This is the second post in my series, “Where Are They Now?” featuring Notre Dame athletic greats and showcasing how their lives have changed since leaving South Bend. This week, former Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer.
As we get ready to start the interview, Rick asks me if I can give him five minutes to go get his dog Lola, because she is lonely. We wouldn’t want Lola to be lonely! He explains to me that his three children, ages 13, 11, and 8 talked him into getting a dog a little over a year ago, but guess who takes care of Lola? Good ole Dad! Okay, on to the interview!
Rick Mirer was born on March 19, 1970, in Goshen, Ind. He played football at Goshen High School before being recruited to play for Notre Dame. He went on to play in the NFL after being the second overall pick in the 1993 draft, selected by the Seattle Seahawks. Mirer was traded to the Chicago Bears in 1997 and played for a total of twelve NFL seasons with seven teams: Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions. He threw for 11,969 yards, 50 touchdowns, 76 interceptions and had a career QB rating of 63.5. [nwi.com] He now coaches football for the Torrey Pines Pop Warner youth football league and also owns and operates a winery in California’s Napa Valley, Mirror Wine Company. A percentage of the proceeds from wine sales benefit his Mirer Family Foundation, which assists children in need in his hometown of Goshen, Ind., and various groups around his current home in San Diego.
Q: Growing up in Indiana, what was the big draw to stay local and play for Notre Dame?
A: “Timing was key in my decision to play football at Notre Dame. Being recruited as a senior in high school while the ’88 Notre Dame football team was winning game after game was unbelievable. I felt really comfortable when I went to campus and met all of the guys. I knew I was joining a very competitive team that was going to win. Plus I would be getting a great education from Notre Dame. It was a fun group to join. To have the opportunity to become a part of that group of guys was incredible. Being that it was so close to home, I didn’t realize the magnitude of what Notre Dame was. Plus at the same time the NBC (television) contract was coming together and Lou Holtz was such a great leader.”
Q: What was your best Notre Dame football memory?
A: “I have so many great memories. Some of the simple things are what make up some of my best memories: the camaraderie, the travel, spending Thanksgiving together. My all-time best football memory, however, has to be the 1992 Penn State game.”
“There was so much drama at the end of that game… going for two points to win the game, playing our last game in Notre Dame Stadium. We ended our time at Notre Dame on a huge highlight. The one we got to sleep on was the Penn State game, and we could not have asked for a better ending . After the Michigan game ending in a tie, and being left with such a weird feeling after that game, I just felt that we had to go for it. We’re either going to win this thing, or not.”
Q: How do you remember the NFL Draft?
A: “I decided to not go to New York City to attend the draft in person. The NFL draft process today is much more of a spectacle, a televised circus, than it was when we were being drafted. I decided to stay home and watch it with my close friends and family. Drew (Bledsoe) and I knew we were going to go one and two, what we did not know was the order.”
“The moment his choice was made I knew where I stood.”
“The whole experience was kind of a blur. Unlike some of the other guys, I didn’t have to wait very long, but it was still a surreal thing. We knew all along that it was going to happen. It was the goal, the end game, but it was a huge relief when it actually happened.”
Q: What are the best and worst things about playing in the NFL?
A: “The best thing is having the opportunity to keep playing your game, to make a living while doing it, and all of the interesting people that you meet along the way. Today more and more the injuries are a big negative about playing in the NFL. All of the head injuries and tragedies happening to the guys is a huge obstacle for players right now.”
“Playing in the NFL for me was an emotional roller coaster. It was very difficult to go from a winning team, to a team that won only two out of 16 games. We were still having the same discussions in the locker room, that we were going to win a championship, but for whatever reason that was not becoming a reality on the field. When you are in a situation like that, you figure out what you are made of. I have no regrets at all. I was lucky to get out of there without injuries or any other health issues. I am one of the lucky ones.”
Q: What were the pressures of being the second overall pick and how would you evaluate your NFL career?
A: “Getting selected high usually means you go to a team that has not been winning. That was the tough part. I was happy to get the opportunity to play right away, but it didn’t really help me learn. I was busy trying to survive. My time in the NFL was pretty interesting. I would have enjoyed staying with one team for longer period of time. The frequent team changes meant that I had to deal with lots of ups and downs, and I believe that makes you stronger in the end.”
Q: What was the high point of your NFL career? Were you interested in coaching or broadcasting?
A: “Having a productive rookie year was something I was proud of. Unfortunately a coaching change effected me and I started to bounce around a bit. Getting to see what a Super Bowl is like (with Raiders) was a rush. I wish I had more of those years.”
“I coach younger kids these days and really enjoy it. I could have coached in college and maybe even the NFL but chose to spend as much time with my family as possible. The guys coaching have to devote so many hours to the job that it scared me away. Now I am able to get my fix, but with Pop Warner hours.”
Q: Where did life take you after the NFL?
A: “After I decided to retire from the NFL, my wife Stephanie and I were fortunate enough to enjoy a lot of time off. Our children, now 13, 11, and 8; were little and we didn’t have any school schedules, so we took the opportunity and traveled a lot. I never struggled with missing the game all that much. I was relieved to have some free time and to be able to spend it with my wife and children.”
