Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees has specialized as a fireman during his first two seasons with the Irish football team. Unfortunately, his well-documented run-in with the police this past week left him with four misdemeanor charges and a clouded football future.
Twenty-five years ago, sophomore Tony Rice had to replace an injured Terry Andrysiak.
As a freshman in 2010, Rees was heir to a Notre Dame quarterback tradition where the backup comes in to save the day, and often a season, just when it appears the walls are about to cave in.
After stunning back-to-back losses to Navy and Tulsa dropped head coach Brian Kelly’s first Irish outfit to 4-5, Rees stepped in for an injured Dayne Crist and helped Notre Dame to an uplifting 4-0 finish.
Last year, Rees again had to replace Crist by the second half of the opener, but this time it appears he might be the one who will be relieved.
Junior Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel have zero career starts, and the latter two have yet to appear in a college game. With the instability at quarterback, the graduation of first-round wideout Michael Floyd, the sudden exodus of Freshman All-American defensive end Aaron Lynch, and a potentially challenging schedule, another status quo 8-5 season might be in the works, at least from the outside looking in.
Yet on many an occasion an unexpected or unlikely Notre Dame fireman from the bullpen — most recently Rees in 2010 — seized the day. In addition to Rees, here are some other recent standards of a game or season turning out better than hoped for after the incumbent quarterback(s) went down:
Matt LoVecchio (2000)
Starter Arnaz Battle suffered a season-ending injury in the second game and No. 2 man Gary Godsey, a former tight end, led a victory over Drew Brees-led Purdue before getting benched when the Irish fell to 2-2.
The freshman LoVecchio started 7-0 and led the Irish to a BCS bid while throwing 11 touchdowns to only one interception — and also rushing for 300 yards. He would later transfer to Indiana University (2002). Ironically, Rees has been often compared to LoVecchio in that he was the right man at the right time as a freshman, but had a lower ceiling for the future.
Kevin McDougal (1993)
The senior, who had thrown only 21 career passes while apprenticing behind three-year starter Rick Mirer (1990-92), was leapfrogged in the 1993 pre-season by freshman phenom Ron Powlus. A broken collarbone suffered by Powlus a week before the opener left head coach Lou Holtz crestfallen and moved to comment that Powlus “isn’t your average bird.”
Regardless, McDougal emerged and soared to become the all-time pass efficiency leader in school history while leading the Irish to a debatable No. 2 finish.
Tony Rice (1987)
Senior starter Terry Andrysiak helped lead a 3-0 start before suffering a broken clavicle while trailing Pitt 27-0. The sophomore Rice came off the bench and nearly led a miraculous rally before falling 30-22 — but a cornerstone in Holtz’s empire from 1988-93 had been found.
That same year, Rice would lead the Irish to victory over Pac-10 champ USC (26-15), No. 10 Alabama (37-6) and come off the bench to spark a 32-25 win over Boston College after trailing 25-12.
Joe Montana (1977)
Why do Notre Dame faithful (and others) often clamor to see the backup quarterback? Montana might be the No. 1 reason. The senior was behind both junior Rusty Lisch and senior Gary Forystek in 1977 when the Irish sputtered to a 1-1 start, and then trailed Purdue 24-14 in the fourth quarter.
Lisch was replaced by Forystek, who suffered a career-ending injury at Purdue, and then Lisch was in the game again before Montana was given his shot. He rallied the Irish to a 31-24 victory, and the Irish went on to capture the national title that season.
What if Forystek hadn’t been injured? How would history have changed?
Coley O’Brien (1966)
In one of the greatest showdowns in college football history with the national title on the line, Notre Dame starting QB Terry Hanratty had his shoulder wrecked by Michigan State’s Bubba Smith early in the contest.
Trailing 10-0 on the road against a vaunted defense, the sophomore diabetic O’Brien rallied the No.1 Irish to a 10-10 tie. A week later, O’Brien was at the throttle in a 51-0 demolition of Pac-8 champion USC to clinch the national title.
John Lujack (1943)
Starting quarterback and 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli had to leave the team on Nov. 1 to report for officer’s training school during World War II. Sophomore Lujack stepped in and began his career with victories over No. 3 Army, No. 8 Northwestern and No. 2 Iowa Pre-Flight.
In spite of losing Bertelli, Notre Dame still captured the national title.
There are far more stories of newcomers not quite being able to seize the day. However, there are always shining examples of someone emerging when a crisis arises.