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We will start with a quick refresher course on how Big Ten divisional play works, and how the Badgers are still in the race for a trip to Indianapolis. They need some help, and as the saying goes, they need to help themselves. Here is how it can happen:
1. The Badgers right the ship and win their remaining regular season games.
2. Ohio State loses one more game, giving it three conference losses. The Buckeyes will play Indiana and Penn State at home, and will travel to Purdue and Michigan.
3. Penn State loses either at home to Nebraska or on the road against Ohio State. Of course, the Badgers would need to give the Nittany Lions their second conference loss.
In this scenario, Wisconsin and Penn State would finish 6-2 and tied for first in the Leaders Division. Since the Badgers beat Penn State (again, in this scenario), Wisconsin would win the tie-breaker, and thus would earn the trip to the Big Ten championship game.
Does it sound farfetched? I don't think so. Perhaps the most challenging task is the Badgers winning four in a row in a hotly-contested conference race.
Last week, I was not all that concerned with the Badgers' emotional state. Coming off a tough game at Michigan State, I was more worried about the physical toll. This week, it might be a little bit of both.
I have not seen a team go through anything quite like this. The only stretch that is comparable is in 1996, when the Badgers lost their conference opener to third-ranked Penn State on a late field goal. The following week, Wisconsin was a huge underdog at second-ranked Ohio State. In an old-school Big Ten slugfest, the Buckeyes prevailed 17-14. The very next week was the heartbreaker against No. 14 Northwestern, when a late fumble set up the Wildcats winning score.
In last week's Varsity magazine, Barry Alvarez talked about how a coach tries to move on from such a gut wrenching loss. I would guess it is easier said than done.
The difference is that stretch in 1996 knocked Wisconsin out of the league title chase. The 2011 Badgers are still alive for a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. Yes, they are out of the national title conversation, but quite honestly, opinions vary whether even a 13-0 Wisconsin squad would have made it to New Orleans. It would have been fun to find out, but I tend to believe the computers would have been unkind to the point where a one-loss team would have passed the Badgers.
That is open to debate, but what cannot be questioned is the Badgers are still in play for the Rose Bowl, and getting there does not necessarily require a miracle, something those connected with the program seem to understand.
No doubt this group is hurting right now. As Bret Bielema admitted in his Monday news conference, you tend to feel the bumps and bruises more after a loss. The test will be how this team comes out both mentally and physically for Saturday's game with Purdue. Hopefully, there will be a good atmosphere for 2:30 p.m. game, but that remains to be seen.
The Badgers have lost consecutive games in lousy fashion. They have made critical mistakes, and they have had some bad luck. Yet they remain a very good team with a chance to do something special. If the Badgers can rally and still find a way to reach the conference title tilt, it could say more about this team than any words can describe.
I would like to think the players believe this can happen. The question is, do you?
"I always want to be the aggressor."
That is a quote from Bret Bielema, spoken a few months before he worked his first game as the Badgers' head coach.
We have seen his aggressive nature on multiple occasions, from fake punts, fake field goals and, more recently, a tailback throwing a touchdown pass to a quarterback. The man loves to push the envelope, and that is part of what makes him intriguing. Not everyone loves it, but his outside-the-box thinking forces you to pay attention because you'd hate to miss something.
Last Saturday night's Hail Mary places Kirk Cousins in a time capsule along with Boston College's Doug Flutie and Colorado's Kordell Stewart. I am guessing that last sentence is difficult to read and, trust me, I cannot say I enjoy writing it. The fact is TV networks will show that play forever.
A sidebar story to that final pass is Bielema's decision to use two timeouts to stop clock in the final minute. He called the first after a Brendan Kelly sack and forced fumble made it second-and-20 from the Spartans' 24-yard line. There were 42 seconds to play.
A 12-yard connection to wide receiver B.J. Cunningham made it third-and-8 from the MSU 36. Bielema used his second timeout with 30 seconds remaining. In our radio booth, Mike Lucas and I were talking about the trust Bielema was showing in his defense. I also suggested that if it works, great, but if not... "It's a second guesser's delight."
Was I surprised Bielema called that second T.O.? Yeah, maybe a little. Should I have been surprised? No, not really, because that is how he rolls. When it works, it is a gutsy decision. If it doesn't, well, you know what happens next. It is fresh material for talk shows, message boards and bloggers. Coaches understand that is how it works in big time sports.
