Reality Bites

An NFL legend doesn't wow his team on a TV gig as a high school coach
October 31, 2005

Illusions are easily shattered when a high school football team endures a second straight 1-8 season, but the Montour High Spartans got an especially hard reality check, courtesy of ESPN. As the subjects of that network's year-in-the-life show Bound for Glory, which stars NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus as guest head coach, players at the suburban Pittsburgh school were followed by a 60-person production crew starting with practice in August. But after watching some of the eight-episode series, which ends on Nov. 8, they learned that TV truth can be flexible. Says senior quarterback Nick DiIanni, "Now whenever we watch a reality show, we say, 'I bet that's not really what happened.'"

Some Spartans are upset that the show concentrated on players' practice pratfalls, overstated the town's economic woes and exaggerated a minor feud between DiIanni and a receiver. Players and parents also say Butkus was more motivational speaker than coach and that he usually kept to himself when the cameras weren't rolling. (Actual Montour head coach Lou Cerro served as an assistant.) Some were offended by Butkus's rough language. Says one parent, "I don't think he was ready to coach kids."

Butkus sparked a furor in the community by leaving before the season ended: His eight-week contract expired after the Spartans' 34-3 loss to New Castle on Oct. 7. (A smaller crew stayed to chronicle the end of the season.) Butkus returned to speak to the team before a 28-6 loss to West Allegheny in the season finale last Friday. But, in reality, most players didn't miss him. Says one, "We could have concentrated on the season more if we didn't have all this chaos going on."

Montour players and parents are happy with the perks the show brought: equipment and uniforms donated by Reebok, new weight-room gear, a remodeled locker room and preseason physicals that Butkus paid for out of his own pocket. But in the end their fame was their undoing. "Teams were definitely hyped for our games," says DiIanni. "We had a bull's-eye on our chests."

PHOTOLARRY RIPPEL/ESPN (BUTKUS)BEAR LEFT Butkus, whose main duty was giving pep talks, took off before the season ended. PHOTO

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