BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Curt Phillips had waited five long years for this chance.

Not only had he never started a game in his University of Wisconsin football career, he had never thrown a touchdown pass.

The first start came at Indiana on Saturday and the first TD pass came a short while later.

Late in the first quarter, Phillips dropped back on play-action and had tight end Sam Arneson alone for an easy 2-yard touchdown pass in the Badgers' 62-14 victory.

Phillips had overcome incredible obstacles to reach that moment, with three torn ACLs in his right knee. He was due a celebration, a chance to let some emotion pour out.

Instead, there was mostly nothing. Almost no reaction. It was also the first touchdown for Arneson, a sophomore who looked around for Phillips, ready to celebrate.

"He was pretty calm," Arneson said. "That was impressive. I was pretty excited for him."

That's pretty much how it went for most of the day, with Phillips' teammates seemingly more excited for him, than he was for himself. The "Cool Hand Luke" approach was vintage Phillips, who has needed to keep an even keel to get through all he has endured.

But don't mistake the calm exterior as a sign that Phillips wasn't pumped about this opportunity.

"Curt did a good job of keeping calm, but I'm his roommate on the road," Arneson said. "He said to me (Friday) night, 'Gosh, I'm pretty excited for this.' It was long time coming and he deserves it."

Even Phillips had to acknowledge he couldn't wait for kickoff to get here.

"Had a lot of fun," he said of his day. "Definitely excited to get back out there. It's been a while, obviously. Kind of felt like a little kid on Christmas morning, getting up. Not nervous, just excited."

Phillips completed 4 of 7 passes for 41 yards and the short touchdown. He also ran seven times for 68 yards, including a 52-yard run when he got caught from behind. But all of those numbers were meaningless. All that mattered was the joy of playing football again and leading his team.

When asked if he believed this day would ever come, Phillips said, "I hoped so. I've tried, whenever something happens, to just put my head down and work on it, not worry about it.

"I'm excited it did (happen), I definitely had a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to building on it."

Phillips' teammates were determined to make things as easy as possible for him. And did they ever, as UW rushed for a school-record 564 yards. That seemed to be a testament to how much his teammates care about him — which is the one thing that probably touched Phillips the most.

"That's the cool part," he said. "You can make whatever you want as far as the surgeries, but so many other people put so much into trying to get me to come back."

One of the people Phillips mentioned was assistant strength coach Brian Bott. "He spent so much time with me, it's ridiculous," Phillips said.

Phillips' parents were also among a group of more than 20 of his supporters in the stands. Seeing all of them so excited for him was more important to Phillips than letting his own feelings show.

"Obviously it's tough on them every time you get hurt," Phillips said of his parents. "They don't want to sit there and watch me get banged. Just how excited they get makes it extra special."

Phillips admittedly had some rust, saying he made some mental mistakes on drives that stalled in the second quarter. He's also learning how much he can do with his surgically repaired knee.

He took a 7-yard sack in the second quarter, which led to a punt after a fumble recovery deep in Indiana territory.

"I should have got that out of my hand," he said. "I thought I could break that tackle."

Once known for his blazing speed, he could joke about getting pulled down from behind on the long run.

"I always give my roommate, (linebacker) Mike Taylor, a hard time getting run down on those interceptions," Phillips said. "Now, he'll give it back to me.

"(I've got) a couple more (torn) ACLs than him, though, so that's my excuse."

The old Phillips probably would have taken that to the end zone. The current version might not be as fast, but he still proved he can get the job done.

"Sometimes my mind still thinks I can do things and my body can't," he said. "So, I've got to kind of learn that a little bit. I'm just now starting to get all of the reps, when I was named starter. Hopefully, that will come quickly."

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(1) comment


So glad for Phillips. He gave so much of himself with injury's, & years watching others playing. He did great in the chance given him. What a great day for Phillips & the Badgers. I feel better about our chances from here on. Phillips is no Wilson, but he's better then both O'Brian & Sage. I wish he could have played sooner, but better late then never.

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