On the trail of Super Bowl 51 stories, The MMQB road trip swept through colonial Virginia and into the heart of darkness, sort of
WILLIAMSBURG TO ATLANTA—The best part about these long winter road trips is the gradual climate change. As we drove onto the campus of William & Mary, I noticed very few students wearing jackets, just hoodies and puffy vests. Sandal weather awaits! (Possibly on Day Four.)
We came to William & Mary to learn about the coaching roots of Dan Quinn. He got his start as a defensive line coach for the Tribe in 1994, working for legendary coach Jimmye Laycock’s (no, that’s not a typo. Jimmye with an E because his mom wanted something different).
Laycock has been William & Mary’s head coach for 38 years, and he told just as many stories and name-dropped just as many football notables as you would expect from someone who is the longest-tenured active D-1 football coach.
To borrow a phrase from Peter King, here are a few “niblets” from Laycock:
On the time Tim Tebow coached at William & Mary’s annual football camp: “I never knew there were so many teenage girls in Williamsburg!”
On Lou Holtz, who was Laycock’s coach when he played quarterback at William & Mary: “He called me first quarterback. He stills calls me that. If you told him you saw me today, he’d say, ‘Oh you saw first quarterback?’”
On the time Luke Kuechly coached at William & Mary’s football camp: “He was scary nice… He walked out of Paul’s [Deli] after eating lunch with a group of us. And then he ran back in because he realized he left without paying. We told him, don’t worry, we’ve got this. But that’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Trivia time. Which NFL head coach was a senior captain on the 1994 team that featured Quinn as an assistant? (Hint: His team just lost the AFC title game.) That’s right, Mike Tomlin starred at receiver at William & Mary. Laycock told us that to this day, the best catch he’s ever seen a receiver make was an athletic, behind-the-back catch touchdown catch Tomlin made against Massachusetts.
Bonus question: Which newly appointed NFL head coach was a safety on that same team? That would be Buffalo’s Sean McDermott. Who would have thought three current NFL head coaches would trace roots to the same small program, an FCS/D-1AA school?
Humans of the Super Bowl, Williamsburg, Va: Jason Miller. A former William & Mary player, Miller knew Dan Quinn an assistant DL coach there in 1994. "He cast a bigger shadow back then, he was still at his playing weight, 270... I would call him a thief. A lot of people call him a sponge, but that's not the right word because sponges suck up the good and the bad. But he's a thief because thieves come in and only take away the good." #roadtohouston
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Later that morning we met Jason Miller, a former William & Mary player who had sat out the 1994 season with injury. He and Quinn formed a close friendship that year. The two were close in age because Quinn was in his first year out of college (Salisbury State).
As journalists we’re used to hearing the usual platitudes when asking about players or coaches, Oh he was such a great guy, he was just the nicest, but Miller made us all pause with this unique description of Quinn: “I would call him a thief. A lot of people call him a sponge, but that's not the right word because sponges suck up the good and the bad. But he is a thief because thieves come in and only take away the good.”
After our finishing up with interviews, William & Mary SID Pete Clawson took us to lunch at Paul’s Deli, a local spot across the street from the football field. Clawson told us that Quinn frequented Paul’s during his time in Williamsburg. After talking to an employee at the Greek deli and sports bar, we learned that Tomlin actually worked at Paul’s, checking IDs at the door during his college summers.
On Tuesday, I hinted that Tim might don revolutionary garb and join a reenactment. Turns out that was only a little bit of an exaggeration. We did visit a battlefield, and Tim did get very involved in the experience (more on that later) but sadly, Yorktown Battlefield does not host any regular battle reenactments.
After lunch at Williamsburg, we headed to the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center to check out the site of the last battle of the Revolutionary War and draw some parallels between the way the American Patriots won the battle and the way the NFL Patriots are coached. I’m not going to pretend like I know all the historical details of the Siege of Yorktown. For that, I’ll direct your questions to our executive editor Mark Mravic, who is The MMQB’s resident war buff. But after seeing Tim’s enthusiasm at this stop, I’d say Mark has some real competition.
When we stopped at Yorktown, I thought it would be a quick 20-30 minutes, just enough time to read a few historical markers and admire some rusty cannons. But Tim headed to the visitor center as soon as I parked the car. He came out a few minutes later, brandishing a glossy map and announcing that he had purchased the driving tour of Yorktown for us. Jenny and I looked at each other like, Okay, I guess we’re doing this?
For the next hour-and-a-half, we drove from field to field, all of them identical and indistinguishable. I don’t mean to diminish an important site in American history, because I love history and I even minored in history in college, but battlefields are some of the most boring historical sites. It’s literally a field of dry grass. It could be an elementary school kickball field for all I know. But Tim is a better person than Jenny and I, and he was really getting into this.
Tim’s enthusiasm for Yorktown took a dramatic turn when he pointed out a spot on the map marked “George Washington’s Headquarters.” The map did not indicate if this was a house, or a campsite, or some sort of fort, but Tim believed we needed to see this spot. It did not matter that we still had to drive nine hours to Atlanta that night. We had to find out what might be waiting for us at Washington’s headquarters. Tim took the wheel and drove us 10 minutes down a winding road into a forest. At the end of the narrow road was a plaque marking the spot as Washington’s headquarters and a small trail heading off into the woods, not a building or fort in sight. Unsatisfied with the plaque, Tim hurried down the trail, notebook in hand. The rest of us got out of the car to properly document the moment that Tim went mad. (Colin likened Tim’s desperate search for Washington’s headquarters to Kurtz going rogue on his maddening journey in the book, Heart of Darkness.) A couple of teenage boys were heading out of the trail and were confused when Tim questioned them about the location of George Washington’s headquarters. “The trail is really long bro,” one of them answered. It turned out that Washington’s headquarters was nothing more than a wooded area. Tim’s search ended in frustration, his notebook untouched. He got back in the car and said exactly what the rest of us were already thinking: “I’m losing my mind.”
With that, we drove back through the forest and headed South to one of my favorite highways in America, I-85. I just love the secluded feeling from the tall trees lining the road. Our nine-hour drive seemed overwhelming, but we all changed into our sweat pants/leggings and split up the driving in three shifts to make it more manageable. We finally pulled into Atlanta at 1:45 a.m.
Our next stop is a visit with Falcons owner Arthur Blank at his downtown office. Stay with us; he might teach us some of his victory dance moves.