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Last Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, the script played out pretty well. The Badgers won big, and in the process earned piece of the Big Ten championship. Yep, that plan worked to perfection.
Another plan did not work out quite so well, but hey, stuff happens, and I believe everyone survived the blow.
Very quietly, UW officials had planned a postgame on-field ceremony to honor the team. A Big Ten Conference representative was on hand preparing to present the team with the championship trophy. Tournament of Roses President Jeff Throop was going to deliver a message on behalf of the good folks in Pasadena. Chancellor Biddy Martin, athletics director Barry Alvarez, head coach Bret Bielema and a couple of players were going to have a chance to say a few words to the joyous crowd.
I was going to be the talking head who introduced everyone. When the clock hit zero, event staffers held the press box elevator for me to get downstairs, where another staffer driving a golf cart would take me to the field. It was then when we learned that stadium officials had a slight problem. Too many folks on the field. Way too many folks on the field, making it rather difficult to set up a stage for the ceremony.
By the time we jumped out of the cart and got down on the field, I felt like a running back (in my case, a very bad running back) following a pulling guard (my driver who did a very nice job leading me to midfield). By the time we reached the 30-yard line or so, we heard they called off the public presentation. Oh well, at least I had the chance to run into a few thousand people, including some old friends I had not seen in awhile. Trust me, it wasn't just students rushing the field.
Easiest emcee job I have ever had. And you know what? It turned out just fine. The team had its presentation in the locker room, and the fans were able to do their thing. Sometimes spontaneity works out too. Sure, it would have been nice for everyone to hear from all the scheduled speakers, but hey, sometimes plans just blow up. As I made my way off the field and back to the press box, I did not notice anyone who seemed to be in anything but a great mood.
I would guess those who planned the event were disappointed, but in the grand scheme of things, I would hope they can look back and at least have a little laugh. Laugh and learn. As coaches say, it is better to learn after a win than after a loss.
For Badger fans everywhere, Saturday was a great day. Dare I say it was just rosy? Postgame ceremony or not, it was quite a day to be a Badger.
There can be no greater testimonial to a defensive player than an endorsement from Chris Spielman, the former Ohio State linebacker and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Who's the Best of the Best in the Big Ten?
Spielman endorsed UW defensive end J.J. Watt.
When asked if Watt reminds him of anyone, Spielman said, "He reminds me of the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year in my eyes. That's what he reminds me of."
Spielman has great respect for Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan. "But J.J. is as
good as they come," Spielman pointed out. "And I know he's
well-respected around the league."
These comments came before Watt made play after play after play in
Wisconsin's convincing win over Northwestern in Saturday's
regular-season finale at Camp Randall Stadium.
Unlike his previous four seasons, UW head coach Bret Bielema will take a more active role in Saturday's pregame recognition of the senior class at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Usually, I've stayed out of the ceremony," he said. "But I'm going to greet each of the seniors as they come on the field and before they get introduced.
"Being able to shake their hand before sending them on to the next phase is going to be special. They all have unique stories and there have been some trials and tribulations. But they're all survivors.
"I remember the first time I met them. I remember the first time I was in their homes. I remember the first time they got their starting opportunity. I remember the hardship and heartache."
More than anything, he will likely remember their commitment and perseverance. "I didn't know if some of them would grow as much as they did off the field," Bielema said.
There was a buzz in the air, a sense of anticipation before Wisconsin's 1998 regular-season finale against Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium. But the Badgers needed some help to realize their dream.
The week before, they had been humbled in their bid for perfection by a 27-10 loss at Michigan. That snapped a nine-game winning streak which had lifted them to a No. 8 ranking in the polls.
Now they were forced to pick up the pieces with the "faint" hope that Ohio State could beat the Wolverines in Columbus - faint because Buckeyes coach John Cooper was 1-8-1 against Michigan.
"Miracles happen all the time, don't they?" posed UW defensive end Tom Burke.
Finding someone to simulate Michigan's Denard Robinson on the scout team -- which operates against the No. 1 defense in practice -- can be as challenging as tackling Robinson in the open field.
"We don't have anyone who runs a 10.2 (100 meters) on our team," said UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren. So who got to wear Robinson's No. 16 in practice?
Jeff Lewis, a freshman tailback from Brookfield Central, who's redshirting.
"He gave us a good look because he can really run," said linebacker Blake Sorensen.
But there's Robinson's speed, and everybody else's speed.
"He's the only quarterback I know who runs a 4.3 (40)," said cornerback Antonio Fenelus, who grew up playing Little League football against Robinson in Florida.
Fenelus is from Boca Raton, and Robinson is from Deerfield Beach. But he had an aunt who worked in Boca. So he spent his summers there and attended football camps with Fenelus.
