By MICHAEL WANBAUGH
THE GOSHEN NEWS
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —
Inside a crowded banquet room here at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, Goshen native Rick Mirer has a glass of wine in his hand and a sparkle in his eye.
Old friends with famous names such as Rice, Beuerlein and Quinn keep coming up to him to catch up on old times and talk about the promising future developing under Notre Dame’s Golden Dome.
Mirer, a three-year starter at quarterback for the Fighting Irish from 1990-92, is in town for Monday’s BCS National Championship game between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama at Sun Life Stadium. And 20 years since he last led the Irish, he’s thrilled with the resurgence of his alma mater as a football power after more than a decade of mostly mediocre football.
“This is unbelievable,” Mirer said of the renewed success of Notre Dame football under third-year coach Brian Kelly. “There were a few years there that I wasn’t fond of (former coach) Charlie Weis and just the way it all looked. It’s just so great to be able to reunite with everybody because of this success.”
Mirer used that success as an opportunity to gather a large group of former Notre Dame athletes together Saturday afternoon to launch Irish Player Charities, a network intended to encompass charitable causes supported by current or former Notre Dame athletes.
The cast of characters at Saturday’s launch/fundraiser was a Notre Dame football junkie’s dream. Former Irish quarterbacks Steve Beuerlein, Tony Rice and Brady Quinn were there, along with former standouts Reggie Brooks, Anthony Fasano, Shawn Wooden and Irv Smith.
“It’s just so great to get all these guys back together and see them,” Mirer said. “Everybody’s so busy that this kind of chance doesn’t come along too often.”
Mirer, as Goshenites remember, was an All-American high school quarterback, leading the Redskins to the 4-A state championship in 1988, the same year that Notre Dame last won a national championship. Growing up, he was a University of Michigan fan, but picked Notre Dame over the Wolverines.
After a year as Tony Rice’s understudy in 1989, Mirer was a three-year starting quarterback, guiding the Irish to a 29-7-1 record under the coaching of Lou Holtz. He beat Michigan in his first game and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated the very next week with the headline, “Golden Boy.”
Rice, who had just won a national championship and was a senior captain, remembers how Mirer, as a freshman, challenged him on a great 1989 team that finished 11-1.
“Rick pushed me to the limit, to be the best quarterback I could be,” Rice said. “People forget that Rick ran the option as well and he had a stronger arm.”
Rice said that during practice the quarterbacks would kneel on one knee and throw the football as far as they could. Mirer would beat Rice all the time, he said.
“After I left it was wonderful to see what a great tradition he continued at Notre Dame,” Rice said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in Notre Dame history.”
His senior year Mirer led the Irish to a 10-1-1 season, a Cotton Bowl victory and a No. 4 ranking in the final college football poll. Then Mirer was the second overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft and spent 13 seasons in the NFL and participated in a Super Bowl before retiring.
These days Mirer and his wife live in the San Diego area with their three boys. He owns a winery — Mirror Wines in Napa Valley — coaches his sons and works hard through his Mirer Family Foundation to raise money for scholarships.
Mirer said his charity is also looking into helping the Junior Football League in Goshen, which was started by his dad, Ken, who still lives in Goshen.
As for the current Notre Dame team, Mirer said its success has been incredible to experience.
“They’re a fun team to watch,” Mirer said. “They have characters. They have spirit. Manti (Te’o) reminds me of Junior Seau with his emotion and passion. I hope we can pull it off (Monday night), but either way it’s been great.”
Mirer said he believes Kelly has the Irish back on the right track and poised for a sustained stretch at the top of college football. The success, he said, will be a big factor in attracting top recruits.
“South Bend wouldn’t be the first choice for a lot of those kids if you’re not winning, right?” Mirer said with a chuckle. “But, you get the right coach and a couple undefeated-type seasons under your belt and kids will be coming from wherever to be a part of it. That’s what’s happening.”
For Rice, who still lives in the South Bend area and looks like he could still play, the Irish resurrection is a beautiful thing after 24 years.
“It’s great to have that feeling that Notre Dame is back where it’s supposed to be,” Rice said. “Stuff like this, and people like Rick and all these other guys are what makes Notre Dame a special place. Notre Dame will always be in my heart.”
Michael Wanbaugh is managing editor of The Goshen (Ind.) News. He can be reached at email@example.com