This weekend, I found out I have a lot in common with one of the National Football League's brightest young quarterbacks. Let me explain.
Notre Dame perpetually has one of the most highly(over)-rated football teams in nation, but it wasn't a very pretty sight for the Fighting Irish faithful during the first round of this year's NFL Draft when one of their favorite sons was tested like few of us ever are in life.
Although part of me thinks I can relate.
On Saturday, in a span of about four hours - and after two Longhorns (Michael Griffin and Aaron Ross) were taken with the 19th and 20th picks - much-maligned, oft-critiqued quarterback Brady Quinn was finally selected with the 22nd pick of the draft by the team the Dublin, Ohio native grew up watching (Cleveland Browns).
Now for those of you who aren't big football fans, let me give you a little background on why this is important:
1) Notre Dame's coach Charlie Weis has called Quinn the next Tom Brady, the same guy that led his team to three Super Bowl titles in the last five years;
2) Quinn while with his share of flaws was without a doubt a near-finished product and his draft stock was as high as a top-five pick just weeks before the draft;
3) Quinn was not expected to drop below the ninth pick (boneheads of the entire draft - Miami Dolphins);
4) The difference between being a top-five pick in the NFL Draft and the #22 pick is about $25 million;
5) The Cleveland Browns had a chance to draft Quinn, with the third pick, earlier in the draft but passed to select an offensive tackle...Quick: Name an offensive tackle who's led a team to the Super Bowl...exactly.
Now, you may be asking, "what does any of this have to do with Joah?" And for the answer, please recall something I'm sure I've said to many of you time and time again.
Luck is when hard work meets opportunity.
The NFL quarterback position is one of the toughest position in all of sports. It's even tougher when you’re coming into the league like Quinn as a rookie from a prestigious (read: contentious) university like Notre Dame (or USC or Texas in football; or Duke in basketball) where the spotlight is hot and the expectations are high.
Similarly, getting a book deal can be one of the toughest things for a young person to do, especially when you're 23 years old and your dad isn't the President (wink wink Jenna) or some Dorm-to-Dot.com tycoon.
Quinn, who was an all-state quarterback in Ohio, earned a scholarship to Notre Dame where he went on to break 36 different records at the position before finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting along with All-American honors.
Now I certainly haven’t piled up any literary awards or broke any writing records, but hard work has garnered me some occasional recognition.
So in some regards, when the Cleveland Browns - who were definitely big fans of Quinn’s unique mix of skills and moxie - passed on the quarterback with the third pick, the scene was all too familiar.
In fact, just over six months ago, I too was passed over by my preferred team, albeit a book publisher, and they too had stated they were enamored with my writing and charisma.
There I was, like Quinn on Saturday, wondering why my hard work as a writer wasn’t being met with an opportunity to share my talents. Where is my luck?
Back when I was initially rejected by the publisher - because that’s honestly what happened - it was a major blow to my inflated ego. This can not be understated.
And after all the hype, magazine covers and super-agent Tom Condon talking about which top-ten pick wouldn’t passed him up, I’m sure Quinn’s ego was pretty inflated when the Draft started on Saturday.
But then, somewhere between Quinn being passed over by both the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, I saw something in the brown-haired QB that made me proud as papa.
I saw a young guy sitting with his head high, smile wide and composure that demonstrates exactly what made Quinn worthy of top-pick consideration in the first place. Keep in mind that the guy accepted an invitation to sit in front of the world - during ESPN’s all-access draft coverage in New York - because he expected to be one of the top draft picks, not 22nd!
Then I reflected on these last few months between quitting my job in September - without a job in hand and partially on the expectation I’d be signing book deal in the following weeks - and my 24th birthday last week.
Those months, not much different from those four hours (of hidden frustration, confusion and bewilderment) for Quinn, I saw a mirroring of the character traits I’ve relied heavily upon over the last few months. Because you don’t have to be an NFL star to hold your head high, smile wide and show composure in the face of adversity.
Because when you set a goal…I mean when you publicly share a goal and put it, along with yourself, on display before others to be critiqued and lambasted, it can be tough going.
In those hours, months or whatever timeline your character and commitment to a goal is tested before an analytical audience, it’s important to remain dedicated to being the same person you were while in pursuit of your dream.
And that character and commitment are a major part of the hard work you put into fulfilling that dream. That was a major part of Brady Quinn’s Saturday afternoon.
So when the Cleveland Browns traded a few picks to get back into the first round and snag Quinn with the 22nd pick, I couldn’t help but relate it to my latest and most exciting endeavor.
Last week, after being denied just six months ago, I signed a book deal with Texas Press - the publishing house of the University of Texas at Austin.
True, Quinn will be missing out on the $25 million he would’ve earned as a top-five pick. True, I will be missing out on tons of money by not signing with Random House or one of the other major publishing houses. But what Quinn gains in comfort from playing with his hometown team, I also hope to gain in going with my alma mater’s publisher.
Either way, no one can say neither Quinn nor I failed to accomplish what we set out for. He’s going to be an NFL quarterback and I’m going to be a published author.
As to whether Quinn becomes an MVP or Super Bowl-winning quarterback in the NFL, it’s honestly up to his hard work, his team’s opportunities and a bit of luck. After what I saw on Saturday afternoon, I’m confident he’s capable.
Now, as to whether my endeavor will flop or be the preface to a career spent largely on the New York Times bestseller list, I believe my path won’t be much different than Quinn’s.
After all, I was something like a 22nd pick too. And we’ve both had our share of luck in recent days even if it wasn’t as early as we would’ve liked.