Brees fan, but come on. Why do we always get commentators from rival schools? First Pat O’Brien (USC), then Doug Flutie (BD), and now Drew Brees (Purdue). Why can’t we get one of our guys ... Aaron Taylor? Brady Quinn? It’s not like there are no ND guys out there doing commentating!
As far as Purdue memories go, Purdue wasn’t very good when I played at ND. You knew when you played Purdue, that it was one of the games where everyone was going to get to start.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Reggie Brooks for spending some time speaking with me about his new book, If These Walls Could Talk: Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Please pick up a copy for yourself ... this is one you are not going to want to miss!
Cheers & GO IRISH!
P.S. If you are in South Bend, IN on Thursday, September 16 at 7:00 PM, be sure to stop by Brain Lair Books (625 E Jefferson Blvd, South Bend, IN 46617) for an autographed copy of Reggie’s book! Go Irish!
About the Authors:
Reggie Brooks, a former football All-America running back and graduate of the University of Notre Dame, currently serves as executive director of the Holtz’s Heroes Foundation. Following his record-setting college career, he played four seasons in the NFL before joining the Notre Dame athletics staff in 2008.
John Heisler spent more than 40 years as a member of the University of Notre Dame athletics staff, including 14 years as senior associate athletics director in South Bend. A foremost authority on Fighting Irish history, Heisler has written several books about Notre Dame athletics, including Mike Brey’s memoir Keeping It Loose and 100 Things Notre Dame Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.