Lewis: Stocco For MVP ...again

A year after Matt Lewis argued for the Badger QB in Orlando, Stocco took home the Capital One Bowl MVP trophy

A few years back, Denzel Washington won his first Best Actor Academy Award for a film entitled "Training Day."

Washington had arguably given better performances as public figures Malcolm X and Ruben "The Hurricane" Carter, but surprised some by finally taking home championship-level Oscar in 2001.

The guy he beat out – Russell Crowe of "A Beautiful Mind" – might have deserved it equally, but had won the previous year for "Gladiator." Ironically, the year before that Crowe probably deserved it more for his role in "The Insider," but was denied.

And so I slowly arrive at my point. People refer to these happenings as make-up calls, or in the case of trophies – make-up awards.

On Monday, maybe UW quarterback John Stocco was Denzel Washington.

A year ago I typed on this same keyboard in the same city that Stocco – rather than Brian Calhoun – deserved MVP honors at the Capital One Bowl. Both were worthy candidates, but Stocco's poise in tough situations, his explosion behind the playcalling of coordinator Paul Chryst, and his toughened accuracy all put him over the top in my book.

I voted him in. Many of the guys around me voted him in. He lost.

Fast forward a year and those same sportswriters found themselves in the same press box with the same signal caller leading the winning sideline. It was a much more interesting call to make this year.

The Badgers' 17-14 win over Arkansas was a slugfest battle of "which defense can hold out longer?" The Wisconsin passing game made its plays – almost exclusively in the first half – but the defensive stops overshadowed anything that happened on offense in the second half.

There has been debate, albeit friendly, over who deserved the award. Jack Ikegwuonu for his touchdown-saving and momentum-swinging collar from behind on Darren McFadden? Mark Zalewski or Zach Hampton for an inspired defensive effort? Taylor Mehlhaff for his 52-yarder, or a receiver for a touchdown – Paul Hubbard or Travis Beckum? Perhaps even the entire defensive line of the losing Razorback defense, which was my suggestion despite penciling in Felix Jones in the case of an Arkansas victory.

In the end it went to Stocco, who played a solid first half, was quiet in the second, but did just enough to advance the ball and run out the clock in the end against overwhelming pressure from a defensive line that sacked him seven times.

No clear MVP emerged, so why not give it to Stocco – who definitely deserves one of those trophies on his mantle in the first place? Sometimes lost in the admirable whole-team mantra and the freshman exploits of P.J. Hill was the man who finished his Wisconsin career just one victory shy of tying Brooks Bollinger as the winningest quarterback in school history. Were it not for his sitting out the final two victories of the regular season, Stocco would have accomplished it.

Then there are the other numbers to consider: 7,227 yards, .571 completion percentage, and 47 passing touchdowns. Keep in mind that these career numbers for Stocco were accomplished in three seasons. They too all rank second in UW history – these behind Darrell Bevell.

Bevell had four years. Bollinger had four. As Stocco leaves a team that has won 22 of its last 26 despite minimal expectations from outsiders, his own legacy will begin to be pondered alongside his predecessors.

Seeing as I claim to know only about as much in the realm of UW history as I do any other college history department (with media guides and veteran reporters instead of textbooks and professors), I won't begin to place Stocco in the Badger pantheon.

But isn't it funny that the same quarterback who was taking the heat after that third straight loss to end the 2005 season is now leaving UW as one of the great quarterbacks in program history and causing people to say things like, "The Stocco era is over!" while being genuinely depressed by it?

He never had the statuesque physical build, stereotypical Hollywood looks or nationally heralded arm strength of a Drew Stanton or Chad Henne. He did not have the dazzling feet of a Michael Robinson or manage an offense in the media spotlight of The Ohio State University – flashing the handsome televised grin across the country like a lovable Troy Smith.

Stocco was simply solid. Not the kind of solid that keeps you from losing games, but the solid that wins them for you when you need it as well. He developed a poise, an accuracy and a confidence that were joys to watch – threading the pigskin where many perhaps never dared to believe he could put it with such consistency.

He never acted rude or disrespectful to the press, but neither did he laugh it up or say more than he felt needed to be said. After the win over Arkansas you'd have thought he'd just scored well on a math exam he spent a lot of time studying for. In the press conference it was his coach who looked like the five-year-old who robbed the town candy store.

Mostly though, he was tough. Stocco took more than his share of licks and got up every time. His performance in the Penn State game this year - staying in after the initial injury - clearly showed that to be the case.

Sure, he would love to get back that afternoon in East Lansing or the wet Camp Randall farewell to Coach Alvarez. He'd love to have developed his current rhythm with Travis Beckum to its peak entering Ann Arbor this past September. And I'm sure he would have loved a fourth year under center to reach new heights on wisdom alone.

But you know he has to be happy for a career in which he resided over the player side of a program that could be in the midst of taking the next step into the top tier in the nation. "The future is bright," he kept repeating in Orlando. But the present and recent past aren't too shabby either.

It was funny. I was boarding my flight home to Minneapolis from Orlando last year and Stocco was on board. He grew up just a couple of miles away from me back in the Twin Cities suburbs, and when I saw him I leaned in and mentioned I'd just written a column about how I thought he should have taken home the MVP.

During the course of the flight a couple of young girls encouraged by their parents approached Stocco and had a picture taken. A passenger seated next to me asked if I knew who the young man was getting all the attention.

"John Stocco," I replied. "He's the quarterback of the University of Wisconsin football team."

A year later and this time we had different flights. I'm guessing he got recognized a few more times though. Call the MVP award right or wrong or even meaningless. It doesn't really matter, it was just a nice touch.

The name John Stocco should stand on its own.

Badger Nation Top Stories