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Under pressure

Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rick Mirer always had big shoes to fill.

First, he had to follow national championship-winning quarterback Tony Rice. Then, he had to live up to the expectations of being called the next Joe Montana. Then, his career was compared with Drew Bledsoe’s.

And he would not have it any other way.

“You still have to make things happen and you still have to perform,” Mirer said in a phone interview with The Observer. “After going through it, and I think everyone who has gone through it realizes, as I have, sometimes you catch a break and sometimes you don’t.”

Mirer quarterbacked the Irish for three full seasons after taking the reins as a sophomore in 1990 following Rice’s departure. Mirer and the Irish finished that season 9-3.
Mirer said the one season he spent with Rice helped him prepare for his turn at the helm.

“I benefitted greatly from being around a team that was coming off a national championship with the quarterback coming back,” he said. “That was a pretty big advantage going forward because he was in the spotlight as much as everybody in the country. I could watch how he handled it and it helped me in the future when some of that happened to me.”

Current Irish senior quarterback Tommy Rees faces a similar scenario when the Irish open the season against Temple on Saturday. He is taking over for the suspended Everett Golson, who led the Irish to a national championship game berth a season ago.

“He can’t seem to avoid the spotlight,” Mirer said of Rees. “He’s had an interesting run there and I’m pulling for him. I think he’s had ups and downs but a lot of good things have happened and he’s got a pretty good squad around him.”

When Rees starts Saturday afternoon, he will have started at least one game in each of his four seasons, despite never being the opening day starter.

Rees’ last extended playing time came in 2011, his sophomore year, when the Irish went 8-5 and Rees turned the ball over 19 times. Mirer said the jump from sophomore to senior year is a significant one.

“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “I think that first time through, you’re just trying to prove that you deserve to be out there as the guy. But after that season, you get an entire offseason and a spring and you kind of handle all the questions and deal with being the starter for more than just week-to-week. You kind of settle in and have more comfort.

“I don’t know how much you change physically or how much faster or bigger you get. It’s not like a major metamorphosis happens. You just see things more clearly and it kind of slows down and you can feel more comfortable preparing for the games and the travel that maybe you weren’t fully accustomed to the first time through.”

Mirer, who graduated in 1993 with a marketing degree, said he did not feel how big the microscope on the Notre Dame quarterback was until he left South Bend.

“I’ve been away and I can vouch for the number of people that are watching you from all over the place,” he said. “Notre Dame has people everywhere. I don’t think you fully understand that when you’re in that town and on that campus. You don’t really get away.”

Following his senior season in 1992, Seattle selected Mirer with the second overall pick. Mirer was being hailed as the next Joe Montana and was competing with then-Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe for the No. 1 overall pick.

Mirer started all 16 games his rookie season, throwing for 2,833 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions during a 6-10 season. He never threw for more yards and only once threw for more touchdowns in 12 NFL seasons spanning seven different franchises.

“Nothing was easy,” he said. “I had a lot of opportunities on teams, some were ready to win and some weren’t. It was a great experience. Not every situation is an easy one. I was a part of a lot of different coaching changes and a lot of different systems, probably not the way I would have drawn it up. But in the end, you get a chance to see everything – the good, the bad and everything in between.

“It would have been nice to go win some Super Bowls, but I got out alive and had a lot of great memories.”

Mirer now owns Mirror Wine Company, based in Napa Valley. Mirror launched in 2008 and has tripled its production since then, Mirer said. In August, the company released its sixth different wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mirer said the venture has been rewarding and that Mirror sends wine throughout the country.

“We want it to be accepted by some of the wine experts and that’s happening,” he said. “Chefs [and] critics have put us in the level of fine wine and luxury level.

“There are plenty of good wines out there, it’s just: how do you get recognized in a crowd?”

Mirer, 43, lives in San Diego with three children (Morrison, 15; Oliver, 12; and Charlie, 9) and his wife of 19 years, Stephanie.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu