MADISON, Wis. — To understand the grief Paul Chryst goes through on a daily basis, you don’t have to know the movie “Caddyshack” back to front. But it helps.
The two men vying to be the next starting quarterback at Wisconsin were at a take-no-prisoners, players-only best ball tourney at the Bridges Golf Course a few weeks back, cranking Jon Pardi tunes in the cart, warbling along like an episode of “Hee Haw” on four wheels.
And after a few putts, redshirt freshman signal-caller Alex Hornibook decides he’s going to lie down.
As in, right there on the green.
“What are you doing?” Bart Houston, the fifth-year senior, asks Hornibrook, who looks up but doesn’t move.
“I’m tired,” Hornibook replies. “Lay off my back.”
“He’s a little … crazier than me,” Houston explained at the team’s preseason football media day Sunday. “He’s a little bit more ‘outgoing,’ I guess. For lack of a better term.”
Michael Dieter had a term: Al Czervik. That Czervik, Rodney Dangerfield’s don’t-give-a-damn hell-raiser in the aforementioned “Caddyshack.”
“After golfing with him, he’s the dude who drives the car onto the golf course, who goes to the party and is obnoxious,” the Badgers’ center said with a laugh. “That’s definitely what he does.”
“Yep. That’s who he is. We went golfing with him (and) he just does the funniest stuff,” Dieter continued. “He’ll get into the water to get his ball. He doesn’t know much about (golf courtesy). He’ll drive the cart when he’s not supposed to. He’s a lot of fun. That kind of describes him perfectly, actually.”
“He’s kind of like — he’s funny, he’s kind of goofy at the same time. He does some weird stuff,” Dieter said. “But he’s a fun guy, he’s good at what he does. He’s a good golfer in the movie, I remember that.”
“Yeah,” said Dieter, grinning. “I don’t know his name in the movie, but (he’s) definitely Chevy Chase. That’s funny.”
So if you’re keeping score, the fate of Bucky Nation this fall lies in the safe, steady hands of one of the two guys in this car:
No wonder the Badgers’ coach gets that exasperated Judge Smails look on his face sometimes.
And why, as the Wisconsin’s training camp gets underway Monday, the best quarterback derby in the Big Ten’s West division isn’t any closer to, um, clarity:
Coach Chryst on the QBs: “The bottom line, is we have to get both Bart and Alex ready to play.” pic.twitter.com/1rIOexCUzm
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) August 7, 2016
So the metaphorical cards remain clutched tightly to Chryst’s metaphorical barrel chest. Get back to us in three weeks.
Or sooner. Maybe.
“I think we’re similar in a lot of ways that people don’t know,” said Hornibrook, the 6-foot-4 southpaw who, oddly enough, came off as the more reserved of the two on Sunday at Camp Randall.
“I would say we’re pretty similar — kind of similar personalities off the field. On the field, he’s probably more — I don’t know of a way to say it — maybe more ‘old-school’ (in) the way he’s playing, his thought process. There’s not too many differences, I would say.”
The book on who gets the first crack at replacing Joel Stave — who rode off into the San Diego sunset after the Holiday Bowl with 31 career wins as a Badger, an all-time school record — says Hornibrook, the young Philly lefty, might have the higher upside. It also says that Houston, the 6-4 right-hander from California, has more mileage (51 career passes, four career touchdowns) and might also be more prone toward succumbing to the occasional brain-cramp in a pinch (two career interceptions).
“It’s like playing the game like you were 12,” Houston said, offering a slight smile. “This is the (same) game. Just back then, I don’t have 80,000 people looking at me.
“So I feel my strength is just playing the game, so I can’t get tied to down into thinking about, ‘Oh, what’s Alex doing, what’s this guy doing, what does coach Chryst think about me?’ Then I don’t think it’ll be a spiral (downward). It’s just playing the game.”
And it’s about playing it cleanly, for the most part. Over his final three seasons, Stave tossed two interceptions or more in a contest eight times; the Badgers went 3-5. In the other 28 appearances Stave was at the controls, Bucky was 24-4, an Urban Meyer-esque .857 clip.
Fancy is nice, but it’s also non-essential. Chryst isn’t necessarily looking for a headliner. He wants a supporting actor who can hand the ball to Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale, move the chains by any means necessary, and won’t needlessly give the ball away.
“We’re really going to be first-year starters, no matter who goes (in),” Houston said. “We’re not going to be the guy throwing eight touchdowns in a game. We’d like that, but (it) may not happen.”
Don’t sell yourself short, judge. You’re a tremendous slouch.
“I guess he’s more Bill Murray, yeah,” said Houston, smiling wider this time. “Yeah, I’ve seen (‘Caddyshack’). It’s one of the first movies my dad showed me. After ‘Animal House.’”
So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler