For all of the conversations people have participated in Wednesday arguing the legacy of Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave, only one thing is clear.
Joel Stave does not care what you think about his legacy. Heck, he may not even care about it himself.
When asked about how he wanted to be remembered by the fans, Stave gives a general answer, focusing on his team’s success during his career.
“More than anything, I hope they remember a few good seasons — seasons where we won a lot of games, seasons where we were able to play in some close, competitive games,” Stave said.
In games Stave has started since taking over as starting quarterback, Wisconsin is 29-9. Michigan State and Ohio State are the only other Big Ten teams to win more games than the Badgers over the past four seasons.
For the final time Saturday, he will run out in front of the Badger faithful at Camp Randall. He’ll have the chance to tie Brooks Bollinger for first all time in wins as a Wisconsin starting quarterback (30). If Stave wins two of the final three games of his college career (Northwestern, Minnesota and eventual bowl game), he’ll have that record all to himself.
“That’s something I would take a lot of pride in,” Stave said. “Not many guys get the opportunity to play as many games as I’ve had here.”
Chalk it up to a bullish offensive line for the majority of his career, a Heisman-level running game and consistent defenses, but the ball touched his hands every offensive play for the better part of four seasons. And no matter what, there’s a strong chance the record books will read Stave’s name in the column for most wins at UW, whether you consider that a valid statistic or not.
The point of this isn’t to convince you Stave is the greatest quarterback this university has ever seen. Stave is far, far from perfect. He locks on to targets and stares them down. He throws too many interceptions. He’s not mobile enough and puts too much air under the ball.
There will be those who feel the two-star recruit from Whitnall High School is undeserving of that distinction. Stave, a constant focal point of fans’ ire, takes all of the criticism in stride.
“That’s the nature of the game. That’s the nature of playing quarterback,” Stave said. “When you play quarterback you kind of put yourself on a pedestal for criticism and that just comes with playing the position.”
Even more impressive than UW’s record with Stave under center is the way he’s deflected the boos and shaken off the negative judgments.
That’s because Wisconsin football means an incredible deal to Stave. The man re-entered a game in which he had a concussion against Illinois last month. He’s spent more semesters at UW (10) than he did in high school (seven). The experience, Stave said, has all been worth it.
“I think over the years I’ve been able to make a lot of very good friends on the team. I’ve been able to earn the respect of my coaches and my teammates,” Stave said. “And I’ve been able to represent myself and the university in a way that I think is a good way to represent myself. Those were my goals coming in, and from that respect, I feel like I was able to reach them.”
Stave has undergone three coaching changes. And while the offices at Camp Randall have operated like a revolving door the first half of this decade, Stave has been the constant.
“That just shows how much of a players game it is,” Stave said. “The coaches do have a huge effect on the game, and a huge effect on the game plan and how the game is going to be played, but ultimately it’s the players out there on the field and a lot of it comes down to trust and chemistry.”
This season, the circumstances have been different. UW’s powerhouse running game is nonexistent, partially because the offensive line is young and inexperienced. Stave’s right arm has been called on to win games by itself.
He failed against Iowa. He threw four interceptions and got tripped at the one-yard line, a play that will probably decide the Badgers’ fate this season. (If UW scored on that possession, it would be on the fast track to Indianapolis and would currently be ranked in the College Football Playoff top 10.)
But he led essentially two game-winning drives against Nebraska. He kept Wisconsin somewhat in the game, at least for the first half, against Alabama.
“I think this team has come together through all the changes and through all the things that have kind of been up and down with this program,” Stave said. “We’ve been able to still win a lot of games. We’ve been able to be competitive. I think there’s a lot of pride to be had in that.”
Stave will go in to the record books for his wins and judged by Wisconsin fans for his losses.
Bad news for Stave haters: No. 2 doesn’t care about your heckling, your contempt or your disapproval. All he cares about is winning, and that’s the one thing he’s done during his career.
He’s probably got a few wins left in the tank, too.