Robin Quinn sat next to her son Brady in the office of Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis shortly after he had been hired away from the New England Patriots to run the Fighting Irish before last season. Weis gave a brief introduction, they chatted, and then he asked Robin if she had any questions.
She did. She wanted to ask Weis how he, as a coach coming from the NFL, viewed her son's prospects and what he was going to do to improve his play at quarterback.
"What are you going to do with my son . . . ?" she began, before Weis interrupted her.
Weis explained that he had plans to protect him better on pass plays, but the conversation ended quickly and the Quinns left the office.
"Jeez, mom," Brady Quinn said to his mother. "What kind of question was that?"
All three still joke about the encounter, but suffice it to say Weis has done plenty with Robin Quinn's boy. A year after throwing for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns in his first season with Weis, Quinn enters his senior season as the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, playing on the most talked-about team in the nation.
He has appeared on magazine covers, signed autographs ("He loves kids," Robin Quinn said. "He could never say no to the little ones.") and faces expectations of bringing Notre Dame its first national championship since 1988.
Quinn can't go anywhere on campus without being noticed. While eating dinner one Friday night in South Bend, Ind., a line of about 100 people stretched out the door. Quinn figured it was a typically busy Friday evening crowd. When he stood up to leave, he realized the people in line were waiting to see him.
"It's pretty unique," Quinn said. "It's pretty cool. It can be fun at times and other times can be frustrating if you're trying to spend some time with your friends or family and people are trying to bother you here and there. But it's been fun for me. I've enjoyed it."
People even recognize his mother in malls and on the street. She still isn't quite sure what to do when fans of her son approach her. "I've been Brady Quinn's mom for a long time," she said. "It's like I don't have a name any more."
The attention is fitting, because she deserves some of the credit. Weis uses a special brand of tough love with his team, employing what he calls his "New Jersey wit" to make biting quips during practice. Quinn had experienced that before, playing baseball and football as a kid growing up in Dublin, Ohio.
"I never sat there, and [said] everything was okay and you played real well if you didn't," Robin Quinn said. "It was like, well, that wasn't your best game. Or, you could do better than that. No excuses, try to improve from your mistakes. I'm a little more structured, a little more, don't-come-whine-to-me attitude."
"My mom is someone [who's] always been pretty critical of me, more than anyone else, when I was growing up," Quinn said. "So it's been kind of easy for me to take criticism from Coach Weis."
Before last season, Quinn kept using the wrong footwork on a certain play during a practice. "This is why you're always going to be a 50 percent completion passer," Weis screamed at him. The message still motivates Quinn.
"He just always makes little comments like that that kind of stick with you," Quinn said.
When rumors surfaced about Quinn possibly leaving Notre Dame a year early for the NFL, his mother knew would be staying at the school for his final season.
During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Quinn would go home to Ohio whenever he could, and he looked forward to his parents visiting more than he does now. These days, he'd rather hang out with his teammates at the house he shares with defensive back Chinedum Ndukwe, his friend since seventh grade. There's a fire pit in the yard, and they host cookouts and marshmallow roasts for teammates. A group of players traveled to New York to see safety Tom Zbikowski fight in a boxing match at Madison Square Garden.
When Robin Quinn hears how content her son is, she knows it's not the magazine covers, not the prospect of winning awards and not even the games that brought him back to Notre Dame for his senior year.
"I honestly think, just watching him mature last year and this year, it's the camaraderie," she said. "It's how close he's gotten to these guys. It's like the brothers that Brady doesn't have. It's that brotherhood he's found. Knowing that he is fine when he doesn't come home now.
"It's just going to be a wonderful, exciting year."