BEREA — Brady Quinn will start at quarterback Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Five years ago, this was a foregone conclusion. Quinn was drafted by the Browns No. 22 in the first round in 2007 out of Notre Dame. He grew up in Columbus a Browns fan, and his selection (along with the pick of left tackle Joe Thomas at No. 3) energized the fan base. He was supposed to lead a return to the playoffs.
A year ago, Sunday’s scenario was a long shot. Quinn had been bypassed on Denver’s depth chart by Tim Tebow, then watched from the sideline as Tebow led an improbable run that included an overtime playoff win over the Steelers.
After nearly six seasons of more stops than starts, Quinn will return to the lakefront to lead the Kansas City Chiefs against his former team in front of his former fans. And he’s coming off a career game in a 27-21 win over the Panthers.
But the 19-for-23, 201-yard, two-touchdown performance isn’t why he won many fans and admirers this week. After the win, Quinn spoke from the heart as he addressed the murder-suicide by Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher just a day earlier.
Quinn hoped people would reflect on the relationships they have and if they “really mean it” when asking how someone’s doing.
“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,” he said.
Quinn talked to Browns reporters Wednesday on a conference call. He was preparing to play Cleveland while thinking about the memorial service for Belcher later that day. He was asked about the win and speech, which some called the finest moments of his NFL career.
“I don’t know if there is really a way to sum it up,” he said. “Based on everything that’s happened, my thoughts and concerns were just trying to focus and do the best I can during the game while I was playing. Then after that trying to do some soul searching and praying about forgiveness for the families, and that people can find peace with the situation.”
Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel was Quinn’s first NFL coach and brought him to Kansas City in the offseason to back up Matt Cassel. A concussion sidelined Cassel earlier in the year, then he was benched for poor play.
“Brady has been very level-headed all along,” Crennel said. “He handles himself very well and as a quarterback, he is somewhat a born leader.”
Quinn was expected to be a top-five pick out of Notre Dame in 2007, but agonizingly slipped out of the top 20 as ESPN kept a camera focused on him. The Browns had considered him at No. 3, and pulled off a trade with Dallas when he was still available.
But his career never gained traction. He held out as a rookie, didn’t get to enter the camp competition with Derek Anderson and Charlie Frye and played in just one game. He replaced Anderson for three games in 2008 but got hurt.
Eric Mangini replaced Crennel in 2009, and Quinn started nine games, completing 53.1 percent with eight touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 67.2 rating. Tom Heckert took over as GM after the season and traded Quinn to Denver for running back Peyton Hillis and a low-round draft pick.
“I loved the guys on the team, my teammates,” Quinn said. “The fans there were amazing. I had such a wonderful time.
“That’s why I think when I got the call that I was being traded, I was just kind of shocked, to be honest with you. But that’s part of life, right? You’re going to get thrown curveballs here and there and you’ve got to adjust and move onto the next thing.”
Quinn, 28, didn’t play in two seasons with the Broncos and was swallowed by the Tebow hype. He signed with the Chiefs and has started four games, including the last two. He has one win, a 63.2 completion percentage, two touchdowns, four interceptions and a 70.3 rating.
Until last week, he hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass since his days in Cleveland.
“Things never go the way you expect them to in life,” he said. “My mind’s not really on my career. If I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s that you really can’t take things past one day at a time.”
Thomas roomed with Quinn for two years on the road and they went on hunting and fishing trips. They still talk a couple times a year.
“He had all the skills and all the attributes. It was a shame that he never, I thought, fully got his opportunity to show that he could be the starter,” Thomas said. “I was super-excited for him that he’s been able to come in and play well.”
Quinn didn’t get sucked in when asked if he got a fair shot here.
“That’s not for me to decide ’cause really in the end, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Quinn would appear to have four games left to state his case .“I look at this opportunity to start as an opportunity to start this week, and I just want to try to continue to get better, try to lead my team and these men the best way possible,” he said.
Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson played with Quinn here and expects a challenge Sunday.
“For some guys, it takes a little bit of time,” he said. “It takes the right time and the right offensive coordinator, the right guys around you. Him having a run game, it helps him out tremendously and it allows him to not do too much but make the throws he’s able to do.
“Brady Quinn was a great guy here, a good friend of mine, so we’ve got our work cut out.”
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• WHO: Cleveland vs. Kansas City
• WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
• WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM