Last December, when Robert Quinn was selected to his third Pro Bowl, he might have been the last person to receive the news. He was too busy watching Forensic Files in his downtown Chicago hotel room as the Bears prepared to play the Vikings.
Quinn eventually left his room, got on an elevator, and happened to run into then-head coach Matt Nagy, who told him about his Pro Bowl selection.
“Cool,” Quinn said. “See you at the game.”
That’s Robert Quinn — the most interesting player I’ve covered in 12 seasons on the Chicago Bears beat.
A Bear by chance
Quinn’s short 2.5 year ride in Chicago all started with a coin flip. Apparently, literally.
“It was a tough decision when I had to finally make it,” Quinn said on an introductory conference call after signing with the Bears in April 2020. “But Chicago was on the right side of the coin.”
That was one of three times Quinn alluded to flipping a coin to decide between the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons in free agency. When asked directly if he literally flipped a coin, Quinn said: “That’s kind of how it came down to the final decision. It was still pretty tough. I mean, basically that’s what it boiled down to is a coin flip. The Bears were on the right side of it. I don’t regret it.”
The Bears pushed back on the idea that Quinn literally picked them because of a coin flip, but the Pro Bowl pass rusher called it “the honest way” to make up his mind.
And the more you got to know Quinn, the more you realized the simplicity of a coin flip deciding such a big life decision is actually a story you can buy. If you ask Quinn on any given day how he’s doing, he’ll often respond: “Pretty good. I woke up today.”
You realize the significance of that response when you remember he’s currently playing football with a tumor in his brain.
“I guess the way I kind of approach life: After hearing from a doctor you’ve got a week to live, there ain’t too much that can bring you down after that,” Quinn said after he won the team’s coveted Brian Piccolo Award in April.
That sure puts things into perspective. As Quinn tells the story, doctors found a tumor in his brain when he was 17 and told him he had a week to live — BEFORE checking to see if it was benign or malignant.
“I remember looking at my mom for I don’t know how long, kind of in disbelief. More in shock,” Quinn said. “I mean, you try being 17 and they tell you you got a week (to live). But after a couple of days, I kind of came to grips with it. I’m about to leave this world. So I was trying to go out as happy as possible.”
Fortunately, the tumor was benign. He had surgery to shrink it, but it’s still in Quinn’s brain. They check it every year.
“I guess from there on out, I just tried to live that same way because we all go though bad things, it’s just how you approach it and make the most out of your situation,” Quinn said.
A record 2021 season
With that context, you can understand why Quinn stays grounded. Sixteen sacks into his record-breaking 2021 season, Quinn said: “I guess it is a decent individual season.”
Holy understatement. He went on to break Richard Dent’s single-season Bears sack record, compiling 18.5 sacks. And it wasn’t even the greatest accomplishment in his family last year. Quinn’s sister, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, won a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics. Not one to get excited about his own accomplishments, Quinn was beaming with pride when it came to Jasmine’s big victory.
“That’s my baby sister and she’s an Olympian,” Quinn said. “I don’t know, man. I can brag about that, I guess.”
You sure as hell can, Rob.
Quinn has a rare ability to not take football too seriously, but still excel at it. He doesn’t really watch football outside of work. Sometimes you wonder if he’s even a fan of the sport. Once asked if ever hears about younger players emulating him, Quinn replied: “I really don’t even watch the news, honestly. I watch, like, Forensic Files and stuff like that.”
Dude loves his Forensic Files.
But Quinn is also low-key hilarious. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the jokes. You know, like the time he said he could combat COVID-19 by wearing sweats because he was from the country.
(It was April 2020 and perhaps a little too soon, so there was some awkward silence.)
“That’s just a little country humor, sorry,” Quinn said. Even so, the dude always wears a winter hat on the practice field and on the sideline, even if it’s 90 degrees in August.
Discount Double Sacked
On the field, the pass rusher’s most memorable sack with the Bears came on Aaron Rodgers in 2021 when Quinn celebrated with one of Rodgers’ signature “discount double-checks.”
Quinn said he just thought it would be funny: “State Farm or whatever.”
If Robert Quinn hadn’t earned the respect he has over 12 NFL seasons, perhaps some would accuse him of not really being invested in football. For example, Quinn admitted that he didn’t even realize Chuck Pagano was the Bears’ defensive coordinator when he signed with the team in 2020. That was a notable connection because Pagano recruited him out of high school.
“When I saw that and I realized that, that definitely put one of the biggest smiles on my face,” Quinn said. “(Pagano) left a little early to go to Baltimore when I committed to college so, anyways, I’m excited to get to play for him finally. I’m sorry, what was your question? Hello?”
This year, Quinn won two fitting awards. One was the Jeff Dickerson Good Guy Award, handed out by the media to a member of the organization that cooperated and helped us do our jobs. Then in April, Quinn won the team’s Brian Piccolo Award, which carried extra weight for him, given his scare with cancer.
At the award ceremony, current defensive coordinator Alan Williams gave an impressive speech, which was interesting because he barely knew the guy. Williams arrived to the coaching staff in January and Quinn had hardly been in the building. Williams acknowledged this reality, so he went around the facility and asked as many people as he could about Quinn — the support staff, the cafeteria workers, whoever — and they all had something nice to say about the guy who always carried a smile on his face.
Quinn’s time with the Bears ended this week, as new GM Ryan Poles did what was expected and traded him to Philadelphia for a fourth-round draft pick. The move immediately sent waves throughout Halas Hall, with fellow team captain Roquan Smith getting emotional at his Wednesday press conference before ending it early.
Thursday, Williams — having now spent much more time with Quinn — said this: “I hope he continues to have a ton of success and if more people were like Robert, you know, it would be a much better place professionally and personally.”
In that regard, the Bears’ loss in the Eagles’ gain.
Enjoy Robert Quinn, Philadelphia. Treat him as well as he’ll treat you.