The first thing you should know about Philadelphia Eagle Wide Receiver Mike Quick is that he's not very quick. But if that's so, how can Quick be averaging a gaudy 22.5 yards per catch this season, fourth best in the NFL, and rank second among all receivers with 787 yards? And how has he been able to catch 35 passes, six of them for touchdowns, and amass four 100-yard performances in eight games?
Precisely, says Eagle Cornerback Herman Edwards, because Quick isn't quick. "He's very smooth," adds Edwards, who often covers Quick in practice. "And those long strides can lull you to sleep. Suddenly, he's in your face, and it's too late."
"Quickness is one of the most overrated factors in football," says Philadelphia Tight End John Spagnola, who's not very quick himself. Quick is uncharacteristically quick to agree. "I run with the same motion at full speed as I do when I'm just starting, and guys tell me it's hard to key on me," he says. "What's important are good, disciplined routes and a knack for catching the ball. A lot of guys aren't burners, but they can catch in traffic. Look at Fred Biletnikoff."
And look at Quick. He has excellent hands; surprising durability for a 6'2" 190-pounder; outtasight leaping ability and body control, as befits the near-world-class hurdler (13.8) he was in high school and college; and, most assuredly, the ability to motor once he gets untracked.
And how has all this paid off for the Eagles? Quickly now: In the third game of this season Quick helped beat Denver 13-10 with a 38-yard touchdown catch. Two weeks later he split the seams of the Atlanta defense, caught a pass, pirouetted out of one defender's grasp and pulled another with him into the end zone for the decisive score in a 28-24 win. The next week he made two TD catches, one of them a one-handed grab, in a 17-13 win over the Giants.
Quick has scored two game-winning touchdowns and set up the deciding field goal in another victory. No wonder the surprising Eagles, who were picked to finish well below .500—and last—in the NFC's Eastern Division, have a 4-4 record and are in third. But teammates say Quick's contributions don't stop with his catches. Says Quarterback Ron Jaworski, "He stretches the zones with his deep routes. Even when he's not the primary receiver, he helps the others by creating more of an area for them to work in." Adds Lynn Stiles, Philadelphia's executive director of player personnel, "Mike's blocking gives us a dimension we didn't have in the past."
And to think that the Eagles almost passed him up. In the 1982 draft they had their eyes on Clemson Wide Receiver Perry Tuttle, who had run the 40 in 4.4 seconds to Quick's 4.6 while he was at North Carolina State. But when Buffalo traded up and chose Tuttle on the pick before Philadelphia's, the Eagles cast about for a replacement. Fortunately, Stiles had done a Quick study. "We had a highlight film of him and most of it was blocking," Stiles says. "I liked his toughness and ability to go into a crowd. On the basis of what I'd seen, I called him the most competitive and sure-handed receiver in the draft."
As a rookie last year Quick caught only 10 passes in his role as Ron Smith's backup, but by season's end many members of the Eagles organization felt he should have been starting. Coach Dick Vermeil, loyal (he later admitted) to a fault, stuck with veterans. In retrospect Quick, 24, considers that apparent injustice to have been a blessing. "I wasn't ready to start," he says. "On the sidelines, I could pick up little things, like how opponents were disguising their defenses on us. This season I can just react."
"I saw his ability in camp this summer," says Marion Campbell, who succeeded Vermeil as coach after the 1982 season. "He was flashing, by which I mean he really stood out. I had to see how well he could catch, and the only way to do that was to put him in."
Quick has made an improbable invisible man of 6'8" veteran Harold Carmichael, the most prolific pass catcher in Eagle history. With Jaworski directing most of his throws at Quick, Carmichael has caught more than three passes in only one game this season, a fact that teammates jokingly rub in. But there's no animosity between Quick and Carmichael; on the contrary, they're the best of friends. "Harold helped me adjust to life as a pro athlete—where to go, how to deal with people," says Quick. "And he knows as much about secondaries as any coach—who's fast, who's strong, whether to fake or go straight by a defensive back."