A friend of mine who used to work with the Wisconsin basketball program had some tongue-in-cheek advice for the coaches. "Hey, just run the plays that work, OK?" If a team is hitting a bunch of 3-point shots, it must be running a great offense, right? If they're tossing up bricks all day, we say the offense looks flat.
This is Bielema's sixth season as the Badgers' head man. In that time, I thought the nuttiest call he made was the fake punt in the Rose Bowl. It was in the second quarter, with TCU leading 14-10.
Unlike the Iowa game when he had clear sailing, punter Brad Nortman had to break through some traffic to make the first down. If the Horned Frogs would have stopped Nortman, take a guess on how observers would have reacted.
You know how many people told me that call was crazy? None. Zero. Nada. Why? Because it worked -- therefore it was a good call.
It was that incomplete pass on the two-point try that had fans upset. Jacob Pedersen was wide open, but Tank Carder made a big-time play by knocking down the throw. Therefore, it was a bad call.
With that off my chest, it is on to Ohio State, where the Badgers likely will face an even more hostile atmosphere than they dealt with in East Lansing. It is Homecoming in Columbus. OSU is honoring Hall of Famer Eddie George. The Buckeyes are wearing special uniforms.
One more thing. Given what happened last year to OSU's top-ranked football and basketball teams, it is safe to say those folks do not like the Badgers very much.
What an opportunity for Wisconsin to bounce off the deck after last week's disappointment.
There is one more thing. If you were not a fan of divisional play before, maybe this will help change your mind. Granted, there is a long way to go, but perhaps the Badgers will get back on track and win the Leaders Division. Perhaps Michigan State will continue its winning ways and capture the Legends.
That would set up a rematch in Indianapolis, with a Rose Bowl berth on the line.
I know, I know -- first things first, but it never hurts to dream a little, does it?
With the release of the first BCS rankings, the college football season officially shifts into high gear. The annual debate about the system itself picks up steam. Fans yell that their favorite teams are not rated high enough.
Of course, there is what is becoming the annual "Boise State question," regarding whether the Broncos can crack the top 2 and play for the national championship.
Last but not least, columnists and sports yakkers across the country campaign for a playoff.
I am not going there -- at least not today.
The Badgers find themselves ranked sixth in this week's BCS standings, which seems about right to this observer. Given the strength of schedule to date, the computers will not love the Badgers as much as the human voters.
Try not to worry about it. Every year we speculate, watch ESPN's "BCS Countdown" show, and we either hear something favorable from one of the commentators or we fight the urge to throw a brick at the TV.
Speculation is part of the fun, but most of the time this BCS stuff works itself out. I say most of the time because the 2004 Auburn Tigers, which finished 13-0 but third in the final BCS rankings, would beg to differ.
While it appears the Badgers will need a few things to happen to move into the Top 2, I still would suggest that No. 6 is not a bad place to be in mid-October.
As the late, great Al Davis always said "Just win, baby." (And in college football, if you can win by a lot, all the better).
For the Badgers beginning this Saturday night in East Lansing, I would tweak Mr. Davis' saying -- "Just win on the road, baby."
Similar to college basketball, the pollsters tend to judge whether a team is elite by watching how it performs away from home. Last year, I thought the Badgers made their greatest statement outside of Madison.
While last October's victory against No. 1 Ohio State will always be memorable, I believe the game that truly defined the Badgers season came in the following game at Iowa. In a hostile environment against a rival, in a stadium that some folks on the sidelines told me was every bit as loud as Camp Randall at its raucous best, Wisconsin found a way to beat the Hawkeyes.
A fake punt, some clutch work from quarterback Scott Tolzien as well as tailback Montee Ball, and a team that overcame several injuries to put together a late-game scoring drive went a long way in the Badgers' championship run.
To beat a top notch team at home is great theatre. To defeat a team when 75,000 fans are against you is even more impressive.
This week the Badgers have their first true road game, and it happens to be against a Michigan State outfit that leads the Big Ten in most of the major defensive statistical categories, including total defense, where the Spartans also rank second in the nation.
