The John Paddock era is going to be the stuff of legend.
Whether or not he starts another game for the Illini, his name will be synonymous for a brand of football Illinois fans haven’t seen in decades.
He has exhibited an extraordinary level of “clutch” or moxy, or whatever term you want to use for brass balls and gigantic heart.
His ability to rally the offense into a coherent demolition derby has been staggering ever since he stepped onto the field on 4th and 11 in Minneapolis.
It reminds me of Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy season at Texas A&M.
It reminds me of Tim Tebow’s improbable takeover of the Broncos offense and subsequent playoff victory.
It’s not just football. There’s a force of nature at work.
So he’s going to start for the rest of the season, right?
Well, not so fast.
After a scary moment at the end of the Minnesota game, incumbent starter Luke Altmyer has cleared protocols and has returned to practice. The Starkville native is thankfully healthy now.
So it would be unfair to take the starting job away from Altmyer. I mean, losing your starting job due to an injury is just plain wrong. Right?
Yeah, still not sure.
Professional Head Ball Coach Bret Bielema has been coy about Illinois’ starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Kinnick.
Iowa’s dominant defense took a hit when potential all-world DB Cooper DeJean suffered an injury in practice and is now out for the season. But even without their superstar, the Hawkeyes defense could be the best unit the Illini have faced all season.
It’s the kind of defense that Illinois can likely only beat with one of its strongest offensive efforts of the season.
Over the last week and three plays, John Paddock has led a vastly more explosive version of the Illini offense than Altmyer.
Yes, Altmyer still looks like the future of the QB room. He still has multiple years of eligibility and has been an overall success story in Champaign. If he cuts down the turnovers and gets the ball out quicker, he may have the highest ceiling of any Illinois signal caller since Wes Lunt.
And Altmyer’s level of respect and gritty, (occasionally) explosive performances are nothing to sneeze at.
But watching the Illinois offense put up over 600 yards against the Hoosiers was massive.
With Paddock, Illinois withstood moments of three total scholarship running backs in uniform.
With Paddock, Casey Washington scored his first touchdown.
(Seriously, congrats, Casey. You absolutely deserved that.)
With Paddock, there is a special connection from the Illinois fanbase. It’s difficult to quantify the notion that “on this snap, anything is truly possible.”
That’s why the nickname “Johnny Magic” makes so much sense to me for John Paddock.
It is truly something that is difficult to quantify and even harder to explain.
It’s a collective breath-holding anticipation of every play, followed frequently by best-case scenario results.
No, I’m not here telling Bret Bielema and Barry Lunney Jr. what to do.
Of course, I’m not here to insult Luke Altmyer and how he has made the best of being under constant pressure.
Altmyer won the job in the spring, and that can’t be ignored. And this legendary Paddock heater shouldn’t change Altmyer’s potential to orchestrate the Illini symphony next season and beyond.
But right now, the fan in me is in awe of the inexplicable emergence of John Paddock.
It’s an unexpected heroic arc in a rollercoaster thriller of a story.
And I encourage you all to stay enrapt at the edge of your seats and enjoy this ride.