I would like to believe Badger fans enjoyed this past weekend. Mike Eaves' hockey team had a series sweep, there were season-opening victories for the men's and women's basketball teams. The women's soccer team advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, and of course the football team put a 21-point thumping on Michigan, giving the seniors a great send-off in their final home game.
Also last Friday, the National W Club had its annual banquet. Part of the evening included a salute to the 1949, 1959 and 1999 football teams. That '49 squad didn't win the Big Ten title, but it may very well have set the stage for future greatness in Badger football. That was Ivy Williamson's first year as the Badgers head coach, and that team finished with a 5-3-1 record. I guess the expectations were rather modest, since that team earned the label of being the surprise team of the year. The leader was Red Wilson, one of the great athletes to ever play at the University of Wisconsin. It was fun seeing several members of that team at the banquet.
Same goes for the 1959 Big Ten champion Badgers who also were in attendance Friday evening. Dale Hackbart, Jim Bakken and many others were on hand to enjoy the 50-year reunion of the school's first outright conference football title since 1912. Also in town were many members of the 1999 Big Ten title squad, led, of course, by Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. Between the first and second quarters of last Saturday's game with Michigan, fans at Camp Randall watched a short video tribute to that team, which remains the only Big Ten squad to win Rose Bowl games in consecutive years. As the video ended, O'Brien Schofield led the cheers for that group of players. It was cool to see.
Last Friday, the W Club also recognized a sport that may not have varsity status anymore, but it always will have a proud tradition--fencing. Several former UW fencers were back in town, and after the banquet I heard many comments about how so many folks in the room, both fencers and non-fencers alike, appreciated the tribute.
I must say the timing for the banquet was pretty good. Matt Vanden Boom officially concluded his term as W Club President. It was fitting that the banquet was prior to the Michigan game. The former safety many refer to as "Boomer" had a day to remember in the 1981 matchup against the top-ranked Wolverines. On that September afternoon, Vanden Boom picked off three passes to help lead the Badgers to an upset victory.
I have to admit that while I had the privilege of being the banquet emcee, what I really was more than anything was a fan. A look around the room would've brought back memories to many a Badger backer in a variety of sports. From Pat Richter to Suzy Favor Hamilton, there was no shortage of star power in the house.
Before the last home football game, it is always a nice touch to have so many letterwinners from days gone by help form a tunnel for the players as they come out on the field. Hopefully fans in attendance took note of that group. It represents a ton of talent, a number of championships and a lifetime of memories. Not just for themselves and the teams they played for, but for Badger fans everywhere.
It also is a treat to see so many of these athletes continue to stay involved and support UW athletics. Rob Andringa, a key part of the Badgers 1990 NCAA Championship hockey team, takes over for Vanden Boom as W Club President. As the saying goes "Once a Badger, always a Badger." Never does that line hit home more than during the weekend that just passed, when so many athletes gathered to share old stories and have some laughs. I hope they enjoyed it. I know I enjoyed just being a fan.