Part of what makes being a sports fan special is it seems we truly enjoy looking back at extraordinary teams and special players. Thanks to a pair of new books, Badger fans have a chance to take a trip down memory lane. With one book, my guess is you will embrace the memories. With the other, you will do the same, and perhaps it might spark a fun little debate.
The Dayne Game, written by Justin Doherty, UW's assistant athletic director for external relations, takes the reader back to November 13, 1999. It might be the closest thing to a perfect day a Badger fan has ever experienced. Of course, that is the day Ron Dayne broke the NCAA's career rushing record as the Badgers hammered Iowa. Oh, by the way, the Badgers also secured the outright Big Ten title and another trip to the Rose Bowl.
Doherty tells the story of how Wisconsin recruited Dayne, with tales from Barry Alvarez and former assistant coaches such as Brian White and Bernie Wyatt. White, then the Badgers running backs coach and now an assistant at the University of Florida, provides some excellent material, including the story of how he almost was run over by a car the morning of the big game.
There also are wonderful stories from Dayne's former teammates, including one from Donnel Thompson about how he introduced Ron to a young woman Dayne would later marry, Alia Lester. As you read The Dayne Game, my guess is you will be impressed by what those teammates have to say, even 10 years later, about the program and the players' commitment to winning. It was a blue-collar, tough guy team in 1999, a group that, as Alvarez likes to say, "talks with their pads."
Doherty covers it all, including the story of the towels that fans at Camp Randall Stadium had for the Iowa game, the "Dayne-Meter," which was kept current by a couple of researchers in a building near the stadium. Doherty even interviews the infamous streaker. Remember him? He's the dude who dashed the length of the field wearing little more than a smile right after Dayne's record run.
The other Badger football related book, Badgers by the Numbers, written by Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal/Capital Times, gives us the top players representing jersey numbers 1-99. Some of the picks are rather easy, such as Pat Richter's number 88, Alan Ameche's number 35 and of course, Ron Dayne's number 33. Others might need a bit more thought and could spark a little game of point-counterpoint.
While I enjoy re-living many of the Alverez-era players featured in the book, I think it is important for younger fans to know about the many great Badger players from long ago. Pat Harder (#34), Jug Girard (#36) and Fred Gage (#93) are among those who created many memorable moments for Wisconsin fans. In fact, after Gage's playing days were done, he served as a radio voice for the Badgers, a position he held for more than three decades.
When you pick up a copy of Badgers by the Numbers, be sure to look at the list of Honorable Mentions. It is a very honorable list, with the likes of Luke Swan, Jim Bakken, Carl Silvestri and Mark Tauscher.
Both books are nice and easy reads, but I would imagine both Doherty and Polzin put in countless hours to research all the facts and figures, and both interviewed a number of folks along the way. For a fan of the cardinal and white, you will want to add these books to your growing collection of the "Badger Sports Library."