JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Abner Santiago is the barber you want to see if you want an artistic cut in Orange Park, Florida. If you’ve got a design — whether it’s a cartoon character or, say, a local NFL team’s logo — Santiago will put it on your head.
But when Matthew Spanopoulos sent him a photo of what he wanted on the back of his head, Santiago had no idea what it was. Spanopoulos explained it was Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew.
“Yo, this is awesome,” Santiago said. “Let’s do it.”
Forty-five minutes later, Minshew Mania landed on the back of Spanopoulos’ head. And right in the middle of a city that desperately needs something positive after the loss of quarterback Nick Foles. Minshew has captured Jaguars fans’ attention as much for the way he looks as the way he has played.
Minshew has thrown just 58 passes and made one start, yet he already has the best-selling Jaguars jersey since the season began across the Fanatics network, which includes NFLShop.com and the Jaguars’ online store.
Jaguars fan clubs are selling T-shirts with Minshew’s face on them — one with the same design on the back of Spanopoulos’ head — and someone already created a Twitter account for Minshew’s mustache.
The city was smitten with Minshew when the Jaguars drafted him in the sixth round in April, but it was captivated by the former Washington State standout when he was thrust into a starting role after Foles broke his collarbone in the first quarter of the season opener against Kansas City. Minshew completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns with one interception (which bounced off Leonard Fournette’s face mask).
Minshew’s completion percentage (88.0) was the highest in NFL history for any player with at least 15 pass attempts making their NFL debut. It is also a franchise single-game record among players with at least 25 pass attempts.
“He didn’t just do OK,” Spanopoulos said. “He did better than any rookie in 40 years and left me wondering, who the heck is the dude and how can I summon my inner Minshew?”
Minshew completed 23 of 33 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown last Sunday in his first start against Houston. He drove the Jaguars down the field for a touchdown with 30 seconds to play, but the Jaguars lost 13-12 when Fournette was stopped short on a two-point conversion attempt.
After two weeks, Minshew has the third-best completion percentage (77.6) and seventh-best passer rating (111.8) in the league. The single-season franchise records in both categories are 64.5 percent and 102.2.
Mix in his look — a headband, the mustache, cutoff jean short, sleeveless shirts — along with his charisma and a gunslinger attitude (a little Brett Favre, a little Ben Roethlisberger), and it’s easy to see why fans love him.
Oh, and the mustache. A big ol’ Tom Selleck. Boy, does everyone love the mustache.
It’s all new to most everyone in Jacksonville. People in the Eastern time zone had rarely, or never, seen Minshew play at WSU. Because of that, one of the most prolific college passers in 2018 was somewhat anonymous on the East Coast. ESPN NFL analyst Matt Hasselbeck did a piece on Minshew for Sunday NFL Countdown last week and knew all about the kid. But someone else on set didn’t.
“I think Randy Moss was like, ‘Whoa. Who is that? Why is he wearing a headband? What’s with the mustache?’” Hasselbeck said. “It’s like that in the Pacific Northwest. It is like the witness protection program to the rest of the country.”
Nobody in Pullman knew much about Minshew when he first got to Washington State, either. Then he threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-19 victory at Wyoming in the 2018 season opener. Then 414 yards and three touchdowns in Washington State’s 31-0 home victory over San Jose State. The following week, he threw for 470 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-24 home victory over Eastern Washington.
By then, the Pacific Northwest was scrambling to find out as much as it could about the kid from Brandon, Mississippi, who showed up in June after a phone call from Cougars coach Mike Leach, asking him if he wanted to come to Pullman and lead the nation in passing instead of transferring to Alabama to be a backup quarterback.
“No one really knew who he was or what he was about,” said Dylan Greene, who was the editor in chief of the Daily Evergeen, WSU’s student newspaper, at the time. “It wasn’t until that first game that people understood what he was capable of. People start to look him up and see pictures of him and they saw the mustache and they were mesmerized by it.”
By the time the regular season ended and Minshew had led the Cougars to an 11-2 record, he was the biggest thing in Pullman since Klay Thompson. But so, so much bigger.
“He is like a Pullman icon,” Greene said. “If he came back, they’d probably have a parade through downtown Pullman, throw mustaches everywhere, be chanting ‘Mississippi Mustache.’”
It hasn’t quite reached that level in Jacksonville. Yet.
But Jaguars fans have definitely embraced him. They’ve been desperate for quarterback success since Mark Brunell led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game after the 1999 season, and they have latched on to Minshew.
And the more they learn about him, the more they love him. Even though he was second in the nation in passing yards in 2018 (behind first-rounder Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State and ahead of No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray of Oklahoma), he was somewhat anonymous in Jacksonville.
That didn’t last long.
People found the photos of Minshew on social media arriving for the Cougars’ flight to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl wearing a red leisure suit with the shirt open to his navel. The multiple shots of him in cutoff jean shorts. The aviator sunglasses.
Then they found the anecdotes:
Working out in the locker room with resistance bands wearing only his aviators and a jockstrap — and sometimes just the aviators. Steve Spurrier, whose son is the receivers coach at WSU, wanted to speak to Minshew after a game. He walked in, saw Minshew working out, and then told his son to tell Minshew: “Good game.”
Doing a naked cannonball into a swimming pool during camp at WSU.
Buying a bed for $10 on Facebook Marketplace.
Carrying a full-size bottle of vanilla Crown Royal around in the waistband of his jeans on a night around Pullman.
His grandfather wanting to name him Beowulf.
And, just to clear up an erroneous story floating around: Minshew shares the same name as his father, Gardner Flint Minshew. Minshew’s father, who goes by Flint, explains that he and his wife named their son Gardner Flint Minshew II and not Gardner Flint Minshew Jr. because in Mississippi, “If you’re junior, you’re probably going to get called Bubba. So my wife’s like, ‘No way he’s going to be called Bubba.’ Nothing against all the Bubbas out there. It wasn’t what my wife wanted.”
So, Minshew is kinda … sorta … the quintessential Florida Man.
“[Minshew] seemed like another in the line of [Mike] Leach Air Raid guys putting up bonkers numbers, but as everyone knows now, he had a fun story and magnetic personality to go with it, sparked by the whole mustache deal,” said longtime Jaguars fan Alfie Crow. “Jaguars fans are familiar with the fun of a ‘stache because of [owner] Shad Khan, so that was the easy part. Much like Blake Bortles, Minshew just seems like a dude you’d want to hang out and have a beer with.”