Notre Dame Football: What Will Be Tommy Rees' Irish Legacy?

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst INovember 18, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 09:  Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hands the ball off to Tarean Folston #25 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game on November 9, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

For the final time Saturday, he'll take the field where the hectic journey began four years ago.

Along with his cohorts of Notre Dame's senior class, Tommy Rees, the Irish's starting quarterback, will be recognized in front of 80,795 fans at Notre Dame Stadium prior to his team's showdown with BYU.

When the Lake Forest, Ill., native has his name called over the public address system and jogs to midfield to greet his parents, the legacy he'll leave behind won't be fairly represented by any negative reaction from those in attendance at the House that Rockne Built.

For Rees has been a rather integral piece to Notre Dame's transition from the dark days of the latter stages of the Charlie Weis era to the Brian Kelly regime.


Sept. 11, 2010 marked the outset of Rees' career at Notre Dame.

An unheralded freshman quarterback originally recruited by former head coach Charlie Weis' staff, Rees was largely an unknown when Kelly was hired in Dec. 2009, as Dayne Crist commonly stole the headlines. The former signal-caller who was later reunited with Weis at Kansas was expected to be the conductor of a high-octane offense similar to those Kelly had built at Cincinnati.

But when Crist was forced to leave the game with a head injury, Rees was handed the reins.

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 19:  Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish calls a play against the University of Southern California Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium on October 19, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated USC 14-10.  (Photo by Jo
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As unfortunate as it may have been, the first pass attempt for the 6'2", 215-pound quarterback was intercepted by Michigan's Jonas Mouton.

Rees was only given one more play: an incomplete pass in the direction of former running back and current Detroit Lion Theo Riddick.

But to judge Rees based solely on such a short-lived appearance against a quality opponent would have been foolish, for he played a key role in salvaging the Irish's roller coaster 2010 season. After Crist was lost for the remainder of the season against Tulsa to a severe knee injury, Rees led the team to four consecutive victories, including a 33-17 win against Miami in the Sun Bowl.

Those were the good times for Rees.

It was before he drew the ire of a highly flammable and reactive fanbase.


2011 was simultaneously a nightmare and a pleasant dream for Rees.

As Crist struggled mightily during the first half of an eventual 23-20 season-opening loss to South Florida in South Bend, Ind., Rees relieved him and never looked back.

But for all the high points, there were equally as many low points.

Rees pieced together phenomenal performances against lesser competition—Pittsburgh, Purdue, Air Force, Navy, Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College—but withered against the cream of the crop—USC, Stanford and Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 05:  Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws the ball against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Cowboys Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The sting of those losses were directly attributable to Rees' lack of explosiveness and mobility, with those times being the root source of the copious amounts of vitriol spewed in his direction.

Accounting for 19 of the team's 29 total turnovers didn't aid Rees' image, though he remained steadfast in his approach; being the son of a football scout, the baby-faced quarterback never seemed to waver.

Unfortunately, that very public perception will likely always be Rees' legacy for those who don't closely follow the program. The casual viewer will read or hear his name and remember Rees simply for what he lacked, rather than the things he accomplished during four seasons at what is, perhaps, college football's most iconic university.


When Rees is gone, his absence may not be discussed by many, but Notre Dame fans will owe him a debt of gratitude.

When the Irish's 2012 starter, Everett Golson, struggled, Rees saved the day on multiple occasions. 

When the Irish seemed destined to tank at the midpoint of the 2010 season, Rees was there to guide them to a respectable finish that included a trip to the Sun Bowl. It may not have been a BCS game or any other ideal landing spot, but the point is that Rees saved the program from sinking to lows not experienced since the tumultuous 2007 season.

Those macro-level accomplishments will always be met with nitpicking on the micro level, with attacks being made on his inability to move the chains with his feet, lack of arm strength, etc.

Those who have taken the time to truly give thought to Rees' career understand perfectly what Rees' limitations are and view his performances in context. For everything he isn't athletically, Rees is a beautiful football mind; a quarterback capable of taking one look at a defense and reacting immediately.

It's a gift not possessed by just any quarterback. And it led to what Rees' legacy should be.

That legacy is that of a winner and of a quarterback that served as the proverbial glue of the program when it appeared that it was tearing at the seams.