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Notre Dame’s Top Firemen

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.

  • Lou, I shudder to entertain an optimistic notion about this season, but could this be one of those years when the Irish catch lightning in a bottle? There couldn't be much more chaos surrounding the football program and yet those are the times ND seems to thrive.

  • Tell me if I'm wrong but didn't Montana play behind Rick Slager also (I don't know how to spell his name)?

  • ndin12,

    In 1975, Slager was a senior and Montana a sophomore after three-year starter Tom Clements (1972-74) graduated. Slager started the first two games, victories over BC and Purdue on the road within five days and made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

    In the third game, the SI jinx hit when the Irish fell behind 7-0 and Slager got hurt. Montana came in and completed 6 of 11 for 80 yards and a TD and also ran for a score in the 31-7 win. He played so well that he got the start the next week against Michigan State. He struggled in that game and threw a key interception in the end zone in the 10-3 loss. Slager came in for him in the second half and directed the lone score for ND.

    The next week at North Carolina, Slager started but Montana came in during the fourth quarter when the Irish trailed 14-6. The Irish scored two TDs to win, 21-14. Slager got the start again next week at Air Force, but Montana quickly replaced him. Montana threw three interceptions while the Irish fell behind 30-10, but the Irish rallied in the fourth quarter for a 31-30 win.

    Montana then started the next two games, USC and Navy. He had a bad game against USC (3 of 11, 25 yards, 2 interceptions) in a loss, and then the next week again Navy he suffered a broken hand. Because of Montana's injury, Slager started the final three games of the 8-3 season.

    In 1976, fifth-year senior Slager beat out Montana for the starting role in the spring, but it was expected to be a competition between the two all year. But then on Sept. 1 during practice, Montana separated his shoulder during a practice and was sidelined all year. That's when Lisch and Forystek moved in to the 2 and 3 slots.

    I remember watching Montana during the 1977 spring game and he just didn't look like he had any confidence or zip on the ball. He looked terrible. I feared at that point his career at ND would just be a footnote.

  • "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." -- Dr. Lou II

    Doc, did you know that you solved the mystery of why Sir Brian has had so much trouble with the QB position at ND and not at his other stops? (Actually, he has only had problems in 2011.) The answer is right there in plain sight. And, it's a three letter word.

    "Last year, Rees again - "HAD" - to replace Crist..."

    What's that - "HAD" about? Says who? Yes, we know the HC. Isn't that the HC who said about Theo; "I told him to get his ass back in there!"

    The QB problems were all self inflicted and continued through out that stormy night and build up to everything that ensued.We don't want to relive 2011. However, there is one exception. Last week you mentioned the pettiness coming - again - from Brian's lips about an upgrade or huge upgrade. When you brought that up, your writings spoke volumes.

    Bottom line: Pick a QB. Every QB on the squad had the ability to win a lot of games. Maybe even get us closer to the promised land. Great succes is within this team. Can the HC bring it out? That's the key question that we wll be answered in 2012.

    In 1993, there was a FANtastic photo in B&G of Lou I wrestling with McDougal. Priceless in more ways than one can imagine.

  • Lou, I'll throw a different wrinkle to this story. 1965, ND's starting QB was sophomore Tom Schoen. Hanratty and O'Brien were playing freshmen ball. Next year, Schoen switched to Safety, to make room for his succesor, and recorded 11 INTs over the next 2 yearsI. Can't recall another QB (who actualy played QB, let alone started) that changed positions and had as successful a career. Schoen was also quite a punt returner. I believe he made All-American.

  • psdo51,

    Several years ago, I did a review of the best position changes of former QBs, and Tom Schoen was No. 1 on my list. Here's my top 5, and this didn't even include people like Arnaz Battle or Adrian Jarrell.

    5 Pete Holohan (1977-80)
    One of five quarterback recruits in 1977, Holohan became a three-year starter at flanker, where he finished with 63 receptions for 983 yards (15.6 yards per catch), not including the game-winning two-point pass with 42 seconds left in an 18-17 victory versus South Carolina in 1979. On flanker passes, he completed 2-of-4 for 81 yards.
    During a 12-year NFL career, Holohan ranked among the league’s most productive tight ends from 1988-90.

    4 Joe Restic (1975-78)
    As a freshman, Restic completed his lone pass attempt for a 10-yard touchdown to Ken MacAfee in the season finale at Miami.
    But the Academic All-American’s athletic fame came as a four-year starter at punter and three-year starter at free safety. His 13 career interceptions tie him for third most on the Irish career chart. He joined Burgmeier and converted fullback Jim Browner as starters in the defensive backfield for the 1977 national champs.

    3 John Pergine (1965-67)
    The 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback prospect in 1964 became one of dozens of position switches under Ara Parseghian that yielded bountiful results.
    Bulking up to linebacker size, Pergine led the 1966 national champs in minutes played (262) and earned second-team All-America notice as a senior in 1967. In addition to recording 203 career tackles, his nine career interceptions are still the most by an Irish linebacker. Pergine played seven seasons in the NFL.

    2 Drew Mahalic (1972-74)
    The 1971 quarterback recruit attempted three passes with the junior varsity — but he was not going to beat out classmate Tom Clements for the starting role in 1972 when they were sophomores.
    Instead, Mahalic became a three-year starter at linebacker and a third-round NFL pick. Besides making the cover of Sports Illustrated while tackling USC’s Anthony Davis, Mahalic’s career included 253 tackles, four interceptions (one returned for a TD) and stellar play for the 1973 national champs.

    1 Tom Schoen (1965-67)
    A two-time All-American, including consensus first team as a senior in 1967. Schoen started at quarterback against Army in 1965, but when sophomores Terry Hanratty and Coley O’Brien were elevated to the varsity in 1966 (freshmen were not eligible back then), Schoen’s position switch to safety was met with vociferous protest from his father.
    The change proved to be a stroke of genius. Schoen intercepted seven passes for the 1966 national champs — two against Michigan State in the classic 10-10 tie — and returned two for scores. The next season he picked off four more passes (scoring on one) and broke up 11. During those two seasons, Schoen averaged 10 yards on his 71 punt returns, highlighted by two TD.

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