By: Will Burchfield
This was in high school, when Glover Quin was still playing quarterback.
He hurt his ankle one game and had to be replaced by the backup. Then the backup suffered an ankle injury of his own. At halftime, the training staff tested both QBs to determine who could play the final two quarters. The backup was ruled out.
So Quin took the field for the second half, limping and gritting his teeth, and finished what he had started.
The next day, the two quarterbacks went to the doctor to get X-rays. The backup had a sprained ankle.
“Mine was broken,” said Quin.
He didn’t say this as a point of pride, only as a matter of fact. Quin doesn’t view himself as superhuman. He doesn’t pound his chest to prove that it won’t break. He respects the perilous nature of his sport, which may be why he’s almost never succumb to it.
Entering the 2017 season, Quin, 31, has made 116 consecutive starts. It’s the longest active streak among NFL safeties, second longest among defensive backs. He hasn’t missed a game since his 2009 rookie season.
“I just try to put my body through the ringer in the offseason and prepare for a long season,” Quin said, “because I’ve played in 16 games and I know what it feels like.”
This was in junior college, when Quin was still trying to get noticed by scouts.
He injured his arm one game, sometime in the third quarter. He didn’t really know what he’d done, only that it hurt.
“I was just like, ‘Jeez, man, this thing’s sore,'” he said.
Believing he could still make a difference, Quin finished the game. The diagnosis arrived later. His arm was broken.
“I was just a guy that always wanted to play. Anytime I had something that was halfway injured I would just always play through it. I’m not saying that stuff doesn’t hurt — it hurts, don’t get me wrong,” Quin said with a chuckle. “But mentally I can figure out a way to deal with the pain.”
This isn’t something that Quin learned from a particularly valiant teammate. His tolerance for pain comes entirely from within. Nor is it something that’s heavily aided by medicine. Quin took only a couple cortisone shots in college and said he’s never received one in the NFL.
“I’ve played through some pretty excruciating injuries,” he added, not to call attention to his toughness but to relate his love for the game.
This was in the NFL, when Quin was still playing for the Texans.
He hurt his elbow in the second quarter while making a tackle in the open field. The receiver went high, Quin went low and the front of his hand slammed into the receiver’s leg.
“I go in at halftime, like, ‘Dang, my elbow is sore,'” said Quin. “Put a sleeve on it to tighten it up and fought through the game.”
The next day, per his routine, he went to the doctor.
“It was dislocated, cracked, all types of stuff,” he said.
Quin probably should have been placed on injured reserve. At the very least, he should have been sidelined for a game or two. But the Texans were playing the Falcons that week, and Quin had his eyes on a certain matchup.
“I was the dime going against all the tight ends and I was like, Tony Gonzalez is a Hall of Famer. I want to play against Tony,” he said.
So Quin slipped on an elbow brace and did just that.
Quin’s passion for football — and the rush he finds in competition — is what allows him to block out the pain. His understanding that he could suddenly be taken off the field is what keeps him on it.
“I never take a single play for granted. I just love being out there,” he said. “It’s kind of who I am. I feel like the mind is a very powerful thing, so I try to always think about being out there and doing my job at a high level. I try not to think about all the negative things that come with it, although I know that it’s always possible.”
Quin also attributes his good health to the good lord.
“I pray a lot. God has been with me all these years, all these games, all these plays and I just don’t feel like I can do it any other way. If I go out there and get hurt, it was meant for me to get hurt,” said Quin. “Right now I feel like he wants me on the field.”
This was in 2013, Quin’s first season with the Lions.
He blew out his ankle in Week 4 versus the Bears — “Torn ligaments and all that stuff,” he said.
When he eyed the schedule he found himself in a familiar dilemma.
“The next week was my first time going to Green Bay. Frickin’-a, man,” he laughed, “I gotta find a way to play. I didn’t want my first time going to Lambeau to be injured and watching.”
So Quin met with the team doctor that week and explained his stance on injuries.
“I told him, ‘Hey, if you can take the pain, you play,” said Quin.
So he did. And though he admits he was less effective that game and throughout the rest of the season, Quin has a keen feel for his body. He knows how far he can push it. He’d never be too prideful, he insists, to sit out for the betterment of the team.
“I just want to try to play in the game. If I’m hurt and I feel like I’ll be a hazard or a hamper to my team, then I won’t go out and play,” said Quin. “But if I can still play and perform, then I’ll try it.”
The question is whether Quin knows where that line exists, having sat on one side of it for the past 116 games.
“I would know,” he said. “At this point I don’t know if it really matters what the doctors say or what anybody else says.”
From a medical standpoint, Quin knows he shouldn’t have played versus the Packers. His ankle was too torn up to handle that kind of stress. From a competitive standpoint, he didn’t have much of a choice. Plus, he finished the game with a season-high six tackles.
At this point, people around Quin are past the point of trying to dissuade him from playing through injuries.
“My wife has brought it up a couple times, but she and I have gotten to the point now where she knows that I’m crazy,” he said.
Quin, who clarified he’s never played through a concussion, acknowledges it’s difficult to be available every week. For one, teams are increasingly familiar with his weaknesses and how to exploit them. Moreover, NFL miles are unlike those in any other sport. They pile up exponentially.
“To put that type of pressure on yourself to go out and perform at a high level every single week, it’s tough. I’m not going to downplay it,” Quin said. “But I feel like I was born for this. I’ve learned how to train my body in the offseason so I just go out and play. I try to play to where I have no regrets. To where if something happens and I can’t play, I feel like I gave it everything I had.”
This was in tenth grade, Quin’s fourth year playing organized football.
Aside from a couple of big hits he’d taken in ninth grade, he’d yet to feel the real violence of the sport. Then he broke his wrist.
“I was just like, I gotta play,” said Quin. “I gotta keep playing.”