Wisconsin is rolling, and so is Sparty. It also seems safe to say that this week's opponent is eager to see Russell Wilson and company. After MSU beat Michigan last Saturday, ESPN.com quoted Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis as saying "Wisconsin should know we're coming."
He later added "And just like any other team, if they're throwing the ball up, our DBs are going to go get it, our linebackers are going to go get it and our linemen are getting after the quarterback. And they're going to hurt him."
There is nothing like a juicy quote to get the fans and the pundits talking all week.
Let the road show begin.
Last week during a commercial break on the Barry Alvarez radio show, the University of Wisconsin's director of athletics had a big grin and said, "Isn't it fun when you win?"
All I could do was smile and nod -- and remember to way it was in the late 1980s. Back then I was doing morning sports updates for WTSO Radio, which in those days was a country music station. It seemed every Monday the weekend recaps centered on how the Badgers lost on Saturday, and how the Packers lost on Sunday.
As for interest in the Brewers, that generally faded by about the end of July. Beyond the greatness of Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, and the occasional streak, the highlights were few and far between.
It is a good thing our radio station played a lot of Garth Brooks and Randy Travis tunes. Had WTSO been a sports talk station in those times, there would have been very little to chat about. A show once a week was about all anyone, hosts or listeners, could tolerate.
Oh, my how things have changed, and what a stretch this is for Cheesehead Nation.
The defending Super Bowl champion Packers remain unbeaten. Aaron Rodgers might be the best player in the NFL. The Wisconsin Badgers are unbeaten and ranked fourth. Russell Wilson might be the best player in the Big Ten, and he appears to be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. The Milwaukee Brewers are NL Central Division champions, and currently are battling rival St. Louis for the right to advance to the World Series. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are top MVP candidates.
There is all of that, plus, could we have had better weather around here the past 10 days or so? I mean, if this is what heaven is like, sign me up.
Who knows how these stories will end, but I would suggest -- at least for now -- this state is the envy of most sports enthusiasts in the country.
Other places have had multiple champions, and I certainly am not assuming that it will happen in Wisconsin, but what is going on now seemed so unlikely in the late 1980s and early '90s. The mere suggestion of this type of stretch would get you laughed out of the room.
Alvarez often tells the story of coaching his first game in 1990. On the bus ride from the team hotel to the stadium, he has said "You could fire a cannon down the street and not hit anyone." He was right. It was all he and his staff could do to create any excitement with a fan base that was staying away in droves.
The once proud Packers franchise fell on hard times, as Lindy Infante's team finished 4-12 in 1988. The following year was much better, but they fell just short of a playoff berth. The next two years produced a 10-22 record. A college-aged Packers fan today cannot relate to such futility.
As the NLCS progresses, no doubt there will be some tense moments that will have Brewers fans biting their finger nails.
Perhaps one week, the Packers will need a late fourth-quarter drive to win a game.
As for the Badgers, do not expect them to win by 30-plus points a week. In time, they too will have a couple of those down-to-the-wire affairs that will keep you glued to your TVs and radios.
Enjoy every second of it. As a fan, there will be moments that might make your stomach do flip-flops, but this is only because your teams are playing on big stages.
There are those who say this is as good as it gets. Right now, that is true. Then again, it is possible -- I repeat, possible -- that the best could get even better.
As Barry would say "Isn't this fun?"
Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has many skills, including dealing with the media. Being a two-sport athlete with a degree in communications, it makes sense.
While it is unlikely he ever will provide the pen and microphone crowd with much in the way of controversial quotes, the man has proven he is capable of having some fun.
After last Saturday's Big Ten opening victory against Nebraska, Wilson spoke with ESPN's Chris Fowler. During the chat, Wilson used the term "passion bucket."
So why is that funny? "Passion bucket" happens to be a pet term for Dan Patrick on his national radio show. From time to time, Patrick or one of his producers will ask a guest to drop that "passion bucket" line in future interviews.
Turns out one of the "Danettes," Paul Pabst, aka, Paulie was in Madison for the big tilt. On Friday, Pabst said he met Wilson and fellow QB Nate Tice. If the game went well for the home team, "Paulie" asked Wilson to find a way to fit those words into one of his answers. Wilson obliged, and he said it got a little laugh from Fowler, who of course used to be a co-worker with Patrick at ESPN.
