Brady Quinn’s Second Act
Brady Quinn ’07 is convinced he can be the best. It’s why he spends all those hours studying film, breaking down formations and player tendencies, preparing for yet another football game.
But when kickoff arrives this weekend, Quinn won’t be under center. He won’t even be on the sideline. He’ll watch the action from up in the press box, analyzing the game he says he was born to play.
“It’s the next best thing to being out there,” Quinn says of his new role as a football broadcaster for Fox Sports and CBS Interactive. “You’re still able to be around the game.”
Ten years have passed since Quinn played in the biggest game of his life, when an inspired, tenacious Notre Dame team lost in dramatic—and controversial—fashion to a stacked Southern California squad. After an NFL career filled with injuries and disappointments, Quinn has moved on to his next challenge: molding himself into the top football analyst in the country.
With no formal training as a broadcaster, Quinn knows it won’t be easy. And so he continues to work hard—as hard, he says, as he did as a player. It’s the same mentality that propelled a strong-armed kid from central Ohio to Notre Dame Stadium and the first round of the NFL Draft.
Quinn almost never came to South Bend. As his star ascended at Dublin Coffman High School in Dublin, Ohio, Quinn drew interest from Ohio State, Michigan, and the other usual suspects around the Midwest. But after the dismissal of head coach Bob Davie following the 2001 season, the new Notre Dame staff appeared less interested. Quinn and his father were ready to move on, but Quinn’s high school teammate Chinedum Ndukwe ’07 and his family persuaded the Quinns to visit Notre Dame the summer before his senior year of high school.
“I just had a feeling on campus that I could see myself there, growing into a young man.”
Looking back 13 years later, Quinn struggles to pinpoint what about that visit sold him on Notre Dame. Sure, he thought he could excel in head coach Tyrone Willingham’s West Coast Offense. He liked the commitment to academics. But in the end, it was something intangible.“I just had a feeling on campus that I could see myself there, growing into a young man.”
He had to grow up quickly. In the first contest of his freshman year, Quinn entered in relief of injured starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday against Washington State. Earlier in the game, distracted by the atmosphere and the coordinated cheers emanating from the student section, Quinn had been scolded by his coaches for failing to properly signal in the personnel from the sideline, but he found himself once he took his first collegiate snap. “As soon as I got under center, everything felt like it was normal, like that was where I was supposed to be.”
By the fourth game of the season, Quinn had supplanted Holiday as the starter. He worked through typical true freshman growing pains but still set several Notre Dame freshman passing records. Quinn’s performance and statistics improved significantly in his sophomore campaign, but the team sputtered to a 6-6 record, resulting in the firing of Willingham at the end of the season.
Charlie Weis arrived from the New England Patriots, bringing with him a brand new offense and a reputation as a top-flight mentor of quarterbacks. “We really didn’t know what kind of team we were going to have,” Quinn says, thinking back to the 2005 preseason, when many experts predicted Notre Dame would once again struggle against a difficult schedule.
They didn’t. With their vastly improved junior quarterback leading a suddenly dynamic offense, the Irish got off to a 4-1 start. And on Oct. 15, 2005, Quinn and his teammates had a chance to prove just how far they had progressed.
The Bush Push
“It was this electric feeling with the student body and the fans,” Quinn says, recalling the build-up to Notre Dame’s showdown with USC. “You could feel it just walking around campus and going to class.” Quinn, who majored in finance and political science, said it was the most difficult week of his career as a student-athlete to focus on academics.
The Trojans, led by Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, were ranked first in the country and considered one of the greatest collections of talent in college football history. The Irish, a decade removed from the success of the Lou Holtz era, were seeking to return to the top of the college football landscape.
The game lived up to the hype. In front of one of the most raucous crowds in Notre Dame Stadium history, the stars on each side made big play after big play throughout the first three quarters. Jeff Samardzija caught a long touchdown pass from Quinn. Tom Zbikowski '07 returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Bush ran away from the Irish defense for a 45-yard score.
With just five minutes remaining, Bush scored his third touchdown to put the Trojans ahead 27-24. Facing the biggest drive of his life, Quinn calmly guided the Irish down the field. With just over two minutes left, on second-and-goal from the 5, he took a designed run around the right side of the Irish line and, with his right arm, stretched the ball out over the goal line to reclaim the lead.
It could have been one of the greatest drives in Notre Dame history. It should have been the defining moment from Quinn’s historic Notre Dame career. There was only one problem. “I was thinking in the back of my head, ‘Oh no. There might be too much time left.’”
He watched from the sideline as Leinart, now Quinn’s co-worker at Fox Sports, marched Southern Cal down the field, converting a crucial 4th-and-9 with a 61-yard completion to Dwayne Jarrett.
“I felt kind of helpless,” Quinn says. “I was wishing I was a two-way player and I was athletic enough to help stop them.”
With 15 seconds left, Leinart scrambled to his left and seemed to have a clear path to the end zone. As he approached the goal line, middle linebacker Corey Mays '05 delivered a punishing blow, forcing a fumble and sending the ball rolling out of bounds.
The remaining seconds ticked off the clock. Notre Dame students rushed onto the field, ready to celebrate the school’s biggest win since 1993. But the refs put enough time on the clock for one more play. Leinart tried a sneak up the middle, where he was stood up by the Irish defense. But Bush, technically committing a penalty, came running in from behind and pushed his quarterback forward, causing Leinart to go twisting into the end zone. USC won, 34-31.
