By now, the rumors have trickled out from the swamps of Jacksonville.
Stories of nearly naked locker-room stretching — a jockstrap is all he wears, people claim — or almost being named Beowulf; tales of trying to break his own hand or catching fish as tall as he is, with just his bare hands.
So, what’s your craziest Gardner Minshew story?
Seemingly everyone who has ever crossed paths with Minshew has their own ... except for Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone.
“I don’t really see it,” Marrone told reporters via conference call Wednesday. “I tell everyone, he doesn’t really talk to me. I’m like hey, how’s it going? ‘Good.’ How you feeling? ‘Good.’ Sore? ‘A little?’ You feel good? ‘I feel good.’ You understand what we’re trying to do? ‘Yep.’ I mean, that’s about it.
“So the personality that everyone’s talking about, even when I get home, my kids are like, ‘Hey, what’s he like?’ I’m like, I don’t know, he won’t talk to me. I guess because I’m the head coach.”
Since Minshew has taken over as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback, replacing veteran Nick Foles after he broke his collarbone in Week 1, his rise to NFL phenom has been meteoric. Some of that comes from the outrageous stories from his past. Some of it is his physical appearance, with a luscious handlebar mustache, aviator sunglasses and a middle part in his hair.
But a lot of it — and the only part that really matters to Marrone — is how he’s playing:
Pretty darn well.
In his three and a half games at the helm for the Jaguars (2-2), who visit Bank of America Stadium this Sunday to play the Panthers (2-2), Minshew has been one of the league’s more efficient passers. That’s not “rookie passers.” It’s quarterbacks in general.
Minshew has a higher completion percentage (69.4 percent) than reigning MVP Pat Mahomes (67.9), Tom Brady (62.1) and Aaron Rodgers (62.3). He’s the only quarterback in the league with at least 200 passing yards and a passer rating of 95 in each of his four games this year, and he’s been even better inside the red zone, going 8-for-11 for 57 yards and five touchdowns.
“The mustache guy — I think he’s a pretty good player,” Panthers linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “He’s got a certain swag about himself.”
Both those things are certainly true.
But at this point in this story, it’s fair to ask: What does all this Minshew Mania have to do with the Carolina Panthers?
It’s somewhat relevant because the Panthers host the Jags on Sunday. More interestingly though, it’s a fascinating dichotomy between two young backup quarterbacks and how they’re dealing with their opportunities.
Minshew has risen to cult-like status for his outfits and outlandish history, including a brief stint at East Carolina University in 2016-17. On the other hand, Panthers backup-turned-starter Kyle Allen is basically the exact opposite.
He even joked during his Wednesday press conference that he’s still “unnoticeable” around Charlotte, in spite of leading the Panthers to two straight victories in place of injured star Cam Newton.
“I’m happy for Gardner. He’s had a great start to his career,” Allen said. “He’s played his ass off, he’s really rallying that city around the whole team.”
Since becoming Carolina’s starter, Allen has approached his role with zen-like calm. When he threw four touchdowns against Arizona, he barely allowed himself a high-step to celebrate. After he lost his third sack-fumble against Houston, he still evaded a late J.J. Watt sack and led the Panthers to victory. That demeanor, and the fact that he’s won, has earned Allen respect from his Panthers teammates and coaches.
“Kyle got a swag about him, too,” Irvin continued. “He’s a gamer. Guy who comes in and works his tail off.”
It turns out Minshew has that aspect about him, too. Marrone said he sees a “focused professional athlete” with his rookie quarterback and not any of the craziness people have drummed up. That he’s led Jacksonville to two straight wins and only thrown one interception in four games speaks to that assessment.
Realistically, for all their differences, Minshew and Allen share the things that have made them so successful so soon. They rely on a strong running game — Christian McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing with 411 yards, and Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette is third with 404 — and ferocious defenses. They play within their offenses, not being asked to do too much. And they’ve both shown an ability to make big plays when needed most, especially late in games.
If a quarterback has that, it doesn’t matter how he looks or dresses; he can play.
That doesn’t take away from the success either has had, though. And Marrone, when he’s not in the grind of a week, can appreciate it when he steps back.
“The way I look at it, it’s just really quite unbelievable. Remarkable is a word I’ve used before, when I take a step back and I look at it from a distance,” Marrone said. “I think the 10,000-foot view is, ‘Holy cow, what an unbelievable job he’s doing.’ But from us, the coaches ... we’re pretty much locked in and trying to go on the road again and beat a good football team.”
Sunday presents a fascinating foil of two young backups trying to continue to establish themselves on the field. That much is certain.
But as for the hype? If there’s Minshew Mania in Jacksonville, what would Allen want in Charlotte?
“A win for the Panthers — how ‘bout that?”