P.J. Fleck thinks the Gophers football team has a lot to learn from Batman. Specifically, Christian Bale’s Batman.
To the coach, the original comic book iteration of the character was amazing. That spawned a 1960s TV series and movie that were classics in their campiness.
“Then there was a lull of all these Batman movies that never really made a ton,” Fleck said. “All of a sudden, boom, ‘The Dark Knight’ hit, and it was like, one of the largest-grossing movies ever.”
What the Gophers can learn from that — besides that fact that their coach clearly prefers Christopher Nolan’s interpretation to Tim Burton’s — is that even despite going dormant for around 50 years, Batman rose again. And the Gophers, whose last national championship came in 1960, can do the same.
Every year, Fleck said Monday, his teams follow a theme, from musical groups to historic world leaders. This year, it’s movies. The ideas come from the Gophers’ creative team, which includes staff from football operations to recruiting to graphic design.
For Week 1 against South Dakota State, “The Dark Knight” was the inspiration. Not only did the team study up on the movie and listen to the soundtrack during practice, but Fleck gave each player a token to remember the lessons learned. He went to each player’s room before the game, handing out Batman Pez dispensers, calling the candy “How” pills. Every week has to have “How” in the title, so “The Dark Knight” became “The How Knight.”
“Whether people like him or don’t like him, whether people consider him a hero or a villain, and whatever people’s opinions of him are, he’s him,” Fleck said of what his players can take from Batman. “He always does the right thing. Our whole thing is, it doesn’t matter who we play. We have to play our best, and we have to go do a job.”
Obviously, football is still the priority. And no matter what this coming week’s film is in preparation for a trip to Fresno State on Saturday, the Gophers will want to emphasize improving from Thursday’s close 28-21 victory over the FCS Jackrabbits. But one of the benefits of these themes, Fleck said, is it encourages a clean break from one week to the next.
Whether the previous game was a great performance or terrible one, a different movie to absorb forces players to put the past out of mind.
“It breaks up the stagnant from week to week to week, one, and then two, you get to focus on something else,” Fleck said. “… It’s amazing how many players that [say], ‘I can’t wait.’ They can’t wait to hear what the next week’s theme is. They can’t wait to hear what the yearly theme is. Can’t wait to see what the trinket is. You come into the room. They’re all sitting up [at attention].”
But really, the ultimate goal of these themes is to just provide the opportunity to lighten up a little.
“It’s fun,” Fleck said. “… They work extremely hard on and off the field, but I want them to enjoy it. You want to get to a point where you get to the hotel, and you’ve already gone through all your meetings, and you want something fun to give them. Get a smile. Get them to take a big deep breath and come back to the reality of life.”