After reviewing video of Quinn, Willingham agreed. An invitation was extended and accepted. As he was squired around campus, Quinn decided it was the place for him. This was bad news for Michigan, to which he'd come close to committing. Quinn was deeply impressed by Willingham and thought he'd probably get on the field at Notre Dame earlier than at Michigan, but he also told his mother, "I think I could grow there spiritually." Quinn is a Methodist--"a big believer in my faith," he says.
He would need every ounce of that faith to get through his first two seasons in South Bend. After watching the Irish drop two of their first three games in '03, Willingham benched quarterback Carlyle Holiday, who was ill-suited for the coach's West Coast offense, and threw Quinn into the fray. The true freshman played well in spots but still lost four of his first five starts.
Quinn helped Notre Dame win three of its last four games and carried that improvement into the next season, when the Fighting Irish went 6-6, but it wasn't enough to save Willingham's job. Like most of his teammates Quinn took issue with the way the administration treated Willingham, for whom he retains much respect. That said, there were times during Quinn's sophomore year when, his uncle Dave Slates recalls, "Brady would say, 'I don't feel like I'm being coached.'"
Lack of instruction has not been an issue under Weis. In addition to presenting Quinn with a playbook about as thick as The Oxford English Dictionary, the coach immediately tinkered with his new pupil's mechanics. He noticed, for instance, that Quinn was having problems simply taking the snap. Center John Sullivan was so low in his stance that he forced the quarterback into an ungainly squat. That was an easy fix: Sullivan was instructed to get his butt up in the air. New quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas has worked with Quinn on everything from his drop to his hand placement on ball fakes to keeping his hips open when he throws to the left. Also pitching in has been Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Not in person, of course. From New England, Weis brought with him four years' worth of video showing Brady running the same offense the coach has installed at Notre Dame. "The ability to watch a Pro Bowl quarterback run the same plays you're running," says Weis, "is an advantage not many people have at the college level."
It all sounds clinical and painless, but it wasn't--for Quinn or his teammates. "In the beginning," says Weis, "I beat them down, physically and psychologically. Things had to hit rock bottom before they got better." In the preseason, Quinn recalls, "he would ride you and ride you and ride you. He'd take you to the point where you thought, Man, I just want to go to sleep. I just want it to be tomorrow."
These days the Irish can't wait for Saturday. (Navy, Syracuse and Stanford remain on the schedule.) The swagger, long missing from this program, is back. Trailing by three touchdowns with 20 minutes to play against Michigan State on Sept. 17, Quinn led three scoring drives to tie the game. Although Notre Dame lost in overtime, the team gained faith in Quinn, who threw for 487 yards and five touchdowns. He was similarly composed while marching the Irish for the go-ahead touchdown against No. 1 USC--only to have his heroics trumped by those of Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart. Asked for his impression of Quinn during that drive, in which he completed all four of his passes and ran for the touchdown, Weis responds, "How calm he was." Notre Dame players came into this season hoping something good would happen, but now, Weis says, "when [ Quinn] gets in there, they expect something good to happen."
And so it has. Quinn, who is likely to hold every major career passing record when he leaves this place, threw a school-record six touchdown passes in an Oct. 22 rout of BYU: four to wide receiver Maurice Stovall, whose 14 receptions set another single-game record, and two to wideout Jeff (Shark) Samardzija. Against Tennessee, Samardzija set two more Notre Dame records, catching his 12th touchdown pass of the season and making a scoring reception in his eighth consecutive game.
Just because Quinn is turning him into a blue-and-gold legend, Samardzija felt no obligation to go easy on his quarterback at last Friday's pep rally in the Joyce Center. Standing at the podium in front of 10,000 spectators, Shark ribbed Quinn over his former career as a model. "Come on, Brady," he said, "let's see Blue Steel"--the favored facial expression of the male model played by Ben Stiller in Zoolander.
Quinn took a pass. Sitting in his chair with a smile on his face, shaking his head at Shark's treachery, he was the picture of a guy having the time of his entire frickin' life.