Sept. 8, 2006
It all unfolded so rapidly, fueled by a great sense of urgency. But as the years have passed, Rick Mirer’s memories of the final game he played in Notre Dame Stadium have become crystal clear.
The opponent was Penn State, today making its first return to Notre Dame since the November 16, 1992 classic, which immediately became known in Notre Dame lore as “The Snow Bowl.”
Played in a swirling snowstorm, the game hadn’t gone particularly well for the high-powered Notre Dame offense. The Irish had yet to score a touchdown when they got the ball with 4:19 to play, trailing 16-9.
Mirer led the Irish downfield, but with 25 seconds remaining, it was fourth-and-goal from the Penn State three. The touchdown came relatively easy, as Mirer hit a wide-open Jerome Bettis, pulling the Irish to within one point.
Notre Dame Head Coach Lou Holtz decided upon a two-point conversion. Working with an empty backfield, Mirer patiently waited. And waited. He finally scrambled to his right and spotted 5-foot-8 tailback Reggie Brooks — owner of one of the most spectacular rushing seasons in Notre Dame history, but just one pass reception – drifting toward the right corner of the end zone.
Mirer lofted the ball over a rapidly closing Penn State lineman; it sailed high toward the shortest player on the field. With fans tightly packed around the perimeter of the field, some in the press box were unable to see whether Brooks snared the pass.
Mirer didn’t have to wait for the crowd’s delirious eruption to learn whether his pass had found its mark.
“I knew he was going to catch it,” recalls the former All-American quarterback, who still ranks third on Notre Dame’s career total offense list. “Reggie’s effort was what that whole drive was all about.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game on offense, although our defense played great. Sometimes, you just need to have your back to the wall. We had one shot, and that was it.
“We played some great rivals, but in a lot of ways, Penn State was most like us — with the plain uniforms, a cold-weather team and very tough,” Mirer reflects. “What a great way to end our careers. If it had been a bad throw, it would have been a sick feeling – forever.”
Mirer went on to spend over a decade in the NFL, and now lives near San Diego with his wife Stephanie and sons Morrison (8), Oliver (5) and Charlie (2-1/2). Since his playing days ended, Mirer travels with his family and is involved in a start-up sports venture.
As a hotly pursued high school recruit from Goshen, Ind., Mirer picked Notre Dame over Michigan and many others. The 40-mile distance to South Bend allowed frequent visits while in high school. “I felt like I fit in real well,” he remembers.
Now, more than 2,000 miles away, little has changed. “No matter how many new buildings they build, it still feels like home.”