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The Voice: Ending just one chapter of a special story

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The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWhen our red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Madison landed at about 5 o'clock Tuesday morning, Mike Lucas suggested that, with the way things are going in the Badgers' world, Michigan State will win that night's basketball game on a buzzer-beater.

It was worse. It went to a replay review. Are you kidding me? Another (expletive deleted) replay review?

And yes, the officials got it right. Ryan Evans' desperation 3-point attempt -- a Hail Mary if you will -- was just a tad too late, leaving Badger Nation with yet another shot to the solar plexus.

This follows Monday's gut-wrenching setback in Pasadena, where the Badgers went toe-to-toe with lightning-fast Oregon only to fall one play short of at least having a chance to force overtime.

In yet another sign of how things have changed in these parts, a storyline coming out of the Rose Bowl is how Badgers coach Bret Bielema is in search of winning the big one. Or is it The Big One?  

It is the same question Ducks coach Chip Kelly had to hear after his group lost the 2010 Rose Bowl, and then went down on a last-second field goal to Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.

I understand how it works, but let's be honest -- you have to win some big games to get to The Big One, don't you? The Badgers turned in a dominating performance against Penn State to win the Leaders Division. They followed that effort with the Big Ten championship game thriller with Michigan State. Those were pretty big games.

Following a legend is never easy, and fans, as well as some in the media, are wondering why Bielema's Badgers are 0-2 in Rose Bowls, while Barry Alvarez and the boys went 3-0 in the 1990s.

I suppose it is a natural question, but at the same time, perhaps it just points out how hard it is to win these BCS games, and it serves as a reminder of how special those 1993, 1998 and '99 teams were to have so much success at the Rose Bowl.

One could argue that the two most famous coaches in Big Ten history are Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. They led Ohio State and Michigan teams that, more often than not, ran roughshod through the rest of the Big Ten, and then squared off in what amounted to an almost annual conference title game. The winner would go to the Rose Bowl, where it would lose a lot.

Schembechler's Rose Bowl record was 2-8. In his book, written with Mitch Albom in the late 1980s, there is a chapter called "Why My Bowl Record Stinks, and Other Thoughts."

Hayes' OSU teams dropped four of its last five Rose Bowls, and went 4-4 overall.

I am talking about two dominant programs that generally ruled the day in the Big Ten.

In more current events, albeit from a different league, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer now has a 1-5 record in the big boy bowl games of the BCS era.

My point is not to sound like a Badgers apologist, but rather to suggest that the final step to becoming an elite team is extraordinarily difficult.

Wisconsin has turned in some tremendous work to reach its current level, which is that of a nationally-respected program.  In the BCS era, only USC has made more Rose Bowl appearances than the Badgers.

That is something to shout about.

The 2011 Wisconsin Badgers embraced the lofty expectations. They fell a little short of meeting all of them, and that will hurt for awhile.

But man, what a ride it was. Monday concluded my 24th year of covering Badger football, and the 18th as its radio play-by-play announcer.  This offense was the most exciting I have seen, led by a quarterback who always gave his team a chance, right up to the final second of the final game.

To be sure, there were flaws with the 2011 Badgers, but the team found a way to win another conference title, giving thousands of fans a great excuse to head to Southern California to ring in the New Year. That isn't so bad, is it?

I have been around this program long enough to remember when big stage games were few and far between.

I also understand the disappointment of losing a second straight Rose Bowl, but I hope most fans will look back and recall how much fun it was to watch this team.

The last chapter might have had the wrong ending, but in my book, this team will forever be special.

It certainly gave fans plenty to shout about.

6 Comments

It hurts because we could have won the game. Not just one play but lots of them. I feel bad for the seniors who had their second chance slip away.

Now will someone start talking about next year. Who will play QB? If we can beat Nebraska away, the schedule really favors us for a return visit.

Matt, I couldn't agree with you more. And one other thing to remember about this season, each of the three losses were extremely close. One may argue that we should have won those games, but they were all exciting games and the Badgers were never blown away.

Right on. I remember the long Big 10 losing streak in the late 60s. I remember having the lowest scoring offense in what was then Division 1 in the late 80's. We went 1-10, the only victory a result of 2 defensive touchdowns for a 14-7 win. The success that Barry and Brett have brought to the Badgers has been awesome, and something that I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams when I was growing up watching most every other Big 10 team go to Rose Bowls while we were perrenial door mats. Losing in the closing seconds to elite teams in the Rose is nothing to hang our heads about.

Well said Matt! I went to both this year and last years games....very difficult losses....but, I also remember the Don Morton days when I was a student at UW.....here, here to a truly classy performance by a classy team...thanks for keeping things in perspective...

Matt,

You are certainly correct in that it is another banner season to remember. Our offense was great and exciting to watch.

Many changes will take place this year due to coaching departures etc. I do believe Wisconsin will fill the voids though.

What bugs me a little though is our non-conference schedule. To get great we need to be playing at least one if not two top 25 teams. Easy schedules don't improve you as a team. Look at LSU and some of the other teams and you will see they play tough schedules.

I don't know how we bench mark ourselves as far as recruiting goes but why are we so far behind Michigan and Ohio State in this area?

Anyway, Our team needs a Big Congrats for their efforts and results.

Larry from Knoxville, TN.

Matt,
Couln't have said it any better. Longtime season ticket holder and donor and have been through the the thick and thin. I know we are and have been headed in the right direction on and off the field for a long time. On Wisconsin

ON WISCONSIN