UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Taking down No. 1, part three

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Sept. 12, 1981: No. 1 Michigan vs. Wisconsin
UW coach Dave McClain, a former Bo Schembechler assistant at Miami (Ohio), looked for any psychological edge that he could gain to motivate his players for the season-opener against his mentor.

McClain needed something since the Wolverines had outscored the Badgers, 176-0, in the four previous meetings, although the 1980 game was competitive, a 24-0 loss.

On Thursday, the UW marching band showed up and played "On Wisconsin" while the Badgers were practicing at Camp Randall Stadium. That same day, McClain tried to make a statement on behalf of his team with this message on the scoreboard: Wisconsin 17, Michigan 14.

On game day, McClain tacked another message on the bulletin board in the locker room. Mike Jolly, a safety on the 1977 Michigan team, had some inflammatory things to say about sensing fear in an opponent like Wisconsin.

Jolly was quoted as saying some players used to stand on the sidelines and bet on how many points the Wolverines would score on the Badgers. Those quotes were on the board. "That was an insult,'' said UW offensive guard Leo Joyce.

McClain never let up, either.

"I remember coach McClain putting a lot of pressure on us to believe that we could win against the elite teams in the Big Ten,'' said flanker Marvin Neal. "I remember him saying, 'You're Big Ten players, but you haven't played well against Michigan yet.' He challenged us to win these big games. And he asked all of us the same thing, 'If not now, when?'''

During the pregame warmup, some Michigan players were talking trash.

"They were shouting, 'We're No. 1.' It was poor sportsmanship,'' Joyce said.

"They were trying to intimidate us,'' said linebacker Dave Levenick.

"It annoyed me a lot,'' said nose guard Tim Krumrie.

Not a good person to annoy. On the first play of the game, Michigan ran Butch Woolfolk up the middle. Krumrie stuffed the center and stopped Woolfolk for no gain. "We put him flat on his back and that established the tempo,'' Levenick said.

Statistically, it was a mismatch: the Badgers had a big edge in plays (78-53), first downs (23-8) and total yards (439-229 with 89 coming on a Woolfolk touchdown).

"Reflecting back, we brought our 'A' game at every level,'' said UW safety Matt Vanden Boom.

Yet, it still came down to one defining play: a screen that McClain had added specifically for the Wolverines defense. The key twist was running the screen out of the shotgun formation.

Quarterback Jess Cole got the ball in the hands of tailback John Williams, who did the rest by sprinting 71 yards for the score that broke a 14-14 deadlock in the third quarter.

"I was just trying to get a first down,'' said Williams, who got key blocks from Bob Winckler, Ron Versnik, Carlton Walker and Neal. "But after I got past that first wave of people, I was thinking about only one thing: touchdown.''

Wisconsin protected the lead by pressuring Michigan quarterback Steve Smith who completed as many passes to Vanden Boom (three interceptions in the Wolverines final six possessions) as he did to his own receivers.

Smith ended up 3 of 18 for 39 yards. The Badgers ended up with terrific balance: 182 passing yards, 257 rushing yards. McClain ended up with redemption, even if he was a little bit off on his prediction. But he wasn't complaining after the stunning 21-14 victory.

Nobody was.

"We're no longer peons at Wisconsin,'' Levenick said.         

Not after taking down No. 1.

3 Comments

For my 1st game as a freshmen it has forever left a positive impression of Wisconsin sports, especially football. The Michigan players coming out of their locker room before the game and running amongst the Badgers, who were sitting on the turf stretching, sticking their #1 fingers in the Badger players faces. Even more insane, forever the fair weather talking head, Brent Musburger stated on CBS after the game that Wisconsin was a Top 20 team in the country! Just for beating #1 Michigan. And to be just one more conference win away from going to the Rose Bowl? Who could ask for anything more?

I will never forget that game... I was a sophomore at UW that year. I had 10 of my high school buddies come down for the game - they all stayed in my dorm room! For some reason, there was a feeling amongst all of us that something special was going to happen that day. The feeling was... "Why can't Wisconsin win? Let's go win this thing!" Needless to say, it was a day/night we will never forget.

Now it is time for another generation of Badgers to lay it all on the line to make their own dream come true. GO BADGERS!

Man Jess Cole could really play.Exciting,knew how to bring it.Shame he did not stay at Madison.Went on to be All Conference etc.at UW-Eau Claire.

ON WISCONSIN