“After a while, though, I decided I wanted to create something else; something of my own. While playing football in the bay area, I developed a passion for wine. After my retirement, I decided to reach out to some of the people that I had met along the way, one of which was Rob Lawson, who worked in the wine business and could help me get started up and help with the process. They were able to open some doors for me that might not have been there had I still been in Seattle or Chicago.”
“Wine making was not only something that I was interested in, but it was something that I thought I could apply the marketing skills that I had been taught at Notre Dame and apply them to my brand, Mirror Wines. I don’t have the Hall of Fame name, but our winery is not structured that way either. We want our wine to be accepted by wine people, and to not be accepted just because some former NFL (or) Notre Dame player is behind it. My name is not the lead-in. It is not how we want to introduce ourselves.”
“I have surrounded myself with good people, and that adds to our success as well. Our expectations are not out of whack; we are just building our business one customer, one person at a time.”
“I am not the technical guy in this wine making process. I rely on my wine-makers experience and I am learning on the run. Rob Lawson is my technical guy, but at some point I definitely want to dive more into that. It’s been such a race to get the product out there, to reach out to friends and family in order to market the business. The daily grind does not leave much time to learn the techy stuff about wine making.”
“I didn’t want my career path to be easy, but at the same time I did not anticipate starting a business in the worst recession of our lives. But even through it all, we’ve built this winery up in the worst possible situation, and we are looking forward to getting our chance to catch some momentum.”
“We don’t pretend to be one of the big guys. We don’t have the advertising budget. It is our friends, family, and word of mouth networking that is growing our brand. We have created something we like and enjoy, but not much happens with our brand when I am not there. I don’t want someone else to represent their version of what we are at Mirror Wines. I am the outward brand of the winery. The sales force is basically me.”
Q: Can you tell me more about the Mirer Family Foundation?
A: “From way back when, even before attending Notre Dame, I’ve always felt that if you were in a position to help, you should. The NFL gives us a lot of connections to charities such as the United Way, and the Boys and Girls Clubs; they set a great example for us to give back when we are at a point to give back.”
“In 1998 we quietly gifted some money to Notre Dame and started our own scholarship foundation to help kids be able to attend the university. The wine-making business is a great vehicle for growing the foundation. We don’t want to punish the business by giving everything away, but at the same time we need to use it to make a difference with the foundation. Our new concept to integrate the winery and the foundation together is to offer some of our customers several of the 6-liter bottles of wine in return for them making a donation to the foundation. This gets our wine out there and helps the foundation all at once. We also want to take advantage of the charity grant that the NFL has in place. We’d like to get to a point where the NFL grant is matching donations to our foundation, so that we can help the most children reach their education goals.”
“A soft spot for the foundation is being able to help out military families. In the San Diego area we see a lot of families where a parent is deployed and does not come back. We think it is important to help out these military families and their children.”
“We’ve had 18 kids now receive scholarships to Notre Dame from the donation that we made to the university in 1998. We may not be able to pay their entire way through school, but we are still able to make a difference. We get letters from the kids during their time at Notre Dame. One of our students, Katie Washington, sent a letter every semester and she ended up being the valedictorian in 2010.”
“In a perfect world, if we caught lightning in a bottle with the winery, we’d want to help out more kids. The winery could really become something really powerful, to fund the foundation, and maybe someday one of the kids will run the foundation.”
“We are just doing our best to set a good example for our kids, to teach them to appreciate what you have, but at the same time to give back if and when you are able.”
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A: “I was never really all that stressed out in all of the close games that I was a part of, but when I’d come over to the sideline and get the one-on-one conversation with Coach Holtz he was a great strength to me.”
“I’m not sure if he knew whether I was OK or not, but we’d always seem to have a little laugh in the middle of a tense moment. We were so close, and in those crucial game moments he never made me feel like they were bigger than life moments.”
Q: What about Lou Holtz’s approach to discipline?
A: “Coach Holtz was always a fair guy. He was hard on us, but we needed it. We did fine, but he was the one who kept us grounded. We didn’t celebrate and he didn’t turn us loose, but he made us work hard and I appreciate it. The conversations that Coach Holtz and I have had in the last year or two are probably some of my best Coach Holtz experiences. He is so very proud of me with what we are doing through the foundation.”
“When he sends me a check to support my foundation, now that is cool. He told my parents when I was 18 that he’d make sure I graduated, and that’s exactly what he did. Now we are both adults and we can talk man-to-man, I greatly appreciate the consistency in which he did things to help us, to make us grow up, be responsible, and hold us accountable.”
“This last year has probably been as rewarding as any, being able to reconnect with him.”
Rick Mirer is more than just another Notre Dame athlete, and from his story Notre Dame was obviously more to him than just playing football and he is determined to make his education pay off. His comparisons of playing football at Notre Dame, and then later in the NFL, did provide him with one very important lesson, a good plan isn’t worth anything without good people to execute it.
“To have the opportunity to become a part of that group of guys was incredible.”
“We were still having the same discussions in the locker room, that we were going to win a Championship, but for whatever reason that was not becoming a reality on the field.”
“I have surrounded myself with good people, and that adds to our success as well.”
Lesson learned and applied.
Want to learn more about Rick Mirer, Mirror Wines and helping out the Mirer Family Foundation? Visit his web site Mirror Wine, on Facebook, or on Twitter. You can also learn more about the Mirer Family Foundation here.
Next up, former Notre Dame fullback and Super Bowl Champion, Marc Edwards. And don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter at @4leafclovergirl!