The game is now known as “The Bush Push,” but Quinn doesn’t harbor resentment toward the Trojans' star running back. “I probably would have done the same thing,” Quinn says. “Your natural reaction is you want to help your teammate get in the end zone.”
Still, the sting of that loss hasn’t gone away. After moving on to a discussion of his NFL career, Quinn brings the conversation back to the USC game. The refs should not have put more time on the clock, he says. What if the public address announcer had not told the students to get off the field? What if the Irish had taken a little more time to score on their last drive?
While these questions still linger, Quinn has a great deal to be proud of when reflecting on his Notre Dame legacy. He rewrote the Irish passing record book. He finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting in 2005 and third in 2006. And he led Notre Dame to two straight BCS bowl game appearances.
Quinn doesn’t harp on the personal accolades, pointing instead to what the team accomplished during his last two seasons. “I just felt like, when we left, we left Notre Dame a better place than when we found it.”
After his decorated career at Notre Dame, many analysts projected Quinn to be a star at the next level. But from the very beginning—an unexpected fall to the late first round in the 2007 NFL Draft—his professional career never seemed to work out as planned.
Quinn began his NFL tenure with the Cleveland Browns, the team he grew up rooting for. After sitting for most of his rookie season, he was finally handed the reins midway through his second year. Quinn played well in his first start, but he broke his finger in the next game and eventually needed season ending surgery.
“You wake up and you go, ‘Yeah, I should be out there. I should be in that position.’”
After that season, Browns head coach Romeo Crennel was fired and replaced by Eric Mangini. Quinn began the year as the starter but was benched during the team’s third game. He won the job back later in the year, only to be lost to a season-ending foot injury a few games later. At the end of the year, he was traded to the Denver Broncos, where he served as a backup. He never carved out a consistent starting role in the league after that, and injuries continued to plague him at his various stops along the way.
“Something always kind of came up,” Quinn says. “Any time I kind of had an opportunity, unfortunately there was always an injury or some circumstance.”
More than two years removed from his last regular season action, Quinn believes he could still play in the league. “You wake up and you go, ‘Yeah, I should be out there. I should be in that position.’” But with most teams more interested in younger signal callers as their second and third quarterbacks, Quinn hasn’t found the right opportunity.
A New Path
In 2013, Quinn suffered a back injury while playing for the St. Louis Rams. Head coach Jeff Fisher suggested that while Quinn was rehabbing he should try his hand at commentary. So Quinn made the rounds at ESPN and the NFL Network, offering analysis of the NFL and college football.
What began as a fun experiment soon turned more serious. Producers and executives saw Quinn had promise. “All of a sudden, I was kind of put in the scenario where people were asking to pay me to talk about football,” Quinn says. Still rehabbing from injury and not under contract with any team, Quinn signed a deal last season with Fox Sports. He called five college football games and five NFL contests for the network, and he did in-studio work during the week.
Quinn’s performance last year must have impressed his bosses. This season, he was assigned a full slate of college football games for Fox, and he will also call some NFL games once the college football regular season ends in December.
And that’s just the beginning of his obligations this fall. He hosts a weekly radio show covering the NFL on Sunday night for Fox Sports Radio. During the week, he offers in-studio analysis of college and professional football for CBS Interactive, the broadcasting company’s digital platform. And Quinn is a part owner of Football by Football, a website that allows fans to read analysis of the game directly from former players. Quinn writes and records podcasts for the site when he can fit it into his packed schedule.
Knowing he has less experience and less training than many of his competitors, Quinn works tirelessly on film study and his overall knowledge of the sport to try to bring fans intelligent, original analysis. He also attempts to let the viewers see through the eyes of an experienced quarterback.
Quinn’s dedication stretches beyond football. Several years ago, while playing for Denver, he visited a number of military bases in the area and observed veterans returning home from deployments with amputations and other physical and mental ailments.
Quinn’s father was a Marine in Vietnam. His grandfathers fought in World War II. “Had I not had sports, I probably would have ended up serving in the military,” he says. Moved by these visits, he decided to try and make a small difference.
“I just feel like it’s in my blood to give back to this country and to our servicemen and women who sacrifice so much for us.”
That year, Quinn founded 3rd and Goal -- Veterans Home Aid, a charitable organization dedicated to helping wounded, suffering, and homeless veterans. Initially, the work was focused mostly in central Ohio, tapping into Quinn’s father’s expertise as a homebuilder. Wounded veterans often need ramps and other specializations to make their homes livable, and 3rd and Goal provides those services. Over time, the organization has branched out to other locations and a variety of other endeavors, providing Christmas gifts for a family whose parent is deployed overseas or giving a trained service dog to a veteran with PTSD.
Quinn and his wife, Alicia Sacramone Quinn, a former Olympic gymnast, are involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization because of how passionately they feel about supporting veterans. Quinn has even talked to his wife about the idea of serving his country in an official capacity, perhaps through the National Guard. “I just feel like it’s in my blood to give back to this country and to our servicemen and women who sacrifice so much for us.”
For now, Quinn keeps himself extraordinarily busy with the foundation and with his jobs as an analyst. He works so hard because it’s the only way he knows how to attack his goals. It’s what earned him all those scholarship offers. It’s the same drive that allowed him to excel on the field while pursuing a double major and occupying the most high-profile position in college football—quarterback at the University of Notre Dame. And it’s the same force that propels him to speak openly about his desire to be considered, someday soon, the best football analyst on television.
“You’re building to be the best,” Quinn says, eager to get back to work. “And that’s why you get into it.”