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In the face of tragedy, former Browns QB Brady Quinn rises to a higher calling

Dec 06, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Brady’s back: Brady Quinn returns to Cleveland on Sunday as not only a triumphant quarterback but as a relevant voice on a serious societal issue that struck both the Chiefs and the Browns on the same day.

Last Saturday, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and the mother of their 3-month-old daughter, drove to the Chiefs’ complex, and then shot himself in the head in front of coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli.

Eerily, incredibly, at almost the same time, Browns groundskeeper Eric Eucker was found dead by hanging in an equipment shed at the team facility. A suicide note left by Eucker indicated he was despondent about the direction his job was heading.

As the Chiefs’ quarterback, Quinn was thrust into a leadership role that went beyond the normal description for his position. He had not only had to prepare to lead his team on the field but also to process the tragedy and somehow demonstrate to his teammates how to put it behind for at least three hours of work on Sunday.

“I think it was extremely difficult,” Quinn said on a conference call on Wednesday. “Really just shocking, to put it first, and then just a lot of sadness about the entire situation. We lost a friend, a teammate, a family member to us. There’s a tragedy that takes place where a mother’s gone now and there’s a little girl without two parents. When you try to put it into perspective, it’s kind of hard to get a grasp for the gravity of the situation.”

Remarkably, Quinn played the game of his life. He completed 19 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns and a 132.1 passer rating in the Chiefs’ 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It was only Quinn’s fourth win in five NFL seasons with three teams.

For his efforts on the field, Quinn was named the AFC offensive player of the week for the first time in his career.

Above and beyond: The game itself wasn’t even Quinn’s shining moment. Afterwards, he spoke poignantly of the tragedy in a context to which any pre-teen or teenager could relate.

“We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us,” Quinn said.

The comments took on a life of their own and elevated Quinn beyond his status as an NFL quarterback. Quinn’s point was that people need to speak to people and people need to be listened to. Perhaps Belcher felt nobody was listening to his subtle cries for help. Perhaps the same was felt by Eucker.

On Wednesday, Quinn expounded on his thoughts.

“It was something from my experience of growing up in an age where you didn’t have a cellphone when you’re in junior high, and now every kid has a cellphone and every kid’s on the Internet, etc.,” he said. “It’s just, I think the relationships that you have with people on a face-to-face daily basis kind of gets brushed aside by everything else that’s out there. I think a lot of times people hide their issues and problems. They don’t talk to anyone until it’s too late.”

I’m not sure I have heard more profound comments by an athlete in 30-plus years of writing about sports.

Quinn’s legacy: Quinn’s unfulfilled career with the Browns was typical of how the organization fails to develop young players, quartebacks in particular.

He was the team’s second first-round draft pick in 2007 (after Joe Thomas). Despite a pre-draft warning from then-General Manager Phil Savage that everyone in the organization must commit to its chosen “franchise quarterback," Savage fell victim to doing the opposite.

Not wanting to rush Quinn into the job as a rookie, the Browns lollygagged in contract negotiations and facilitated a convenient training camp holdout with Quinn, ostensibly to keep him from entering a starting derby with holdovers Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. Then, when Anderson caught fire, the organization became enamored with this big-armed “lightning in a bottle” they had caught.

By the time Anderson’s comet tail burned out, Quinn’s professional growth had been stunted. A prolonged “competition” with Anderson brought out the worst in both players. When Mike Holmgren arrived as president and official quarterback guru – the Browns’ third management regime in Quinn’s four years in Cleveland – Quinn was sent packing.

The irony of Quinn’s career is that he is now a teammate with Peyton Hillis, the player for whom he was traded in 2010.

“It definitely feels like it’s been a long time,” Quinn said of his time with the Browns. “You can look at it one or two ways. I try to look at it as I felt very blessed. I was thankful to the Browns for the opportunity. I loved the guys on the team, the fans they were amazing. I had such a wonderful time.

“When I got the call I was being traded, I was kind of shocked, to be honest with you. But that’s part of life, right? You’re going to be thrown curveballs here and there, and you just have to adjust and move on to the next thing.”

Who would have thought that a higher calling would be Quinn’s “next thing.”

“Sometimes you look at situations like this and you see why God put people in certain places,” he said.

Quinn made that statement in response to a question about calming Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel. But it applies to himself as well.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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