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So Wisconsin's Curt Phillips doesn't throw much — he can manage

A quarterback who lost two full seasons to injuries is happy with his game management role, including handing the ball to the likes of Montee Ball.

December 28, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips lost two full seasons to injuries.
Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips lost two full seasons to injuries. (Leon Halip / Getty Images )

Curt Phillips was asked Thursday, by the only reporter interviewing him, how far he could walk outside his downtown hotel without being recognized.

"The whole way," Phillips joked.

San Diego?

San Francisco?

Las Vegas?

"Wherever you want me to go," he reiterated.

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Last year, Wisconsin brought a famous starting quarterback to the Rose Bowl, but Phillips would be the first to tell you he is not Russell Wilson.

"I don't think I can make that comparison," Phillips said.

Good, then, let's move on.

Phillips could tell you what might have been had three surgeries on his right knee not cost him two entire seasons and left him, at 22, third on the Badgers' quarterback depth chart as a redshirt senior.

Phillips was the kind of high school talent that once prompted ESPN experts to tout: "He had everything you want in terms of measurables."

Phillips was 6 feet 3, 214 pounds, and could pass and run. The record books show he accounted for 115 total touchdowns at Sullivan South High School in Tennessee.

In 2008, rated Phillips the nation's No. 7 dual-threat quarterback behind Oregon-bound Darron Thomas.

That seems like a million scars ago. Today, Phillips is the happiest, most anonymous, grateful, non-complaining quarterback alive.

He is the afterthought in Wisconsin's game plan, more a bookkeeper than a playmaker.

"He just manages the game very well," Badgers tailback James White said. "It may look easy, but it really isn't."

It's a good thing Phillips doesn't care if he passes the ball only eight times in a game, because that's exactly how many heaves he got in Wisconsin's 70-31 rout of Nebraska in the Big Ten Conference title game.

The Badgers had five times as many running plays, 50, as passing plays. They finished with 539 ground-chuck yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

"If it means being a cheerleader, handing off the ball and congratulating them in the end zone, I love that role," Phillips said.

The Badgers are more lopsided than a fat man on a teeter-totter. White, Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon all rushed for more than 100 yards against Nebraska.

The offense is basically backs running between the shadows of behemoth linemen.

"It starts with the palookas up front," interim Coach Barry Alvarez likes to say.

Phillips contributed 71 yards passing against Nebraska while efficiently completing six of eight passes.

Wisconsin is such a throwback, its games should be televised in black and white.

Phillips is making his fifth career start, against Stanford, on Tuesday, in the Rose Bowl.

His passing stats for the season — 36 for 65, 457 yards, four touchdowns, one interception — could be a halftime box for Baylor's quarterback.

Phillips didn't grow up dreaming about behind a handoff specialist.

"I came in with high hopes," he said.

Yet he savors every opportunity under center because he knows how quickly his time is running out.

He limped into this season knowing he might never get on the field.

His two lost seasons left him at third string behind Danny O'Brien, a transfer from Maryland, and freshman Joel Stave.

Stave took over as starter in Week 4 but suffered a broken collarbone on Oct. 27 against Michigan State.

Phillips got the Nov. 10 start at Indiana and "led" Wisconsin to the 62-14 win that clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game.

He completed four passes in the game for 41 yards, although he rushed for 68 in seven carries.

Phillips is 2-2 as the starter, with both of the defeats coming in overtime.

He committed himself in the arduous hours of rehabilitations to being as prepared as humanly possible if he ever got his chance.

"I was going to play football until someone told me I wasn't allowed to play anymore," Phillips said. "It wasn't going to be my decision to stop. At the end of the day, when I'm 50 years old, I didn't want any regrets."

There were lows so low he needed an elevator up just to reach the ground floor.

He played some in 2009 as a redshirt freshman before tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in spring 2010. He worked furiously to get back only to tear the same ligament at practice the following November.

Ready again in spring 2011, he developed an infection.

"Basically it ate everything in the knee," Phillips said. "It got into the tissue and had to be cleaned out."

A third surgery wiped out his 2011 season. That, he said, was the pit of pits.

Two years ago, Phillips watched quarterback Scott Tolzien lead Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl. Last year, it was Wilson leading the charge into Pasadena.

This year, in a stunning reversal of fortune, Phillips gets his shot.

Stave and his collarbone have been medically cleared for the Rose Bowl, but Alvarez has indicated Phillips earned the right to start the game.

The whole Wisconsin world is pulling for him.

"He just does everything right," Ball, the star back, said. "He doesn't care who gets the credit. He's been through a lot, with the injuries and the surgeries. We have a lot of respect for him."

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