I am thinking there is a future in this business for Wilson. Hopefully that is many years down the road. Already a minor league baseball player, his work so far this season seems to be getting him a bit more on the NFL radar as well.
Yes, there is a long way to go, but Wilson, while very humble, also is very confident. The Badger QB told Patrick that he believes he is pro-ready.
At this point of the season, it is difficult to argue with Wilson.
At this point of the season, it also is interesting to look at Wisconsin's offense.
There are those who believe the Badgers are passing the ball a lot more. The fact is, they are not. Here are the numbers through five games of Scott Tolzien's 2010 season, and Wilson's from this year. ATT COMP
Wilson 111 83
Tolzien 109 75
Not much difference there, right?
The difference lies in passing yardage and touchdowns: YDS TD
Wilson 1391 13
Tolzien 837 5
Keep in mind this time last year the Badgers had the bruising John Clay in the backfield, while receiver Nick Toon missed three full games with an injury.
Each team has its own set of strengths, and certainly that applies to Wilson and Scott Tolzien. Wilson does things I have not seen from a Wisconsin quarterback, but that Tolzien guy was not half bad either, leading an offense that averaged 41.5 points per game last fall.
The beauty of this team so far is that it has added an extraordinarily gifted player without compromising what has made the Wisconsin system so successful. The Badgers still like to run the ball, and will not hesitate to go into ground and pound mode. Just ask Nebraska's defense. At the same time, the Badgers once again have the ability to hurt the opposition through the air.
This is not new. In the last few years, the Badgers have been a fairly balanced squad. Yes, it will run the ball more, but since 2007, the rushing vs. passing yardage is in the same ballpark.
Obviously, Wilson is a special talent, and at this early stage of the season, it is fair to throw his name around for post season honors, including the one where the winner gets the trophy with a player using a stiff arm, if you know what I mean.
Yet Wilson is plenty smart enough to understand what makes the Badgers tick. At Wisconsin, he is surrounded by plenty of talent, and an offensive coordinator who knows how to use it.
Perhaps there will be quarterbacks with more eye-popping statistics, but if ever there seems to be a perfect fit, it is Russell Wilson and the Wisconsin Badgers. There is no doubt Wilson makes Wisconsin better. It also can be said that Wisconsin is making Wilson better.
From the outside looking in, it appears everyone in the program understands the formula is working. As long as that remains the case, this combination of talent and the ever-present "passion bucket" could make this a rather difficult group to stop.
It is a new era of Big Ten football, and why not start with this week's version of "The Game of the Century?" You thought last year's tussle with Ohio State was big? When it comes to hype, this Saturday night's conference opener with Nebraska might be even bigger.
Beyond the obvious of this being the Cornhuskers' first Big Ten game, the matchup also marks the first time since Nov. 24, 1962 that a game at Camp Randall Stadium featured two teams ranked in the top 10. On that day nearly 50 years ago, No. 3 Wisconsin beat No. 5 Minnesota, 14-9.
That was a few years before Chris, Lee, Kirk, Desmond, David and Erin started doing College GameDay. (I think that is the full roster, not including reporters such as Tom Rinaldi. If I left out anyone, I apologize to the good folks at ESPN)
This weekend also marks the beginning of divisional play, with the Badgers as part of the Leaders Division. Here is a simple formula to remember how the Big Ten is divided -- schools starting with the letter "M," and "N" along with Iowa -- are in the Legends Division. Everyone else is in the Leaders Division.
Divisional play also changes the tiebreaker system, making a game within the division more important. For instance, say Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois finished tied for first in the Leaders Division, and against each other, every team is 1-1. The next step in the tiebreaker is a team's record within the rest of the division. With this in mind, the games against Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana carry more weight than a game against a Legends Division team.
Yeah, I know, this week's game is really huge anyway, regardless of the fact that the Badgers and the Huskers play in opposite divisions.
The atmosphere should be electric, and earlier this week head coach Bret Bielema urged fans, especially the students, to be in the stadium and ready to roll for the opening kickoff.
Which leads to perhaps the question of the week -- how many Nebraska fans will get a ticket? Who knows, but word is we will be able to tell the difference between the Cardinal and White and the Big Red.
Seems folks from Nebraska will be wearing black shirts. Why black shirts? That is symbolic of the Blackshirts nickname for the Cornhuskers defense. This goes back to the early 1960s, when then-coach Bob Devaney wanted to distinguish the defensive starters in practice.
