It was the most watershed of moments.
Four months removed from its appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, Notre Dame received a horribly timed knockout blow, the ultimate and fatal strike in a series of debilitating gut punches.
The quarterback who led the Irish to their first appearance in college football's championship game—Everett Golson—had been expelled from school for what was later revealed to be cheating or "something like that," as Golson recently told Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples.
The ripple effect of Golson's expulsion from the university would reverberate long after administrative officials formally announced the stinging news.
While such an atomic news explosion would significantly cripple a program, senior quarterback Tommy Rees was waiting in the shadows, prepared for a shot at redemption.
The 2012 season was equal parts distressing and thoroughly enjoyable for Rees.
After starting 11-of-12 games during the 2011 season and improving his career record as a starting quarterback to 12-4, Rees was supplanted by Golson during fall camp preceding the 2012 season.
While the Lake Forest, Ill., native saved the day on numerous occasions during the Irish's undefeated season—remember those victories against Purdue, Michigan and Stanford?—the overwhelming majority of Notre Dame's journey to the pinnacle of college football saw Rees watching helplessly from the sideline.
With Golson gradually improving on a weekly basis, the odds of Rees ever reclaiming his former job were slim.
But destiny is a confounding thing, as it lends itself to the life advice of "expecting the unexpected."
No one, not even Rees himself, could have predicted Golson's expulsion that led to a vacancy at the starting quarterback position at Notre Dame. But there it was: an opportunity that was formerly thought to be the impossibility of all impossibilities.
That Rees was available following the mess that was Golson's expulsion was nothing short of a saving grace for Notre Dame.
Sure, the transfer avenue existed for Rees.
But the 6'2", 215-pound quarterback was never willing to give up on Notre Dame, as head coach Brian Kelly briefly discussed during his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.
Kelly on QB Tommy Rees: “He really loves #NotreDame and understands Notre Dame.”— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) November 19, 2013
Such a passion wasn't found within former Irish quarterback Gunner Kiel, who transferred to Cincinnati after just one season in the program.
The former 5-star prospect and Columbus, Ind., native's decision, coupled with Golson's expulsion, left the program scarily thin at the quarterback position for the 2013 season; Andrew Hendrix proved to be incapable of leading the offense, while Kelly was averse to playing true freshman Malik Zaire.
Thus, Rees was, virtually, Notre Dame's only option at quarterback.
Without Rees this season, it's not out of the realm of possibility to posit that the Irish's 2013 season could have ended in disastrous fashion; a 6-6, or even 5-7, finish without Rees appears strikingly accurate in hindsight.
While he had his share of negative moments this season—three costly interceptions during a 35-21 loss against Oklahoma and another momentum-killing interception at Pittsburgh—the trajectory of the Irish's season wouldn't have been any different with either Hendrix or Zaire at the helm.
Quite frankly, Irish fans would be dreaming of a 7-3 record without Rees' services in 2013.
The 2012 defense wasn't there to mask deficiencies at the quarterback position. There weren't incendiary skill-position players capable of taking over a game.
Thus, Rees was forced to maximize his talents and play the most efficient football of his career. It wasn't always steady, but Rees played as well as he could have given the circumstances. Nothing more could have been asked of the seasoned quarterback.
And he's your 2013 Most Valuable Player.
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