Cardless Starter of the Lombardi Era: Bill Quinlan

Here’s what I wrote about the colorful right defensive end from the first two Lombardi championships in Green Bay Gold:

Irish ruffian Bill Quinlan is the subject of many stories of Lombardi’s early teams, and Vince seems to have put up with Bill’s obstreperous personality only until he could replace him. Quinlan spent 1952 at Staunton Military Academy before enrolling at Michigan State in 1953. By 1954, he was playing for Hamilton in the precursor to the Canadian Football League. When his MSU class graduated in 1956, Quinlan was in the military, but he was drafted by the Browns in the third round, and reported as a 25-year-old rookie in 1957. Quinlan started for the Browns for two seasons but did not mesh well with authoritarian Coach Paul Brown. One story goes that Brown had a rule against smoking in the locker room, but when the head coach walked in on Quinlan having a puff one day, Bill didn’t try to hide it, but instead blew smoke in the coach’s direction.

With new coach Vince Lombardi looking for defensive line help, Brown sent him Quinlan and versatile back Lew Carpenter for receiver Bill Howton. Quinlan refused to go at first, saying, “Would you want to go from the Yankees to the Athletics? It’s the same thing going from Cleveland to Green Bay.” Once signed, though, he was a big improvement at end for the Packers, even drawing some All-Pro notice in 1960. Lombardi acknowledged Bill’s difficult character but praised him in Run to Daylight, “I know he’s a celebrator, but I also know that in a game he is a 6-foot-3 250-pound hard-nose tough guy who doesn’t think anyone can beat the Packers. He’s a ballplayer.” Of course, by the time the book came out, Lombardi had traded him to the Giants.

The Giants immediately traded him to the Eagles for another defensive end, and Quinlan bounced from the Eagles to the Lions to the Redskins in his last three years in the league. Lombardi unloaded him after an incident late in the 1962 season when an inebriated Quinlan was loudly complaining about fellow defensive end Willie Davis making All-Pro instead of him. With Philadelphia in 1963, he was the instigator of a grotesque, bloody locker room brawl that left two Eagles in the hospital.

While known for his toughness at the point of attack and stoutness against the run, Quinlan was not a complete player. Henry Jordan told Chuck Johnson for Greatest Packers of Them All, “He never put any pressure on the passer. He might as well have been sitting in the stands.” Looking back, Herb Adderley told Packers’ historian Cliff Christl, “Quinlan was a freelance guy. He was disruptive. He’d run down the line of scrimmage no matter what defense was called. Sometimes he guessed right. Most of the time he guessed wrong.” According to the sack research of Webster and Turney, Bill averaged under four sacks a year in his time in Green Bay. He was part of a great defense, but in 1963 was replaced by a better ballplayer, Lionel Aldridge.

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1961 Nu Card-style custom card is colorized.

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