Memory of late father inspires Falcons' Dan Quinn to 'handle' the setbacks

Apr 08, 2017 | by Vaughn McClure, ESPN

Hang in there, son. You guys have a good team. And you know what you’re doing. You guys will be back fighting for it.

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said those are the words his father would have relayed to him leading into the 2017 NFL season. He’s sure of it, but he can only imagine that conversation with his father, who died at 83 on June 15, 2016, following a bout with a brain tumor.

Jim Quinn remains alive in Dan Quinn’s heart. That’s why the devastation of blowing a 28-3 lead in a 34-28 overtime Super Bowl loss to New England is a little easier to cope with these days.

"He was always reassuring to me," Quinn said. "He was always like, 'Son, you know how to handle this.'"

Jim Quinn died during the Falcons' mandatory minicamp, and Dan Quinn showed the strength to proceed with business as usual despite enduring the tragedy. It was the type of toughness his father always instilled in him.

Quinn carried on throughout the 2016 season with a heavy heart but remained quiet about his loss. He coached the 11-5 Falcons to the NFC South title and guided them to an improbable Super Bowl berth, accomplishments that would have made his father proud.

And Quinn kept his father close to him during the Falcons' Super Bowl run. One of his brothers brought a picture of their father to the NFC Championship Game, and Quinn carried it in his pocket for the final two postseason contests. Immediately after the Falcons crushed Green Bay 44-21 for the NFC championship, Quinn pulled the photo from his pocket and proudly showed it to ESPN.

"It was right there," Quinn said in the locker room at the moment. "It was right there the whole time."

It was more than just another picture.

"I knew he was going to be there, but I wanted him to be there closer," Quinn said of his father. "I remember patting my hip before the game and then after the game the same thing, patting my hip. It was cool."

He carried the photo again during the Super Bowl. Maybe the result wasn’t a victory, but it still symbolized an unbreakable bond. He had the picture in his back pocket.

"Right near the challenge flag," Quinn said of where he kept the picture. "But I wanted to make sure I didn’t throw out him and the challenge flag together."

In recalling their fondest memories, Dan Quinn reflected on how his father, a traveling businessman who worked in reinsurance, attended his football games and track meets when Quinn was in high school in Morristown, New Jersey, and in college at Maryland’s Salisbury State.

"Like, what a cool example of a guy who was showing up," Quinn said. "He might have been traveling, but if I had a high school game or a track meet, he would be there. And even in college, the places where Salisbury State played weren’t exactly on the map, whether it was Frostburg, Maryland, or different parts of North Carolina. Coming to a track meet to see your son throw the hammer for 10 minutes isn’t exactly the easiest thing."

The daily reminder Quinn has of his father certainly puts him at ease. A picture hangs in his office at the Falcons’ facility of his father serving as a bat boy for the 1945 pennant-winning Chicago Cubs. Quinn once showed the original photo to team owner Arthur Blank, and Blank surprised Quinn with a large framed version.

Jim Quinn, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Evanston and played college baseball at Northwestern University, was an avid Cubs fans. No doubt he would have celebrated his hometown team winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

"But he liked a lot of teams," Quinn said. "He liked the Mets. He was that guy who would watch baseball every night."

The father-son combo created countless memories. They typically attended Quinn’s four older brothers’ high school football, basketball and baseball games. One time, Jim Quinn told the boys if Northwestern ever made it back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949, they’d make a road trip out of it. That became a reality in 1995, when the Wildcats fell to USC 41-32.

"I think I was in my second year coaching at VMI," Quinn said. "Me and my brothers were always bugging him like, 'When can we go to the Rose Bowl?’ And we all went. It was so much fun."

Even more thrilling was the first NFL game he attended alongside his father: a Giants-Eagles clash. They drove from New Jersey to Philadelphia after one of his father’s friends came up with tickets.

"And I was a big Giants fan," Quinn said. "I mean, I got to see Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Phil Simms, Joe Morris, Mark Bavaro -- the whole crew."

Quinn said he wished his father would have been able to witness more games live. The last time Jim Quinn saw one of his son’s teams in person was in 2011, when Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators. Two years later, Quinn won a Super Bowl as the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator -- a 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos close to home in East Rutherford, New Jersey. His father had trouble walking and was in no condition to climb around MetLife Stadium, although Quinn was able to spend time with his parents the two nights before the game.

"I remember when I saw him that summer, I brought my ring," Quinn said. "So I got a picture with him having the ring on. It was so special."

Maybe Quinn will add another ring to his collection in the near future. To do so, he will need to overcome the disappointment from this past season's Super Bowl failure. No matter what challenge is ahead, Quinn said he knows he can lean on the advice his father always offered.

"He was much more of a person who modeled what good behavior looked like," Quinn said. "I gained an appreciation for discipline from him, like, 'If you want it, you’ve got to go put the work in.’ "

There is another valuable lesson Quinn reflects upon when he reminisces about his father. It's the lesson he learned long ago while competing in sports, when he'd glance into the stands and see his father cheering him on.

"That picture I had at the Super Bowl, it was just a great reminder to me of the importance of showing up for other people in their lives," Quinn said. "By showing up I mean making the trip and going the extra distance. That's how he demonstrated his love for all of us."