Thursday, June 19, 2008

You're a Better Man Than I Am, Brady Quinn

For those of you who are long-time readers of my drivel, you know I've never been a big fan of Brady Quinn. Heck, I started bashing the guy even before the Browns drafted him. But I've got to admit, after watching Quinn deal with his situation as a back-up QB for the past year, I think I was wrong about the guy.

To me, Quinn was a guy who, despite smashing almost every ND passing record, never beat USC and never led the Irish to victory in a single bowl game during his career. Quinn's individual achievements against sub-par competition just didn't impress me very much. He came across as a guy who was a creation of the Notre Dame spin machine and its willing accomplices in the national media. What's worse, he also appeared to have "drunk the Kool-aid," and struck me as an arrogant, pampered jock who believed in his own press clippings.

That's the Brady Quinn that I thought the Browns drafted, and it's taken me a long time to shake that image of the guy. Now, however, I think it's time for me to reassess my opinion of Quinn. What's prompted my change of heart? It's simple, really. I've watched and listened to what he's said and done over the course of the past year with the team, and I think he may be a lot more mature and a lot less self-centered than I gave him credit for being.

This was really brought home to me over the past week, as we watched LeCharles Bentley bolt the team when it became apparent to him that the Browns weren't ready to name him as a starter after his first practice in two seasons. At the same time, the media descended upon Quinn, in their endless attempt to stir the pot at the QB position. Quinn didn't take the bait. In fact, he did the exact opposite. You simply could not craft a more positive, team oriented response to questions about his role with the team than the one that Quinn delivered to the media last week.

I'm not intending to bash LeCharles Bentley. This is a guy who had a tremendous setback, heroically battled his way back into the game, and just wasn't willing to accept the idea that the wasn't "The Man" as far as the Browns were concerned. For a guy like Bentley to react like he did isn't a surprise. He's been The Man his whole life. Bentley was an All-American, All-Pro, All-Everything big money free agent when he came here in 2006. Hell, his photo even hangs in the lobby of the Wexner Football Complex at Ohio State (something I found out last week when I took my oldest son there for a long-snapping camp). So when I read that Bentley had asked for his release, I wasn't angry. In fact, I kind of sympathized with the guy. (If you read Sunday's column from Terry Pluto, you might have sympathized with him too).

But regardless of how you feel about LeCharles, his reaction to the adversity that he was facing is very different from Brady Quinn's reaction to his own situation. While Quinn hasn't faced the devastating physical injury that Bentley has dealt with, he's faced some psychological challenges that are perhaps almost as difficult. Maybe the worst of those was the one he faced on draft day in 2007, as he sat among the other elite college players and watched himself passed over by teams he thought certain would select him.

For a player who most had projected to be a top 10 or even a top five pick in the draft, the fall to #21 would have been difficult enough to deal with, but Quinn's humiliation was compounded by the fact that it was broadcast live by ESPN to the nation's football fans. Ultimately, Roger Goodell had the decency to come to Quinn's rescue and have him escorted off stage. Still, imagine if you're everybody's All-American and have to endure that in front of a national television audience? Wow. I mean, talk about a humbling experience.

At the risk of sounding like Bill Livingston, there's a Latin saying that goes "ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros." It means that fire is the test of gold; adversity is the test of strong men. Brady Quinn and LeCharles Bentley have faced their share of adversity over the last couple of years. I can't fault Bentley at all for his reaction to it, but I admire Quinn's reaction more. Brady Quinn has been the consummate team player ever since he signed his contract, and while he makes it clear that he wants a chance to compete, he continues to resist every attempt by the media to put his own interests ahead of the Cleveland Browns.

So, maybe I was wrong about Quinn all along, or maybe that miserable draft day in front of the cameras provided him with the kind of perspective about himself that most "Golden Boy" types never manage to get. Whatever the reason, Brady Quinn has earned my respect and the respect of all Browns fans. Don't get me wrong -- I know that like most 25 year-old millionaires, Quinn's not exactly a candidate for sainthood, but I also know that he's handled the challenges he's faced on the professional side of his life with a lot more dignity and class than many others in similar situations. And it's time for Quinn bashers like me to give him a little credit for it.