Barry Alvarez knows firsthand about the Blackshirts. He can tell you all about it. He also can tell you about that 25-yard interception return against Wisconsin when the Huskers beat the Badgers in Madison.
Anytime there is video of that play, the Hall of Fame coach catches a ton of grief. In a nutshell, I will say nobody questioned Barry's toughness, but he was not exactly a sprinter. As the old line goes, Barry picked off the pass in 1966 -- and the play ended in 1967.
No doubt that story will be told many more times this week, and that is part of what makes college football so much fun.
So do spotlight games, and Big Game America returns to Madison, Wisconsin, this Saturday as the 116th season of Big Ten football gets underway.
It is a ticket worth saving, don't you think?
For a broadcaster, one of the worst mistakes we can make is mispronouncing someone's name. It is the equivalent of a writer misspelling a name. I have been guilty of that basic fundamental screw up more often than I care to admit.
In fact, a few days ago while taping a segment for the "Badger Sports Report" TV show, I referred to the South Dakota Coyotes as the "Ki-OH-tees." That is incorrect. They are the "KI-Oats."
Now you know. I would imagine it is pretty annoying for a South Dakota fan or a school administrator who time and time again will hear people say Ki-OH-tees, but I am sure they deal with it as best they can.
I would suggest they have company in the Badgers' head football coach. How often have you heard a national broadcaster butcher Bret Bielema's name?
To some, he is Bret "Bull-EE-ma." To others, he is Bret "BILL-la-ma." There probably are some others, but "Bull-EE-ma" appears to be the leader in the clubhouse.
As Bret BEE-la-ma has said on a number of occasions, "I have been called any number of eating disorders."
At least he can have some fun with it. Last week, Coach BEE-la-ma and Northern Illinois boss Dave Doeren were doing a radio interview together on Chicago's 670 The Score. The Badgers coach was able to chuckle when the hosts referred to his good friend as Dave "Door-ee-in."
For the record, it is "Door-in," but I am sure you Wisconsin fans knew that already.
I understand mistakes happen, but I would think by now most folks who get paid to talk about college football could properly pronounce the name of the fellow who coached his team to last year's Big Ten title. Is that asking too much?
I mean, for crying out loud, this is Bull-EE-ma's, errrrrr, BEE-la-ma's sixth-year as head coach at a rather high-profile program. Can't these people get it right?
Of course, BEE-la-ma has company with another somewhat established coach -- Iowa's Kirk "FAIR-intz." Seems many folks still call him "Fuh-RENTS." Maybe that will make Bret feel a little better. Or maybe not.
After all, this is FAIR-intz's 13th year as the Hawkeyes' head man, so perhaps there is no end in sight for BEE-la-ma being called "Bull-EE-ma."
Oh well, maybe this is just another way Wisconsin can stay a little bit under the radar. Given the team's 3-0 start and top-10 national ranking, staying under the radar probably is a bit of a stretch, but if botching the coach's name gives the boys the feeling of disrespect, perhaps it is all for the better.
So, take heart South Dakota Ki-Oats fans. Your team is less than two weeks removed from knocking off last year's FCS national champs, and you are a top-20 team in your own right. Your squad is one year removed from beating Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Still, dummies such as yours truly fumbled your nickname. My apologies, and I plan on getting it right from now on, especially on Saturday afternoon.
As for those on ESPN and the other big boy networks who still can't get Bull-EE-ma, I mean, BEE-la-ma's name right, part of me says shame on you, while another part of me says just keep it up. BEE-la-ma appears to be surviving the blow.
Either way, I believe it is safe to say the University of Wisconsin head coach is starting to make a name for himself, no matter how the talking heads choose to pronounce it.
Just two games into the college football season and there has been no shortage of hot topics. Thrilling games, such as Michigan's 35-31 victory at home against Notre Dame, South Carolina's shootout with Georgia, and defending national champion Auburn pulling out a pair of close encounters have given the national pundits plenty to talk about.
Already there is chatter about Heisman Trophy candidates and BCS title game contenders. It is kind of silly, but I have to admit it is kind of fun as well. It sure beats talking about schools on probation, doesn't it?
