In Tommy Rees' final game at Notre Dame Stadium, the senior quarterback encapsulated an entire career in 60 minutes. There were highs, there were lows. There were good plays and bad.
But in the Irish's hard-fought 23-13 victory over BYU, Rees and the Irish walked away like they have so often with the much-maligned quarterback behind center: a winner.
Rees won his 22nd game as a starting quarterback at Notre Dame on Saturday, pushing him past guys like Johnny Lujack, Joe Theismann and Joe Montana. And while names like that usually wake up the echoes under the Golden Dome, Rees' place in Irish history won't likely be as hallowed.
But that's okay. For a guy that came to Notre Dame looking like the bronze medalist in a three-quarterback recruiting class, Rees has outperformed even the most optimistic career projections. So while it might make Irish fans bristle to see Rees' name in the top five of nine career passing categories, the very loud ovation Rees received both before and after the Irish's victory over BYU was well deserved.
|Top Ten Notre Dame Starting Quarterback Career Victories|
|T-1||Tom Clements (1972-74)||29|
|T-1||Ron Powlus (1994-97)||29|
|T-1||Brady Quinn (2003-06)||29|
|T-4||Tony Rice (1987-89)||28|
|T-4||Rick Mirer (1989-92)||28|
|6||Ralph Guglielmi (1951-54)||26|
|T-7||Terry Hanratty (1966-68)||22|
|T-7||Tommy Rees (2010-13)||22|
|9||Steve Beuerlein (1983-86)||21|
|T-10||Johnny Lujack (1943, 1946-47)||20|
|T-10||Joe Theismann (1968-70)||20|
|Notre Dame Sports Information|
So much of Rees' performance was of the vintage variety. There was the very good: Rees' perfect 61-yard touchdown pass to DaVaris Daniels, opening up the scoring for the Irish with a perfect play-action bomb. It was a throw that Notre Dame fans thought impossible for Rees to complete just a few months ago, but it has been the bread-and-butter of his senior season.
And of course there was the very bad: Rees' end-zone interception thrown into the teeth of BYU's two-deep zone, taking what could have been the game-sealing points off the board. It was the type of mistake that's turned Rees into Irish fan's favorite whipping boy; the type of mental blunder from a quarterback that should be far too smart and far too experienced to make.
But Rees played on. Not that he was given much of a choice, but as he always does, Rees picked himself up and took the next snap. Perhaps that's the thing that Irish fans will miss the most, the forever under-appreciated virtue of resilience, perhaps the one trait where Rees looks every bit the five-star player.
I asked Rees after the game what his mentality was after throwing another crucial fourth-quarter interception. And after answering most of the media's questions with the aplomb of a politician, his true feelings came out.
"Pissed," Rees said. "But you've got to come right back out and get ready to go."
And credit Rees for doing that. With the Irish lead just seven points and an entire fanbase thinking back to the fourth quarter stinker against Pitt, the Irish called their final timeout as they faced a crucial 3rd-and-4.
But instead of running the ball into a stacked defensive front, the Irish went to the air. After looking off Daniels and TJ Jones, Rees dropped back and threw a perfect strike to freshman Corey Robinson, picking up 17 valuable yards that came in handy before Kyle Brindza put the game on ice with a clutch 51-yard field goal.
After four seasons, some fans are still obsessed with focusing on the things Rees can and can't do. But Brian Kelly talked about the ultimate evaluation tool for his veteran quarterback.
"We are measuring Tommy's success based upon wins and losses," Kelly said. "You know, you want to keep your critical errors down to a minimum. I thought he had, other than the one interception, he didn't have the critical errors that cost you football games."
Not costing you the football game sometimes feels like a low bar to clear. But after the offseason chaos in the Irish quarterbacking depth chart, with Everett Golson exiled for a season after cheating on a test, Gunner Kiel departing for Cincinnati, and Andrew Hendrix showing himself to be far from a fallback option, Rees kept the Irish ship afloat.
So Rees might not be the quarterback Irish fans have wanted, but he certainly is the one they need.
After a long love-hate relationship, it was Rees' classmates that celebrated him the loudest. Returning to the field in victory formation, as Rees took a knee to run out the clock, chants of "Tommy!" rang from the student section. In a career with a lot of good, more than a little bad, and a whole lot of wins, it was a moment Rees would never forget.
"That was a very special moment," Rees said. "We've been through a lot, the entire senior class, not only on the team but everybody here. They could have chanted anyone's name, the whole senior class. But it's definitely a memory I'll hold very closely for a long time."