SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tommy Rees is who he is.
One line of thought on that is negative: He doesn't have a strong arm, he's not mobile and he's prone to mistakes. In those terms -- especially the first two -- he's the antithesis of Everett Golson.
And because of Rees' limitations, Notre Dame only won eight games in 2011 and may not surpass that mark in 2013.
The other argument is this: Despite Rees' physical limitations, he's led Notre Dame to 20 wins in games he's started (save last year's Miami game, in which he only played one series). He's well-respected in the locker room, and those around the program will tell you there's no way Notre Dame makes the BCS Championship last year without Rees' off-the-bench contributions.
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Rees' legacy at Notre Dame is a complicated one, given the arguments that either vilify or exalt him. But he's not concerned about what's being written here, or what others may print or say about his legacy.
"For me, it's about how my teammates feel about me, how my coaches feel about me and people that are with this university" Rees said. "You guys (the media) have said a lot over my time here, you guys can say a little bit more I guess, and you can say whatever you please. But for me, it's about the guys in this building."
The guys in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex all hold Rees in high regard. He was universally praised for his attitude in 2012, when he all but lost his starting gig due to an arrest at a party in May, didn't bail on Notre Dame and became an important part of a 12-0 regular season.
Offensive lineman Chris Watt pointed to Rees' positivity as perhaps his best trait -- for someone who's been through so much negativity, Watt said Rees has always stayed positive and remained accountable for the mistakes he's made.
Watt said he'll remember Rees as "someone that was able to come into situations and get the job done -- someone that was maybe criticized and not thought of as this person who could kinda get this team through tough times, but I think that's what he's done."
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The criticism won't go away until Rees throws his final pass in a Notre Dame uniform. It's something Rees knew he was signing up for as a starting quarterback at Notre Dame, and it's impossible to tune out.
While Notre Dame's 28-21 loss to Pitt didn't entirely swing on Rees' two interceptions, both were egregious mistakes -- especially the first, which was picked off in the end zone when Rees tried to force a throw into the narrowest of windows.
"We love being at Notre Dame," coach Brian Kelly said, "but when you don't perform well you're going to be open to the kind of criticism that comes with not performing at the level that you need to perform at."
In a way, that end zone interception showcased all of Rees' deficiencies. Nothing short of a Henry Rowengartner-ish miracle would've given Rees the arm strength to fit the throw into such a narrow window. Throwing on the run, too, isn't a strong suit, even if the play was designed to get him away from all-world Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
It all combined for interception No. 33 of Rees' career. On Notre Dame's next drive, he threw No. 34. In his career at Notre Dame, he's averaged one interception per roughly 27 throws (to cherry-pick one comparison, four-year Georgia starter Aaron Murray has averaged one interception per 36 throws).
Then again, Notre Dame's offense gained 28 yards on 21 plays after Rees was injured in the third quarter of last month's 14-10 win over USC. Given those struggles of Andrew Hendrix, Notre Dame may not be at seven wins without Rees this year. Last year's 12-0 regular season mark, too, may not have materialized without Rees.
But that's who Tommy Rees is. There's an argument to be made for his limitations holding Notre Dame back. There's also an argument for him being among the most important pieces to the success Notre Dame has had in the last few years.
Last week, Rees was asked if there was a part of him that was looking forward to his career at Notre Dame ending. Despite all the criticism, despite all the low points, Rees said that's not the case -- he hasn't doubted the game of football, or his place in it.
"My dad always said -- you can like football, you can love football or you can live it. For me, it's about living it," Rees said. "You gotta commit yourself fully to the game. At times, people get down on it after losses. But you think about not sharing those moments with your teammates, you think about not putting on that helmet -- there are people that would give a lot to feel that bad after a game, to even play the game. You gotta be grateful and look at it in perspective."