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Annals of Alumni: On Joel Stave, the NFL Badgers, and hair

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While many Minnesotans are currently lamenting the loss of Teddy Bridgewater to a horrific leg injury, Wisconsin alumnus Joel Stave’s NFL prospects were massaged with a dollop of Barry Bonds’s cream and he catapulted from contending for a practice-squad spot to vying with journeyman Shaun Hill for the honor of being able to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson.

Thursday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams was a chance for Stave to bear the fruits of cream, but unfortunately he suffered a hand injury during the first half and didn’t return. However, the team stated that Stave could have returned to the game if necessary, meaning one of two things: The Vikings saw all they needed to cement Stave’s place on the roster, or the Vikings saw all they needed to see to cement his place on the free-agent list.

Before the Vikings rush to judgement, they should consider the last time a dynamic quarterback suffered a freak injury and was replaced by an impressively quaffed backup. I’m referring, of course, to the memorable season put together by T.C. Williams High School, canonized in Remember the Titans. The Titan starter, Rev, goes down early in the season with an arm injury and is replaced by a seemingly in over his head Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass.

And then this happens:

Long story short, Bass, against long odds, leads his team to a state championship mixing together timely play-making, ball control and enabling an impressive defense to take care of business. Sound famillar? Stave may not be able to get the Vikings to state, but he certainly looks the part.

Luckily for Stave, this year’s edition of the Vikings, much like the 1971 Titans, is shaping up to be a professional version of the 2015-2016 Badgers. Both teams will rely heavily on a robust ground game to control the pace of the offense. The Badger’s top three rushers last year—Ogunbowale, Deal and Clement—combined for 1,543 rushing yards, averaged 4.37 yards per carry and scored 17 touchdowns, numbers that closely resemble the Vikings' leading rushers, minus the recently broken Teddy Bridgewater, who accounted for 1,756 yards, averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns. Each team's running attack also accounted for a majority of its touchdowns during the 2015 campaign.

Badger fans had plenty to gripe about when it came to Stave’s performance throughout the years, but his ability to hand the ball off was second only to whomever handed the ball off to Barry Sanders. Handoffs to the right, to the left, faking a handoff to the left and then handing it off to the right—Stave has it all in his arsenal, and sometimes he is bold enough to fake a hand off and pass the ball. This skill set seems compatible with what the Vikings will need offensively this year since they won’t be able to rely on a passing threat to open up the running game, so some sleight-of-hand in the handoff department might just confuse the defense enough to open up some holes for Adrian Peterson.

When it comes to Stave’s ability to replace Bridgewater in the Viking passing attack, there is a glimmer of hope on account of some of his stats bearing a remarkable similarity to Bridgewater’s.

Stave Bridgewater
Yards Per Attempt 7.3 7.2
Completion % 60.8 64
TD 11 14
INT 11 9

It also only took 13 games for Stave to accumulate those 11 touchdowns. Imagine what that number would look like if he played a 16-game NFL season. Neither Stave nor Bridgewater is going to be confused with Drew Brees when it comes to launching a rainbow down the field, but Stave has the ability to make a variety of intermediate throws and generally tosses a tight spiral.

All he has to do is keep the defense honest and make an occasional play, and with defenses sure to load up against the run, there stands a chance that the reads down the field would be simpler, at least giving him a chance. Badgerland is all too familiar with the inconsistency of Stave’s decision-making, so for his and the Vikings benefit, the less he has to think about the more likely a chance something positive happening.

A lot of this analysis requires some magical thinking on the part of Viking fans and Badger faithful. Outside of Kurt Warner, the history of undrafted quarterbacks leading their teams to the Promised Land is rather nonexistent, but the science behind predicting if a quarterback is going to be good is inexact to say the least. Skill sets ranging from Wonderlic scores, ability to throw a deep out and hand size have all been bandied about as possible predictors for the future success of a quarterback (of which Stave is 2-for=3), but I would like to propose another possible predictor.

It might not have much to do with ability to throw the football or athletic ability, but there is something about a wavy head of hair that seems to tie great quarterbacks together.

Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft choice and Ryan Fitzpatrick an NFL journeyman until they started looking like this:

Now they will make $21 million and $12 million respectively this year.

If Stave and the Vikings are going to have a chance this year, he is going to have to get away from this...

...and back to his roots, because somewhere in that hair exists the heir to the Vikings' starting quarterback job.