There is one storyline that once again has reared its ugly head. It has been an ongoing problem in college football, and I am afraid it will get worse before it gets better. Of all the matters on NCAA President Mark Emmert's plate, this is one I feel strongly about -- ugly uniforms!
At this time I would like to publically thank the University of Wisconsin for keeping it simple. Yes, a couple of times the Badgers have come out with dramatically different unis, such as in the 1995 season opener against Colorado. They resembled the old Dallas Cowboys, only with different colors.
In 2005, the UW went to the throwback uniforms from the early 1960s. Actually, it was a pretty classy look, and if nothing else, at least you could read the jersey numbers.
How 'bout some of the threads we have seen so far this season? Guilty parties include Georgia in its season-opening loss to Boise State. Or how about Maryland in its first game against Miami?
As a caller to Tim Brando's national radio show observed, the Terps' helmets made the players look like crash test dummies.
And do not get me started on Oregon. I really like and respect the Ducks program, but I blame them for this trend of programs that seem to need 30 different uniform combinations.
I get the throwback thing. I actually liked the turn-back-the-clock uniforms Michigan and Notre Dame sported last Saturday.
Even the officials went with the attire of yesteryear, complete with the snappy hats. I just don't get the multi-colored, multi-combo, I-Have-No-Idea-Who-You-Are ensembles.
Thank goodness Barry Alvarez is more of a traditionalist. Sure, the Badgers' uniforms can change slightly, but the UW Athletic Director is a believer in the brand, so why mess with it? When you see the Motion W on the helmets, you know it is Wisconsin. Keep the excess junk off the jerseys too -- names, numbers and maybe a couple of stripes will do.
I must be getting old, but give me the simple uniforms such as Penn State and Alabama. If you follow college football and see those uniforms, you know who is playing, right?
Some of this is selfish. As a broadcaster, I am a big fan of jerseys with easy-to-read numbers. Give me a sharp contrast between number and shirt, and I am a happy little announcer.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine called a game involving Oregon and said it was a nightmare. The Badgers' Champs Sports Bowl game with Miami was no picnic either -- the Hurricanes' road jerseys were not fan or announcer friendly.
More importantly, I would think a fan/alum of a school takes pride in the tradition of the program.
Yes, some have a richer history than others, but unless you are an upstart program, embrace the tradition that exists.
Then again, maybe this is just another old school vs. new school issue. What do you think?
On September 11, 2001, it was such a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, and there was a gentle breeze. It was the type of day that showcases the beauty of this city.
On the local sports scene, there was some concern about the Badgers football team, which had just dropped its second-straight game, losing the previous Saturday to Fresno State, 32-20.
The season began with a victory against Virginia in a game featuring a lightning delay. The following week the Badgers played well but Oregon, led by quarterback Joey Harrington, slipped past Wisconsin, 31-28.
Next up on the schedule was Western Kentucky. I remember being in my living room, completing my spotter's chart on the Hilltoppers. My wife and I had the radio on in the background. The team's 1-2 record aside, life was pretty good, and we were ready to begin our day.
Then everything changed. The usual laughter on the morning radio show stopped. One of the hosts announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Perhaps like any number of people, the magnitude of what was occurring did not completely hit home with us.
We turned on NBC's "Today" show, right about the time the second plane struck the other tower. Like everyone else, we were stunned. Suddenly, the thought of my wife going to work, or the thought of me studying Western Kentucky's roster became irrelevant.
There are certain events when it is natural to remember where you were and what you were doing. Those who are old enough remember where they were on Dec. 7, 1941. Others can recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Sept. 11, 2001 became the latest tragic date on that list.
Americans went through all the emotions, from stunned disbelief, to profound sadness, to extreme anger. After a few days, we just wanted to get our lives back to "normal," however we could define that word.
For many of us, we discovered that sports can help the healing process. For a time, the stadiums were silent. When the seasons resumed, the world of fun and games became a way to escape the pain and the fear of what had happened to our country.
For the Badgers, their first game after 9/11 was at Penn State. When we arrived at the team hotel the evening before the game, there was a moment when I started to believe that life as I knew it was about to resume.
In 2001, Joey Boese was a senior defensive back. His father, Leo, was a regular at the games, both home and away. Almost without fail, I would see Leo on a road trip, standing outside the team hotel, unlit cigar in hand, waiting for the team to arrive.
