Veteran tight end Billy Palmer is respected by his teammates.

Notre Dame's Bachelor On The Gridiron

Sept. 24, 2004

By Ken Kleppel

Senior tight end Billy Palmer is admittedly not the nation’s most eligible bachelor.

Yet his older brother Jesse–a former University of Florida standout and current quarterback with the New York Giants–has most certainly earned the label. The fifth installment of the ABC television series The Bachelor featured Jesse Palmer when reality television rocked the Palmer household in the spring of 2004.

For seven weeks, Jesse dwindled a roster of twenty-five bachelorettes to just one by delivering a rose to his newfound love on the season’s final episode.

But don’t look for Billy to appear on a dating game any time soon. Nicknamed “Gonzo” by his teammates, the younger Palmer is anything but Hollywood.

“The network hasn’t contacted me yet, thank God,” says Palmer.

Instead of delivering roses to potential suitors, Palmer is far more likely to deliver his unique style of slapstick humor in the locker room to inspire camaraderie or pancake blocks downfield to inspire big plays. And in lieu of the perfect date, Billy would much prefer the perfect football season.

Perfect ending to his Notre Dame career? “A national championship,” says Palmer. “I won’t be satisfied with anything less.”

Perfect play? “A 99-yard touchdown route, I am looking for something that will go down in history,” says Palmer.

Perfect teammate? “Someone I can count on and someone I know that in a pressure situation I can definitely trust to do the right thing and to help us win,” says Palmer.

As to the latter, Palmer specifically recognizes a trio of former Irish standouts–tight end Dan O’Leary (1996 – 2000), center Jeff Faine (1999 – 2002), and tailback Julius Jones (1999 – 2003)–who pass muster. Embarking on his final season, Palmer today embodies qualities of each–O’Leary’s leadership, Faine’s grit, and Jones’ ability to persevere.

Combining these characteristics, Palmer himself has become the perfect teammate and a model student-athlete–the perfect bachelor on the Notre Dame gridiron.

The guise of a reality television series provides more insight into how Palmer achieves the distinction.

Episode One: Growing up Canadian–The Rose Goes to Family

“I’ve always been labeled as a tough player,” says Palmer. “I definitely try to exude on the field the characteristics of a tough, hardnosed football player, and hopefully a guy who goes out there and enjoys the game of football and loves to play hard.”

Perhaps Canadian winters had something to do with shaping this toughness. Without question, the northern exposure must have influenced Palmer’s hobbies–most notably football, ice hockey, and rugby.

“I am very proud of my Canadian heritage and I will always consider myself a Canadian citizen and a Canadian athlete,” says Palmer. “We are few and far between in the States here but we definitely try as hard as we can to represent Canada.”

Born and raised in suburban Ottawa, Ontario, Palmer watched his father Bill enjoy a successful seven-year stint in the Canadian Football League.

“Growing up watching him was always a treat,” says Palmer. “That was definitely an influence on me, to want to be like my father.”

Twenty-two years later, Palmer did just that and joined his father in the ranks of those drafted by the professional league. In March 2004, the BC Lions selected Palmer as a fullback in the sixth round of the Canadian Football League Draft.

His brother Jesse has also earned a few notable firsts. Entering the National Football League in 2001, Palmer became the first Canadian-born and trained quarterback to play in the NFL. With three consecutive starts to end the 2003 campaign, Palmer also became only the second Canadian quarterback to start an NFL game.

Billy remains a Canadian citizen today but plans to pursue dual citizenship after graduation.

Episode Two: Comedy and Chemistry–The Rose Goes to Team

If Jim Carrey is the most noteworthy Canadian comic for his impressions, then Palmer would be a close second according to his teammates.

And the locker room is Palmer’s stage.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody with a sense of humor like Billy,” says senior tight end Jared Clark. “You actually have to get to know it a little bit before you can understand it. If you ask anybody who the funniest guy on the team is, the answer would definitely be Billy.”

Palmer’s impressions of teammates and coaches may be second to none — he offers a slapstick style of humor, observing situations and making fun of them. Include a mustache sported for fall camp, a few milk-drinking contests, and the occasional message on the team dry erase board. The only conclusion that can be reached is that Palmer not only maintains a knack for gauging the pulse of the locker room, but most importantly, a knack for the situation–the ability to make a teammate laugh one moment and then make a teammate work harder the next.

“Off the field he is one of the funniest guys that I have ever known–he is a great guy, awesome personality, hilarious,” says sophomore center John Carlson. “When he is on the field, though, he is all business. He has a huge amount of knowledge of the game of football. He goes out there to get something done. Everybody wants to hang around Billy. He is always happy, always has a smile on his face, and always making you laugh.”

Palmer has a purpose in mind.

“To tell you the truth, I use the majority of free time in the locker room and on the field for building team chemistry and camaraderie,” says Palmer. “It is such an important aspect and so crucial to a team’s success to have chemistry.”

The sense of humor goes a long ways in boosting the team’s morale as Palmer’s personal formula for leadership becomes basic.

Episode Three: Intelligent Leader–The Rose Goes to Character

“We are looking for leaders on this team in the huddle,” says sophomore center John Sullivan. “Right now when you get to the huddle Billy is the first one getting in there to say `let’s get this done, everybody get your job done.’ You can always count on Billy because he is smart and it seems like he rarely ever misses an assignment. His intelligence and the fact that he is trying to get everybody fired-up are really good qualities.”

In his fifth season at Notre Dame and second season as the primary option at his position, Palmer leads all returning Irish tight ends in terms of minutes played and games started. He was chosen by the coaching staff to serve as game captain versus Michigan State and again against Boston College in 2003. The squad also recognized Palmer as captain for its opening tilt in 2004 against Brigham Young University.

Although each week he has become more comfortable in leading through words, Palmer continues to leads best by example.

“Basically I try to be as accountable and responsible as I can be and do the things that I am taught to do,” says Palmer.

“He’s very dependable, you can always count on Billy to get the job done,” adds Clark. “People look up to Billy–he has everybody’s respect because he is always going to be there, always playing hard, and never takes a play off. Billy rarely misses practice which is something that people look up to. Billy is always out there working hard.”

Palmer served as one of only eleven football student-athletes to take part in the Student-Athlete Institute, a student leadership workshop within the Athletic Department that provides opportunities for leadership development and lifelong learning for select student-athletes at Notre Dame. In his years at the University, Palmer has also participated in the “Tackle the Arts” program and spearheaded a prostate cancer awareness drive during a men’s basketball game in 2002.

“What makes those programs appealing to guys on the team is that you are considered a role model and it gives you that hands-on opportunity to see what you can be a part of and what you can do,” says Palmer.

Like everything else he has done at Notre Dame, Palmer has made a difference away from campus as well.

Episode Four: The Finale–The Rose Goes to Palmer

Keep the dating game clich√©s away from Palmer. There will be no hot tub or make out scene, romantic boat ride, tearful contestants, or a grand finale featuring a surprise ending–at least we can hope.

“Hopefully others will speak of me on the field as a guy who played hard and off the field as a guy who built that chemistry,” says Palmer. “Hopefully guys will look back and smile and say that `Billy Palmer made me happy.'”

Our audience has a leader on the field–one that strives to develop chemistry and strives to lead by example.

“Billy is always going to have your back,” says Clark. “When things are tough or when you are in trouble he is right there for you. I hope I am friends with him for the rest of my life.”

And, most of all, our audience has a leader away from the field–one whose charisma and character motivates the locker room and motivates others.

The brother of the perfect bachelor has become the perfect teammate.