He lived in a small Indiana town barely a half-hour's drive from Notre Dame, but Rick Mirer grew up dreaming of playing college football across the border, where he could wear the blue and gold of the Michigan Wolverines.
"My grandparents lived in Michigan and I spent my summers there and followed all the sports teams," said Mirer, whose favorite football player was former Detroit Lions running back Billy Sims. "I really thought strongly about going to Michigan. But it came down to making a decision I would be happy with for the next four or five years."
That decision was to play close to home, and now, in his second year as a starter, Mirer has no regrets. The junior has led the Fighting Irish to a No. 5 ranking, and with 14 touchdown passes for the season going into tomorrow's game against winless Navy he needs just three more to establish the all-time single season record at Notre Dame.
Not a bad feat at a school that has produced two famous quarterbacking Joes -- Theismann and Montana.
"Mirer reminds me of when I first saw Roger Staubach," said Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers coach, now an NBC sports commentator, who was at the Naval Academy yesterday. "They're similar in size and comparable in ability. But Roger was emphasized more here, and Mirer is not emphasized as much at Notre Dame."
Still, Mirer has had enough of a role to lead Notre Dame to a 36.6-point scoring average, which would be the best since the Irish averaged 37.6 in 1968. In addition to his 14 touchdown passes, Mirer has rushed for seven, including three in the opener against Indiana.
"He stays in there to throw the ball, he fights for the extra yards, and he has an excellent touch," said Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. "Players here respect him for his performance, and respect him for his toughness.
"I think he has a chance to be an outstanding quarterback. I felt last year he was an overrated quarterback. I feel this year's he's underrated."
When told of the "underrated" comment, Mirer was surprised.
"He said that?" he asked. "He never said anything to me like that."
Mirer got his reputation early last season, leading Notre Dame to come-from-behind wins in his first two games. In the first game of 1990, his 18-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Jarrell with 1 minute, 41 seconds left helped beat Michigan, 28-24. The next week, his bomb to Jarrell set up the final touchdown to help beat Michigan State, 20-19.
Rick Mirer's statistics
Season.. Att.. Comp. Int.. Yards.. TD
1989. .. 30 .. 15 .. 1. .. 180. .. 0
1990. .. 200.. 110.. 6. .. 1,824.. 8
1991. .. 134.. 76 .. 7. .. 1,255.. 14