Drew Brees will set allegiances aside for NBC broadcast of Notre Dame-Purdue
Drew Brees keeps checking off first-time experiences in his broadcasting career.
The former NFL quarterback was in Tampa, Fla., last week for the NFL’s season opener on Thursday night. Brees joined NBC’s “Football Night in America” crew for his first on-site pregame show before the Tampa Bay-Dallas game.
Then Brees joined play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico in the broadcast booth last Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium for Notre Dame’s 32-29 victory over Toledo. It was his first time calling a college football game as a color analyst in his new role with NBC, which happened to be available only on Peacock’s premium streaming service.
Brees finished the weekend at the NBC Sports Group studios in Stamford, Conn., to rejoin “Football Night in America” for its Sunday show.
“Last week was pretty crazy,” Brees said Thursday. “It was a week of firsts.”
► Keys to the game:How does No. 12 Notre Dame beat Purdue?
The streak of firsts included Brees watching the New Orleans Saints play on TV for the first time since retiring after 15 seasons with the team. The Saints, for whom Brees won Super Bowl XLIV, carried on without him in a 38-3 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
“That was a little weird,” Brees said. “I have such great relationships with so many of those guys. I’ve been in contact with them. I was in contact with them last week. I even had a copy of the game plan. I was happy to see them win the way they did.”
Brees will watch his former college team in person this Saturday when Purdue (2-0) visits No. 12 Notre Dame (2-0) in South Bend. With his professional and personal worlds colliding, Brees is confident he won’t slip a “we” into the broadcast when talking about the current Boilermakers.
“It’s probably going to be tough,” Brees said with a laugh. “But no, I can be a pro.”
When covering the Toledo game last Saturday, Brees attended his first game in Notre Dame Stadium since his playing days at Purdue. Brees spoke to reporters Thursday, 21 years to the day from a 23-21 loss at Notre Dame.
“I certainly remember both those games back in ‘98 and 2000 when – I can say we for this one – we came in there and played them.”
Brees didn’t have much luck against the Irish in South Bend. No. 23 Notre Dame beat Brees and Purdue in his third-career start when Jim Sanson hit a 17-yard field goal with 42 seconds left for a 31-30 Irish win in 1998. Two years later, a game-winning, 38-yard field goal by Nick Setta as time expired derailed No. 13 Purdue
Fill-in quarterback Gary Godsey started for the No. 21 Irish in the 2000 game. The sophomore backup was forced into the lineup following an injury to Arnaz Battle the previous week against Nebraska. Godsey steered the game-winning drive and completed more passes than Brees that day (14-13). But that was more a statistical oddity as Brees threw for more yards (221-158) and touchdowns (2-0) with fewer attempts (22-25).
Godsey only started one more game at quarterback the following week against Michigan State before freshman Matt LeVecchio took over the job. Godsey switched positions to tight end to finish the season.
“I’m certain they’ll at some point if not show a clip of that game, they’ll talk about it, I’d imagine,” Godsey said on ND Insider’s “Pod of Gold” podcast earlier this week. “But yeah, I’ll definitely be glued to the TV.”
Brees did engineer a 28-23 victory for No. 20 Purdue over No. 16 Notre Dame in 1999 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.
Only the Irish are ranked in this Saturday’s matchup, but No. 12 Notre Dame certainly appears vulnerable to an upset following narrow victories at Florida State (41-38 in overtime) and against Toledo. How can the Boilermakers pull off a win?
“They have to stop (tight end) Michael Mayer,” Brees said. “They have to figure out when (quarterback) Tyler Buchner’s in the game, what he’s doing and how they’re going to defend it. Then they need to be able to avoid giving up the big plays with some of these deep threats with (quarterback) Jack Coan’s ability to throw it down the field.
“Then offensively, they have to possess the ball and they have to score touchdowns. What won the game for Notre Dame last week was Toledo moved the ball, they just couldn’t score touchdowns when they got in the red zone.”
Notre Dame’s offense needed a boost from freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner to beat the Rockets. Buchner showed his athleticism in rushing seven times for 68 yards and an ability to throw on the move in completing all three of his pass attempts for 78 yards including a 55-yard touchdown to running back Chris Tyree.
Head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will likely continue to rely on both quarterbacks moving forward. Brees thinks that quarterback combination can be successful for the Irish long term.
“Notre Dame’s offense with both those quarterbacks goes to another level,” Brees said. “It will be interesting to see how it evolves. Because right now it certainly appears that when Tyler Buchner is in the game, that really is the source of Notre Dame’s run game.
“Whether he’s the one running it or he just is a threat who’s in essence taking up a tackler, right? They have to account for him, so there are more favorable run looks for the backs.
“How does that evolve as it goes along? I definitely think that obviously the more reps he gets, the more confidence he’s going to gain, the more confidence the coaching staff will have in him, the more that they’ll begin to open up the playbook for him. That’s a winning formula for Notre Dame having both those guys involved in the plan.”
That’s the kind of analysis Brees wants to bring to those watching Notre Dame home games this season. In his first season out of the NFL, Brees will gain valuable TV experience calling Notre Dame games and working as an NFL studio analyst for NBC.
The interest in becoming a football analyst started for Brees in 2017 when he joined the broadcast of a Purdue-Louisville game in Indianapolis for about 15 minutes.
“It’s a great way to still show my love and passion for the game of football but in a way that’s not playing and not coaching,” Brees said, “but still communicating it, talking about it and showing an energy and excitement for it. Hopefully that can be something that the fans would really enjoy.”
Brees’ stated goal is to entertain and educate while learning on the job himself.
“You’re watching the game and thinking about how you want to communicate to the fan and relay information that you feel like is pertinent to the game,” Brees said. “What you want them to be looking for. Try to help them anticipate. Heighten the overall experience for those watching.
“I felt like I started off kind of slow for the first maybe quarter-and-a-half of that Notre Dame-Toledo game just kind of trying to find the rhythm. Probably midway through the second quarter, I felt like the lightbulb came on and it started to feel pretty natural.”
Watching Notre Dame and Purdue play for The Shillelagh Trophy again Saturday should feel pretty natural too. The in-state teams played against each other in 69 consecutive seasons from 1946 to 2014. The rivalry became more difficult to schedule when Notre Dame made a commitment to play an average of five games per year against ACC teams starting in 2014 and the Big Ten expanded its conference schedule to nine games in 2016.
Saturday will bring the first meeting of the two teams since 2014, a 30-14 Notre Dame victory at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Irish and Boilermakers have committed to playing each other annually from 2024-28. If he wants, Brees will be a veteran analyst by then.
“I’m glad that this rivalry is being rekindled at least for this year and hopefully in future years,” Brees said, “because I think it’s a great one.”
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.