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ONE FOR THE THUMB : MVP Doesn’t Rely on Luck of Irish

Long after 25,762 thumbs had been thrust jubilantly at the shaking, shivering Sports Arena rafters, Brian Quinn was still in uniform.

Long after goalkeeper Jim Gorsek successfully had stalked owner Bob Bell and sprayed him with champagne, Brian Quinn was still in uniform.

Long after Minnesota’s Tino Lettieri had covered his head with a towel to maybe muffle the din of yet another San Diego Socker celebration, Brian Quinn was still in uniform.

Obviously, this also was long after Brian Quinn himself had been lifted to his teammates’ shoulders. After all, this man was the Most Valuable Player of the Major Indoor Soccer League playoffs.

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This remarkable series had finally come to a pulsating conclusion at 8:30 p.m. Monday, the Sockers coming back from what amounted to triple match point to win a seventh game no one imagined would ever come to be played. This fifth consecutive indoor championship was more a study in guts and determination than glory and domination.

This championship was a study in what Brian Quinn is all about.

It was appropriate that Quinn should have been pinned to a wall, unopened champagne bottle in one arm and crystal MVP trophy in the other. He could hear his teammates popping corks and see streams of spray coming through the locker room door.

However, the media must make these demands of the MVP.

“Can we have him for a second?” asked a television type. “We’re on live.”

Monday night, lively with Brian Quinn.

Back from his television spot, he encountered Minnesota star Alan Willey. This man, already packed and ready for a long, sad trip, was venturing into the champagne bath to offer his congratulations.

“Here,” Quinn said, extending the unopened champagne, “stick this in your bag. We’ve got plenty.”

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“You keep it,” Willey said. “You earned it.”

Indeed, Quinn earned both the champagne and the trophy.

As Willey explained a few minutes later: “A lot of players get more attention than Brian, but he’s the Sockers’ spark plug. He gets everything going. He’s so darn feisty and he works so hard. Only one player could have possibly been given that award.”

Brian Quinn.

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“When they get down,” Willey said, “he gets them up again. He brought them back from 3-1 down.”

Not by himself, of course. In fact, Quinn spent most of his time after the game trying to explain that all awards are really team awards, even individual awards--especially his individual award.

“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Quinn said, “but the greatest feeling is standing here with another championship after being down, 3-1.”

Never before had the Sockers had to work so hard to earn a championship. They could have won those first four championships without loosening their ties or rolling up their sleeves. Indeed, there were times when they could have played in their street shoes.

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Not so against the Strikers.

Minnesota made it clear very early that the Sockers were going to have to shed their capes, pocket their white gloves and sheathe their swords. This duel would be fought in the trenches.

This would be Brian Quinn’s turf.

Understand that Quinn is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, the barbed-wire capital of the Free World. If this was to be a guts rather than glory series, Quinn was just the guy to sally forth with scarred shins and bleeding elbows. He probably would have been happier if it had been played on bricks.

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Quinn plays soccer the way a pick-pocket works a crowd. He always is on the move, bumping and jostling, constantly alert for opportunities. The pick-pocket may get away with wallets; Quinn came away with the Strikers’ hearts.

The difference, of course, is that a pick-pocket works with his hands.

“Brian’s feet are like Matt Dillon’s hands,” said Coach Ron Newman, “and Matt Dillon’s the fastest gun in the West. Brian could outduel Matt Dillon with his feet. He could pick your pocket with his feet, and you’d never know your wallet was gone.”

However, it is more than just the feet.

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“Brian just never gives up,” said Branko Segota, unquestionably the Sockers’ most talented player. “He’s always working, making everyone else want to try to match him and do more. He’s a great team player. He’s the soul of our team.”

Brian Quinn simply refuses to not win. It peeved him greatly when the Sockers blew that 3-0 lead to lose Game 4 in Minnesota. This caused the Strikers to gain the 3-1 advantage that looked so insurmountable.

When Quinn gets excited or upset or both, his already convoluted Irish accent rises a level in pitch and the words accelerate to such an extent that he sounds like a record being played at a faster rpm. Imagine, if you will, an Irish chipmunk.

But this Irish chipmunk is formidable in his wrath.

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Willey, for example, was talking about Quinn’s propensity for sniping at referees over perceived wrongs. This sniping occasionally will cause him to land in the penalty box.

“How,” Willey was asked, “can the referees tell what Quinn is saying to them?”

“They can’t,” he said. “They can only go by the way he says it.”

Brian Quinn just was not going to let this championship wash up on the shore of some Minnesota lake. He complained about lack of intensity, and called for introspection. He cajoled.

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“And what he does more than anything else,” teammate Gary Collier said, “is lead by example. He wants to win soooo badly.”

Eventually, on this tumultuous Monday night, Brian Quinn made it back to a locker room with champagne dripping from the ceiling. The bubbly would finally be poured on his head, and he would squint his eyes and try to wipe it away.

After all, he was on camera. Again.


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