Hansen: Brees reveals his hopes, vision and style for Notre Dame football broadcasting gig

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Drew Brees spent the better part of 30 minutes this week explaining in a media conference call what he hopes to bring to the Notre Dame-football-on-NBC experience, along with his other soon-to-be NBC broadcasting assignments.

Most poignant to a large chunk of the Irish fan base, though, is what Brees is not.

Doug Flutie.

In a long lineage of NBC/ND in-booth analysts that started with former Stanford/San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh back in 1991 — when the first year of the long-term broadcasting marriage was viewed as acutely controversial — Notre Dame’s network has kept its Notre Dame connections largely on the periphery.

Brees, the 42-year-old recently retired NFL standout QB and a Purdue grad, is the latest non-Irish voice. His first pairing with play-by-play virtuoso Mike Tirico will be Sept. 11 against Toledo at Notre Dame Stadium.

Flutie, the former Heisman Trophy-winning QB from Boston College, was perhaps the most rebuked in the role of color analyst.

His run in the booth from 2014 ended abruptly last fall, with a one-year run for former NFL coach Tony Dungy last season. Flutie, though, still popped up intermittently for in-studio analysis.

Dungy, meanwhile, was always intended to be a bridge, with NBC committing 11 months ago to plugging Brees into the analyst role once his Hall-of-Fame-caliber NFL career with the New Orleans Saints came to an end.

“I will say this, I will be impartial for every game with the exception of the Purdue game,” Brees said Wednesday, referring to his second assignment, a Sept. 18 reunion with the Irish that used to be an annual event.

“My bloodlines run deep with the black and gold and the Boilermakers. But on a serious note …”

Notre Dame fans probably could forgive him just that once if Brees wasn’t joking.

After all, Brees doesn’t hold any grudges against Notre Dame — and almost every other FBS program — for ignoring the undersized Texas high school QB in the 1997 recruiting cycle, with the Irish settling on Zak Kustok instead.

Or for the two heartbreaking losses he suffered at Notre Dame Stadium — in 1998, squaring off against Jarious Jackson, and in 2000 against tight end-turned QB Garry Godsey, who was overtaken on the depth chart shortly thereafter (by freshman Matt Lovecchio) and converted back into a tight end.

“We should have won, and somehow, someway Touchdown Jesus got us in the end,” Brees said of his Notre Dame Stadium experiences. “But I’m extremely excited to be in the booth with Mike Tirico broadcasting those Notre Dame games.

“There’s no question that that is really one of the epicenters of college football. The history and the nostalgia that exists there, and I think just what that place represents to so many people, it is a special place.”

For Notre Dame fans to feel special about Brees, it’ll come down to how well he’s able to translate his football knowledge into relevance for them, how proficient he can take them behind the scenes, and how hard he’s willing to work in his game prep.

That could make his alma mater a non-starter when it comes to perception.

And Brees did manage to follow the 2020 Irish in their COVID-contorted path to a 10-2 record and a second College Football Playoff appearance in the past three years.

“I watched quite a few games last year. Obviously, they had a phenomenal run,” he said. “It was fun to watch them on that journey. I feel like just from watching them this last year, I got a bit of a feel for their team and their style of play, their offense.

“It’s one thing to watch it on TV. It’s another thing as you begin to really study the team and study their personnel and the coaching staff. … I’m interested to dive back into college football and understand the style that’s being played.”

Brees said the first time he first considered broadcasting as an encore to his playing career was in 2017, after attending a Purdue-Louisville game in Indianapolis as a fan and getting pulled into some impromptu analyst work.

“I’m telling you,” he said, “when I put those headphones on and I started seeing the game from that vantage point and then beginning to talk about it, it was like the lightbulb went on.

“And I said, ‘Man, I can do this and I would love it and I think I could be really good at it.’ I think that’s when I started to think about it and take it serious.”

NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said this week that Brees would also serve as studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America show, and have a role in other major sporting events on the network, including the Olympics and the Kentucky Derby.

Football, though, is clearly where Brees’ passion is, even if he’s not exactly how that will translate to the airwaves yet.

“Most importantly for me, I want to create as great a fan experience as I can,” he said. “I know what it’s like to watch a game, and I know what I would want to hear while I’m watching a game.

“I think what’s so unique, again, about the position that we’re in as an NFL quarterback, now transitioning into the booth, I’m excited to show fans how I see the game and how I process the game and the things that I’m thinking about and the things that I’m anticipating and articulating it in a way that’s both educational and enjoyable to listen to.

“Listen, I’m going to have my own style. I don’t even know what that style is yet, but I’m going to be myself, and I’m going to talk as if you’re sitting right next to me in my living room and we’re just watching the game together.

“It’s going to be as authentic as it can possibly be, because that’s the only way I know how. I hope people enjoy it. I hope people love it. At the end of the day I am going to work as hard at this as I do everything in my life.”

Soon-to-be Notre Dame broadcaster Drew Brees (9) runs off the field after breaking the NFL record for career touchdown passes, Dec. 16, 2019, against the Indianapolis Colts.
Notre Dame linebacker Anthony Denman (39) sacks Purdue quarterback Drew Brees (15) during ND's 31-30 win on Sept. 26, 1998, at Notre Dame Stadium.