He May Not Look Like a Hero, but Tommy Rees Is Notre Dame's Only Hope

Keith Arnold@@KeithArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterOctober 21, 2013

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 19: Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks for a receiver as George Uko #90 and Devon Kennard #42 of the University of Southern Califonia Trojans rush at Notre Dame Stadium on October 19, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There are things you dream of as a kid. A walk-off home run. A buzzer-beater. The game-winning touchdown pass.

Wander around Notre Dame's campus on a fall football Saturday, and you'll see hundreds of kids sprinting across South Quad, completing that perfect spiral to the corner of the end zone or making a game-clinching interception to help the Irish win. 

Those dreams have been passed down through generations. And before they were fathers catching up with former classmates or debating X's and O's at the tailgate, they were boys living the same dreams. Maybe that's part of the problem Irish fans have with Tommy Rees. Nobody dreams of being like him

Tommy Rees doesn't look like a hero. And he certainly doesn't look like he should be the quarterback at Notre Dame. That position has been reserved for Heisman Trophy winners like Paul Hornung and John Huarte. National title winners like Joe Montana or Tony Rice. At the very least top NFL draft picks like Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen. 

You won't confuse Rees for one of those guys. Even after four years in a college weight room, he still looks like he's better suited to be throwing a frisbee in the parking lot outside than a football inside Notre Dame Stadium.

"He's one of our players," Brian Kelly said earlier this season, side-stepping a reporter's question about Rees' legacy, a career that's now inching past many Irish greats in the school's record books. "He's a college student. He goes to class. He's got pimples. He's a college kid."

Tommy Rees certainly isn't the first Notre Dame quarterback to earn the scorn of Irish fans. But the anger that brought out the boo birds last year when Rees came in and drove the Irish to a game-winning field goal against Purdue certainly deserves some inspection.

For a school that's turned a walk-on underdog into one of the greatest sports movies of all time, the backlash against a quarterback who manages to win even without the strongest arm or fastest legs doesn't seem to make sense.

You can say it's the turnovers. Yet Rees' error-plagued sophomore season, where his 14 interceptions were cited as the main reason the Irish went just 8-5, were three fewer than the 17 Jimmy Clausen threw in his second year starting. You can cite his struggles against good teams. Yet somehow Rees has managed to be the first Irish quarterback to beat USC twice in his career since Rick Mirer.

The reality behind some fans' disdain for Rees the quarterback likely says more about the fan than the quarterback. Here's a quarterback who doesn't look like a man among boys. Here's an athlete who doesn't stand out against the rest. In fact, he looks an awful lot like you and me. There's nothing heroic about that.

Yet Notre Dame fans saw what life was like without Rees, when backup Andrew Hendrix came in for an injured Rees and nearly cost the Irish the game every time he touched the football. Never mind that Hendrix had the blue-chip pedigree as a high schooler (Urban Meyer tried to poach him to Florida late after Charlie Weis was fired).

Even with a stronger arm, a sturdier build and as a better runner, the Irish offense was left for dead with a quarterback who looked the part, while the kid who looked like a trumpet player was trying to clear out the cobwebs on the sidelines.

The neck strain Rees suffered on Saturday night won't likely keep him off the field next Saturday when the Irish take on Air Force. But it should take care of the skeptics, zipped tight last night after the defense saved Hendrix and the game.

And while the Irish record books continue to be invaded by a quarterback many feel isn't deserving of playing for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly doesn't really care. And he gets the feeling that his quarterback doesn't, either. 

"I don't know that Tommy nor I would look at those numbers and equate much," Kelly said after the 14-10 victory over USC. "He's interested and I'm interested in winning football games."

One thing's clearer than ever. If the Irish want to win football games, they'll need Tommy Rees to do it. 


*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first hand. Follow @KeithArnold on Twitter.