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Backup College Quarterbacks Who Saved the Day and Made it Big

Tanner Mangum

Tanner Mangum

The recent rescues by BYU’s Tanner Mangum and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer were part of one of college football’s most exciting events: the backup quarterback saving the day. Mangum replaced an injured Taysom Hill in the season opener against Nebraska and then won the game with a Hail Mary pass. He then led a dramatic win over Boise State. Kizer came in two weeks ago after Malik Zaire broke his ankle and threw a dramatic game-winning touchdown pass with 12 seconds left to beat Virginia.

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Although both Mangum and Kizer are now the starters for their respective teams, no one knows what the future holds for them. Some quarterbacks have their shining moments and then drift into obscurity. Others come off the bench to win big and then make it big. Here are three that we remember.

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Joe Montana – Notre Dame (1974-78)

The legend of Joe Montana began midway through his sophomore year, when coach Dan Devine sent him into the game with 5:11 left and the Irish trailing North Carolina 14-6.  Montana quickly led Notre Dame to two touchdowns to put the Irish ahead for good at 21-14. The next week, he came off the bench with Notre Dame down 30-10 to Air Force and engineered a 31-30 win.  However, this was during the era when big-time universities could stockpile athletes and these two wins did not carry Montana off into the sunset. He separated his shoulder, missed the 1976 season, and found himself third on the depth chart entering the 1977 season.  In the third game, Devine put Montana in with Notre Dame down 24-14 to Purdue and he engineered a rally to win the game 31-24. The starting job was his going forward and he led the Irish to the 1977 national championship. His success and legend, of course, followed him to the NFL.

Frank Reich – Maryland (1982-84)

Reich was the starter early in the 1984 season, but separated his shoulder and was replaced by Stan Gelbaugh, who led the Terrapins to three wins in their next four games. On Nov. 10, 1984, Maryland faced Miami in the Orange Bowl and went into the half down 31-0. Reich replaced Gelbaugh in the second half and led the Terrapins on six consecutive scoring drives and a 42-40 win. At the time it was the biggest comeback in college football history, but has since been surpassed by Michigan State’s 35-point comeback over Northwestern in 2006. Reich was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and backed up Jim Kelly through much of his career. In 1992, Reich replaced an injured Kelly and led the Bills to the conference championship. Along the way, he brought the Bills back from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers, the greatest comeback in NFL history. Today, Reich is the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.

Brett Favre – Southern Mississippi (1987-90)

When Brett Favre’s opportunity came, he was hung-over. The 17-year-old, seventh-string freshman quarterback had not expected to play the next day against Tulane and sat up until the early morning hours splitting a case and a half of beer with teammate Chris Ryals. Favre was in such bad shape that he was vomiting in warm-ups and was just as surprised as the coaching staff was when coach Jim Carmody put him in with the Golden Eagles losing to Tulane. Sick or not, Favre rose to the occasion, throwing two touchdown passes to lead Southern Miss to a 31-24 win. The starting job was his and Favre went on to become the most exciting quarterback in NFL history.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.