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Phillips' Return Emblematic of Wisconsin Character

Curt Phillips' pending return to the football field continues a string of inspiring efforts from UW.

Dan Sanger

Everybody loves a comeback, and nowhere is that more evident this week than for the Wisconsin football team and its fanbase.

After three ACL injuries and a football career seemingly ended, it would have been easy for redshirt senior Curt Phillips to call it quits.

But he didn't. He wouldn't. He couldn't. And now he's being rewarded for his patience, exemplary representation of the fighting spirit and his ‘never say never' attitude that carried him through the tough times of the last three years.

Say what you will about Bret Bielema's poor game management as a coach, but man oh man, does the guy recruit the right kind of players. There's something about the mantra of this Wisconsin program that produces tough-minded kids with a solid mind between their ears. And Phillips has it. People had shot out some predictions that Phillips' feel-good story would take another turn this week and now facing his first career start, his magical script will start to be written Saturday in a game to clinch the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten Championship.

But Phillips is just the latest Badger player to display the ability to come back, or respond from tough times.

Several of the Badgers' current players have rebounded from adversity and tough times to emerge as stars. Montee Ball was buried at No. 3 in the depth chart his sophomore year. James White didn't see squat for carries in 2011. Ethan Armstrong has been dinged up more times than a car parked at Wal-Mart for a year. But yet, all three have emerged during their careers, either this year or last, to be vital contributors for this Badgers team.

And, even more so as a team, the Badgers and their players have kept trucking on as a unit with the same work ethic. And nowhere has this way of life, this stubborn and headstrong team attitude to keep moving forward, been tested and valued more than the 2012 season.

And that's important. Football, and even more specifically college football, is a game that is embodied by the theme of change. Whether it's losing players to graduation, coaches to new jobs or losing players to injuries, at any time there's a shot that your number will be called for bigger and better things.

That's why it's so important to put emphasis on the "next man in" idea if you're a backup. With the violent nature of the game, a starter can go down at any time. And so, the question remains, how much attention was Phillips paying in practice prior to last week when he was getting fewer reps? How big will the learning curve be for the Badgers' third starting quarterback used this year?

And still another serious question remains as well: is Stave's injury just another bump in the road or will this finally be the obstacle that derails the Badger train on its return trip to Indianapolis?

I know Phillips has the admiration of the players and the coaching staff, and that probably didn't hurt when it came to his audition last week for the starting role. How could you not appreciate someone who is a "program guy," someone who wanted it bad enough that he rehabbed multiple ACL injuries just for the shot to suit up again?

There's something to be said about the values of intangibles in a quarterback. People in the NFL talk about how Tim Tebow's intangibles separated him as a football player (but as a quarterback, uh...) and it definitely helps to have that little something extra about you. Stave had that coolness, that collectiveness no matter what the situation, that won over his teammates.

O'Brien? I was never impressed with his composure or just the way he came off in interviews. Nice kid, and I do feel bad for all the hate he has taken since underperforming for a Badgesr fanbase desperate for the next great quarterback (cue up memories of my freshman year and the Alan Everidge debacle).

But the fact is O'Brien isn't "the guy." He doesn't seem to have that same competitive fire that Stave exudes on the field.

If you want to be a successful offense, you need your quarterback to have "it." Now the only question remains to be asked: does Phillips have whatever it is the Badgers are looking for?

Whatever the answers may be, Saturday is primed to be the deciding factor of the Badgers' postseason hopes.