"He's lying," says Carmichael with a laugh. "I've learned a lot from him. After watching him, I'm catching the ball more with my hands and less with my body. But, sure, I help where I can. When I came into the league, Harold Jackson and Ben Hawkins took me under their wings. It's the only way to be—in life as well as in football."
In life Quick has made the best of potentially bad situations. Growing up in public housing in tiny (pop. 4,720) Hamlet, N.C., a railroad town that also produced the late saxophonist John Coltrane and newspaper columnist Tom Wicker, Quick and his nine siblings were supported by his mother, Mary, a domestic and nurse's aide. "I had a happy childhood," he says. "We had a large, close-knit family with a lot of love and respect. Two of the kids smoke, but they won't touch a cigarette around my mother. And every time I go home, I go right back to St. Mary's Holiness Church.
"If things come too easy, you don't appreciate them. I learned to work for things. I can remember getting up at 5:30 to take a bus to the fields, where I picked tobacco, cucumbers and peaches. I can remember collecting garbage for the Job Corps. But the main thing I remember is playing games. All I wanted to do was wear a jockstrap and sweat."
By the time he'd graduated from Richmond Senior High School, Quick was a celebrated swingman in basketball and hurdler in track, a decent football player, a miserable student and a kid without direction. On the suggestion of his football coach, Ron Krall, he applied for and got a scholarship to take a postgraduate year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.
"I saw the movie Taps," Quick says. "And it all came back. Fork Union is an all-boys military school out in the woods. We'd be up at 6 a.m., with our outfits on and boots shined, get in formation and march to chow. Get your books, go to class, then formation and a march to lunch. Drill practice twice a week. Strange, different. After the first week I almost went AWOL, and once my roommate and I stuffed our beds so it would look like we were still in them and took off before turning chicken about five miles down the road. But it was just what I needed: an excellent school with a lot of decent people. I got my grades up and realized, finally, that football was my sport."
Quick was named Fork Union's most valuable athlete and became the object of a bitter recruiting battle between North Carolina and North Carolina State. According to Red Pulliam, the academy's football coach, "I thought he could have played pro ball by the end of his year here. He was one of the finest athletic talents that I've seen in my 25 years of coaching."
But when he entered N.C. State, Quick found himself being used primarily as a blocker for Running Back Ted Brown, who has since gone on to star for the Minnesota Vikings. A typical setback, a typical response. "I heard about how receivers don't block," Quick says. "I wanted to be the opposite of that—mix it up and show I could be tough. And it's helped me. Once I get in a few good blocks, I feel better about going out and catching the ball."
By the time he graduated, Quick was the leading receiver in Wolf-pack history. "I'll tell you what kind of competitor he was," says Monte Kiffin, who was Quick's coach his last two years in college and is now the linebacker coach for the Green Bay Packers. "One time in a game he was split wide on our side of the field. As the quarterback was calling the signals, he yelled over to me, 'Throw me the ball, Coach. I can beat this guy.' "
Since starting to play tackle football at the age of 10, Quick has never missed a game because of an injury. The Eagles call him Silk, a name that fits both his playing style and his personality. Quick claims that he leads a dull life. Probe a little though, and you'll find that he's a part owner of three Arabian show horses and the ranch in California where they are stabled, that he has modeled and has a tasteful collection of hats and soft leather shoes. "He's so modest," says his girl friend of five years, Teresa Harrington. "When I met him, I didn't learn for a month that he played football."
Quick and Harrington share a South Jersey town house a couple of doors down from Pete Rose's. A bright, energetic woman, Harrington has accommodated Quick—cooking, cleaning, bookkeeping, even training him during last season's strike by throwing bullet passes from five yards out—and she knows exactly what she wants in return. "Five years," she says, "and no ring. But Christmas is coming."
And Quick is weakening. Slowly.