Super Bowl LI will provide a handful of local ties for sports fans from Maryland.
New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona is a Naval Academy alum drafted by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick -- the son of former Navy assistant Steve Belichick. University of Maryland alum Darius Kilgo could be a Super Bowl champion for the second time in just his second NFL season -- the defensive tackle is on the Patriots' practice squad after being on the Denver Broncos' 53-man roster a season ago. Baltimore native Cyrus Jones has struggled during his first season as a cornerback/return specialist for New England but could also get a ring.
The Atlanta Falcons' roster features former Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw and guard Chris Chester, as well as former Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Atlanta's tight ends coach, Wade Harman, previously served in the same capacity with the Ravens as well. And then there's one other local connection you might not be quite as aware of.
Not only is Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn an alum of Salisbury University, he is one of the more accomplished athletes in Sea Gulls football history. Quinn was a four-year starter from 1990-93 and two-year captain. He also ran track and field, representing then-Salisbury State in the hammer throw at the 1994 NCAA championships.
It was at Salisbury he began to mold his future as a coach, paying close attention to his own head football coach, Joe Rotellini, and also to head Salisbury lacrosse coach Jim Berkman, who would win the first of his 11 national championships during Quinn's senior year.
"He knew a lot of my guys that were in that '94-'95 group that played on those first two championship teams, and he kind of saw the culture that we were developing," Berkman said. "So he could see that some really good things were happening, were getting a good culture, there were a lot of committed kids. And I think that he respected that because, even way back then, I think he knew he kind of wanted to be a coach."
"I knew I wanted to be a coach, so every coach that was there [at Salisbury], I had my eye on," Quinn told
The Flyer. "I saw how hard those guys played, so you knew that [their effort and style] came from the top. I had a lot of respect for Jim Berkman. Here's a guy who can totally handle his program."
Quinn has remained involved with the school since his own coaching career began at William & Mary in 1994. In fact, it was when he was inducted to the university's Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005 that Berkman realized the then-Miami Dolphins assistant was headed to big things.
"When he got inducted to the Hall of Fame, we did have a chance to have a pretty good conversation," Berkman said. "I just remember how impressed by him I was -- his ability to command a crowd and a presence -- that I was like, 'Holy, God, this guy's going to be a head coach in the NFL someday.' When I saw him speak that night, I thought, 'Holy cow, this guy, he's going places. Sky's the limit.'"
Since then, Quinn has remained in touch with the football and lacrosse programs, even playing a small role in helping the Sea Gulls lacrosse team win its most recent national championship.
"Last year, [sports information director] Timmy Brennan put together a pre-game highlight/motivational film before the championship game," Berkman said. "[Quinn] was on that film saying 'Go Gulls! Kick their ass!' or something like that. I don't remember what exactly he said, but it was pretty cool. Here we are, watching this film, and it's got a bunch of big plays, and all of a sudden, here comes Coach Quinn in the middle of it [saying] something about 'go kick their asses!' It got everybody all fired up."
Salisbury defeated Tufts the next day, 14-13, to claim the Division III title.
In addition to supplying emotional support, Quinn has provided plenty of financial support as well, including significant donations to help build the new, state-of-the-art Sea Gull Stadium the programs enjoy. According to the Salisbury Alumni Relations department, Quinn has made several donations to the school and was a "Gold Level" donor to the stadium project, meaning he donated $50,000 or more. Those donations went toward the football locker room and athletic training room under his name and the name of his wife, Stacey (a 1991 Salisbury alum).
Having Quinn lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl should prove significant for the school in general.
"I think it means a lot because it brings attention to your university on a national basis that doesn't normally happen for a regional school," Berkman said. "When we get in a championship game, we give exposure to the university that you're not going to get in your normal day-to-day operation. And with this being on a grand, grand scale, Salisbury University's name is going to probably come up thousands of times over the course of the next two weeks, and it's free publicity. And it's way more effective than the stuff that we're paying thousands and thousands of dollars for. People will be like, 'Yeah, let me check that out.'"
Interim athletic director Gerry DiBartolo concurred in a statement to PressBox.
"We are proud, exited and honored to have Dan Quinn, a member of our Sea Gull family and his team, achieve this outstanding accomplishment," DiBartolo said in a statement. "The next two weeks will be filled with excitement, and Salisbury alums across the country will all be supporting Dan and the Falcons in their quest to become Super Bowl Champions.
"What a great time to be a Sea Gull, and we are firmly behind Dan in his quest."