In State College on Sept. 21, 2001, as the buses pulled into the hotel parking lot, there was Leo and his cigar. I could not help but smile and let out a sigh of relief. With the horrible events still so fresh in everyone's mind, seeing Mr. Boese with his stogie was a sign that it was time to move forward.
I don't know about you, but at times I am brutally guilty of sweating the small stuff. In the days after 9/11, what seemed annoying the day before no longer mattered. What mattered were the simple things, like being with friends and family.
This is where sport can be at its best. Let's face it, going to a Badger football game is a social event. Sure, fans will cheer for their team, and there is reason to be excited about the possibilities for a terrific season, but hopefully we can all enjoy the simple things.
I arrive at Camp Randall about three hours prior to kickoff. Already the tailgate parties are going. The smell of brats on the grills, and the sea of Badger fans making their way to the stadium. To me, it is one of the best parts of a game day. People are happy to be together, and they are enjoying everything that goes into a football Saturday.
As we approach Sept. 11, 2011, I hope everyone attending a game this weekend can appreciate all the little things that make a sporting event so special.
So go ahead and high-five a fan you have never met. Sing "Sweet Caroline" like you never have before. Jump Around like you really mean it.
Embrace all the simple things. Perhaps that is as good a way as any to reflect on what happened 10 years ago.
We interrupt this off-season of investigations, scandal and free advice on how to clean up college athletics to bring you -- at long last -- a football game. The Badgers and UNLV ring in the new season Thursday night at 7 p.m. It is one of 15 games on the schedule as fans can get a jumpstart on another season.
The Rebels are hoping to build some momentum under second-year coach Bobby Hauck, who no doubt will look to re-create the magic of John Robinson's UNLV team eight years ago, when it came to Camp Randall Stadium and shut down the Badgers 23-5. That represents the last regular season non-conference loss. Since that setback on Sept. 13, 2003, the Badgers have rolled to 28 straight non-league victories.
To keep that streak alive, and to have a shot at another memorable season, here is one observer's list of things to watch in 2011:Protect your quarterback.
Russell Wilson is many things, including mobile. Just when a defense seemingly has him lined up, Wilson's quick feet can get him out of trouble. That said, given the fact his backups have taken exactly zero snaps in a college game, Captain Obvious here just wants to point out that this man really needs to stay healthy. In a perfect world, Joe Brennan can get some work in certain situations. The coaches have been very encouraged with his improvement in training camp. The same can be said of Joel Stave. The hope is that those two can continue to grow at a steady pace, and not be forced to play because of injury.Better luck for Borland and Taylor.
Keeping with the theme of healthy players, the Badgers clearly are a better defense when linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are on the field together. If his shoulders cooperate, Borland can be a playmaker along the lines of what J.J. Watt did a year ago. With healthy knees, Taylor moves very well. Together, they can help make this a very good defense.
Do not expect a finished product in September.
Nearly every year, it happens. The Badgers play a game that is closer than most fans expect. Then the worrying begins. Last year they looked choppy at times against San Jose State. The following week they needed a blocked PAT to hold off Arizona State. In 2007, The Citadel gave Wisconsin trouble.
Going back to a couple of Barry Alvarez's Rose Bowl teams, in 1998 the Badgers needed a big play from quarterback Mike Samuel to help them get past San Diego State. A year later they lost to a not-very-good Cincinnati team. My point is the Badgers will not always be the smoothest bunch early in the season, but the better Wisconsin teams tend to hit their stride in October and November.
Looking pretty early is always welcomed, but don't panic Thursday night if they look a little rough around the edges.Don't worry, they will be hungry.
A rather predictable question players and coaches have heard regards how they will avoid complacency following a Big Ten championship season. Center Peter Konz has a pretty good answer.
"As much as I hate to say it," says Konz, "losing the Rose Bowl gives you the sense that you have not fulfilled everything that you wanted. This group of guys, especially the seniors, still feels like we've got something to prove."
"There is something essentially Wisconsin that says, OK, we are still unproven. None of us is a '5-Star' (recruit), we know that. There should be no question with anybody that the fire is still there."
As long as the Wisconsin Badgers keep that mindset, I believe they always will have a chance to do something special.
Let the games begin.