Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prowling the Sidelines, one last time | by Jay

There's obviously a lot to read about the Kelly announcement. But one of his quotes in particular (from Hansen's article in the SBT today) caught my eye:

Within two years, Brian Kelly was the defensive coordinator. Two years after that, he became the head coach when Tom Beck was plucked from the top position to join Lou Holtz's staff at Notre Dame. The dominoes tipped slowly but decisively from that point.

As Kelly watched Notre Dame from the distance over the years, he developed favorites — coach Ara Parseghian, quarterback Joe Montana.

“I think I most identify with Lou Holtz,” he said, “and his style on the sidelines.”
Picturing Lou on the sidelines reminded me of something. You'll recall the last time Lou put on the interlocking 'ND', for an Irish alumni team that played in the Japan Bowl this summer. Well, they made a behind-the-scenes DVD about the whole experience, and it's really great.

First, a little background. The DVD was produced, filmed, and edited by Notre Dame Film professor Ted Mandell. Mandell grabbed a camera and followed the Japan Bowl proceedings from the first organizational meeting; through tryouts, practices, and cuts; and finally all the way to Tokyo for the match. What he's put together is a fantastic documentary that's equal parts football, travelogue, and Irish lore.

The DVD follows many of the former players who dusted off the helmets and pads, taped up the ankles, and braved the battlefield one last time: guys like Tony Rice, Melvin Dansby, Joe Restic, Dean Lytle, and Ivory Covington show up for the tryouts, while Chris Zorich, Gary Darnell, Bill Lewis, and Skip Holtz pick up the whistles and clipboards to coach these guys and cobble together a team. There are a lot of aches and pains along the way, and as the practices heat up some of the old bones start to creak. As trainer Kevin Ricks says, "We're doing what we can to hold these guys together. It's going to be a rough week." At one point the guys assemble for a team photo, and realize that the pristine game jerseys don't fit as trimly as they used to. It's hilarious and wistful all at the same time.

There are also some wonderful cross-cultural moments once the scene shifts to Japan. The sight of the Irish players disembarking the bus at the Tokyo hotel is made all the more comical by a pint-sized bellhop bowing to each of them as they step off. Ryan Roberts goes shopping for samurai swords at the local market. And the interview Ray Zellars has with Japanese television is straight out of Lost in Translation.

Mostly, though, the documentary is a wonderful profile of Holtz in his true element: as a coach, not as a television talking head. Watching it, I couldn't help but think back to 1988, when I was a freshman on campus, and friends of mine on the team would come back from practice alternately laughing at or smarting from the wiry little man with the pipe and the lisp who was building a champion. It was great to see Lou back prowling the sidelines and the locker room in Irish garb one last time, exhorting his charges, cracking wise, and building a team, moment by moment. As Lou himself says on the first day of Japan Bowl practice: "When I walked in here, I didn't realize how much I missed coaching." We miss you too, coach.

You can order the DVD (and accompanying booklet, with a few feature stories and player profiles) here. I guarantee you'll enjoy it, and it would make a great stocking stuffer for the diehard Irish fans on your Christmas list.