“History Through the Headsets” offers inside look at Notre Dame’s 2020 Playoff run

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Notre Dame at Boston College
Getty Images
6 Comments

It all began with a conversation over a belated Thanksgiving dinner.

Notre Dame had just picked up another win in a COVID-altered year — a road victory over No. 19 North Carolina — and all that remained between Notre Dame and an undefeated regular season was an embattled Syracuse team coming to South Bend the following week. As the focus turned from the Tar Heels to the Orange, then-defensive backs coach Terry Joseph posed an idea to senior defensive signal-callers Reed Gregory and John Mahoney: What if they wrote a book about the unusual season?

Mahoney (No. 25 above) said he and Gregory (No. 50) mulled it over, and it didn’t take long to decide in favor of taking on the project. The senior walk-ons were perfectly positioned to tell the story. Gregory would have a part-time schedule in the spring, and Mahoney was set to graduate a semester early. Having spent three seasons in the program before the pandemic altered so many aspects of their fourth, the pair could do justice to the feat of explaining the many differences in the 2020 year.

“I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday of practice,” Mahoney said to Inside the Irish’s Caroline Pineda this week. “We were on the sidelines signaling and all at once we both just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Is this something you want to do? You want to just give this a shot?'”

Less than a year later, their book, “History Through the Headsets: Inside Notre Dame’s Playoff Run During the Craziest Season in College Football History” will be published on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

“History Through the Headsets” not only offers a detailed retelling of the ups and downs of the 2020 season, including the double-overtime victory over Clemson and the two-week hiatus that threw doubt upon the entire campaign, but Gregory and Mahoney also make clear when they are offering individual opinions, interrupting the traditional retrospective with personalized insights into each moment.

While that September pause of all Notre Dame football activities worried the entire college football landscape of what it may portend, Gregory and Mahoney also maintain the mere willingness of the Irish to play at all in 2020 played a significant role for all of college football.

Calling it “Our Bold Opinion,” Gregory and Mahoney wrote the University’s choice to resume in-person classes was responsible for the resumption of Notre Dame football. Then they wrote, “Without Notre Dame football, there is no college football.”

Mahoney explained the rationale.

“Notre Dame’s willingness to be flexible and willingness to join a conference for the first time ever definitely helped college football have a season,” he said. 

That flexibility played into the heavily scrutinized COVID outbreak within the Irish football program that caused the postponement (and thus eventual cancellation) of the Wake Forest game. Gregory and Mahoney explain that then-defensive coordinator Clark Lea deviated from the usual routine in the unit’s first meeting back from the initial pause. Instead of leading a normal meeting, Lea showed the premiere episode from “The Playbook: A Coach’s Rules for Life,” a documentary series that began with an episode featuring legendary NBA coach Doc Rivers, culminating with his tenet, “Champions keep moving forward.”

Gregory writes that the documentary episode grabbed players’ focus and “seemed to make an impact,” which led Gregory to suggest the hiatus “might have been a small blessing in disguise.”

For teams across the country, the 2020 season was vastly different, but for the Irish, joining a conference positioned them for an especially strange season — drastically changing their schedule and temporarily removing their steadfast tradition of independence. It will be remembered not just for the barrage of COVID regulations and challenges, but also for what it contained: that hallmark win over Clemson, an undefeated regular season and the second College Football Playoff appearance in three years, a particularly poignant moment as it marked the end of both Gregory’s and Mahoney’s gridiron careers.

Head coach Brian Kelly penned the book’s foreword, where he emphasized the unique nature of the 2020 season. He stressed the perennial importance of signal-callers such as Gregory and Mahoney and said he was glad they were able to share their stories. 

“This 2020 edition of Notre Dame Football was a very special group to me because of the strong character they possessed,” Kelly wrote, “and Reed and John are the epitome of that as much as anyone in our program.”

Gregory and Mahoney will return to South Bend for a book signing in the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore on Oct. 30 at 1:30 p.m. That night, the Irish host North Carolina in the next installment of the matchup that initially inspired the book’s creation.

Published by Triumph Books, “History Through the Headsets” can be purchased from the publisher here.

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.