Tommy Rees heard the boos when he trotted out on the field with a little more than two minutes to go in a 17-17 game on Saturday against Purdue.
He just didn’t have time to care. The game was on the line.
“I heard them,” Notre Dame’s backup quarterback, A.K.A. “The Closer”, said on Wednesday. “But it went in one ear and went out the other.”
Rees led the Irish to a game-winning field goal in his surprise relief appearance. Coach Brian Kelly pulled starter Everett Golson — who had played a strong game, but was coming off a fumble at his own 15-yard line that set up the game-tying touchdown for Purdue — because he believed Rees had a better command of the two-minute offense. The crowd was displeased, to say the least.
“That’s just something that comes with the territory, I guess,” Rees said. “There’s been some highs and there’s been some lows here, but the highs definitely outweigh the lows. The crowd’s emotions definitely flipped at the end of the game.”
Indeed, the 81,000 fans at Notre Dame Stadium cheered Rees off the field, vindicating Kelly’s decision, and vindicating Rees, who spent the offseason digging out of a hole he created by getting arrested after an off-campus party in May.
The respect and affection Kelly and Rees’ teammates have for the quarterback was evident in their postgame comments.
“It’s just the kind of guys we have on the team,” Rees said. “I felt that support from my teammates and coaches for a long time now.”
Rees admitted he was surprised by Kelly’s decision. Because he was suspended for the opener against Navy, Rees spent training camp just watching Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix take nearly all the snaps. Rees was relegated to a coaching role, essentially helping Golson take his job.
But he did what he could to stay fresh, working on his timing with receivers after practice and trying to simulate live action the best he could.
He drew on his experience — 16 career starts — when he came in cold off the bench against Purdue.
“That’s what you need to do when you’re the No. 2 quarterback, you need to stay ready (because) at any time you’re number can be called,” Rees said. “(It wasn’t) too bad. I’ve had a lot of experience in the past, a lot of game experience. … When I got back into it, it wasn’t too much of a jump.”
Rees doesn’t know what his role is anymore. He knows he can be called upon at any time in crunch time, and he knows that if Golson is injured, he’s the likely replacement. But he also knows Golson might seize control of the job and never relinquish it.
His role is simply to be ready, and to help wherever he can.
“Just help the team any way I can,” Rees said. “Everett’s the starter, and whatever I can do — if I need to go in and play, if I need to be an extra set of eyes for him, whatever the coaches ask, that’s what I’m here for.”