"He was always fast and had a nice arm," Fenelus said of Robinson, who earned the nickname "Shoelace" after purposely leaving his laces untied during games. Velcro is his secret.
"I usually text him after every game to see how he played or whatever," said Fenelus, who communicated with Robinson last weekend. What words were exchanged between the old friends?
"I told him, 'You'd better be ready' and he said, 'Ball-out and play your best.'"
Rose Bowl to No Bowl? Stud to Dud? That was the backdrop for a wounded Wisconsin team's appearance at the Big House on Oct. 29, 1994. Everybody had given up on the 3-3-1 Badgers.
Except the players and the coaches.
Following an emotionally-draining home loss to Minnesota, the players got together before practice that Tuesday and got everything off their chest in a "stand up and be counted" meeting.
Offensive guard Joe Rudolph stressed the importance of doing all the little things and returning to a commitment to the fundamentals, while also emphasizing team-oriented goals and expectations (Rudolph is now a Badger assistant and recruiting coordinator).
UW coach Barry Alvarez added some context to the discussion when he noted, "You get stroked after the Rose Bowl for a long period of time, and then you get kicked like a dog for a couple of weeks."
The Badgers were a big underdog to the No. 10-ranked Wolverines. Especially since Ron VanderKelen was throwing passes to Pat Richter the last time Wisconsin won in Ann Arbor.
Before Tuesday's practice, the seniors wanted to make sure everyone was on the same wave length. The coaches were excused from the room and quarterback Scott Tolzien delivered the message.
"Scotty T talked about how we have to take everything one day at a time," said senior wide receiver David Gilreath. "Mainly, he talked about our focus on these last three games."
That was confirmed by senior captain Culmer St. Jean.
"Scott is a strong person and he speaks how feels - he's not afraid to say things," St. Jean said. "We all have strong characteristics in our senior class. We're able to speak to each other and we're able to talk to the group in a way that everybody understands.
"What Scotty brought up needed to be said - we need to focus. That's what got us here. And that's what it's going to take in the next three games. We don't have to play out of our element. We don't need to be doing anything other than what we have been doing. That's the secret ingredient."
On Saturday, the Badgers will be returning to Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since Oct. 16 when they pulled off the upset of No. 1 ranked Ohio State. That game started off with a bang when Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Seems like forever ago.
As an impressionable redshirt freshman, UW defensive tackle Patrick Butrym came under the wing of an upperclassman, Jeff Stehle, who was more than willing to serve as a mentor.
That left a lasting impression on Butrym, who has been trying to serve as a mentor this season to some of the younger linemen, including freshman Beau Allen and redshirt freshman Ethan Hemer.
"Those guys have been great for me, too, they've helped me out a lot, it's just a great relationship," acknowledged Butrym, a junior from New Berlin (Waukesha Catholic).
Whereas Butrym is the most experienced defensive tackle on the UW roster with 11 career starts, Stehle didn't get a chance for regular playing time until last season, his senior year.
Nonetheless, he still had an impact on the development of Butrym, who had a career-high five tackles at Purdue and was named co-Defensive Player of the Week by the UW coaching staff, along with corner Antonio Fenelus.
"Jeff was always a good player fundamentally," Butrym said. "The more he started, the more he brought me along. It's a very similar situation to what's going on with me and the younger D-tackles."
So he enjoys the mentoring?
UW basketball coach Bo Ryan loves filling in the blanks. He's hooked on crossword puzzles. He also loves connecting the dots. Drawing from his vast experience, he's prone to make comparisons between players from different generations based on anything from body language to shot-making.
That can draw a lot of blanks from people who have no idea who or what he's talking about.
Josh Gasser is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound freshman guard from Port Washington. Gasser's build and movements and success in multiple sports reminds Ryan of Bob Falk, a 6-2, 183-pound guard from Madison West High School who played for the Badgers in the mid-'70s.
Ben Brust is a 6-1, 190-pound freshman guard from Hawthorn Woods, Ill., (Mundelein). Brust has a little runner or "flip shot" that reminds Ryan of Johnny Egan, a 5-11 guard from Providence College, who played 12 years in the NBA with six different teams from 1961-1972.
Some local historians can make an argument for Falk being one of the finest all-around athletes ever produced in Madison. At least he should be in the discussion after excelling in football, basketball and baseball for the Regents.
In 1972, Falk's skill as a basketball player was recognized when he was named the Player of the Year in the state of Wisconsin. Falk helped lead West to the semifinals of the WIAA tournament. But the Regents came up short against Milwaukee Hamilton after Falk went down with a knee injury.
Following his prep career - during which he was named all-state in both football and basketball - Falk spent one year at the University of Kansas before returning to Madison and enrolling at the UW where he played two seasons for John Powless and one for Bill Cofield, whose staff included Ryan.
Falk was such an outstanding high school quarterback prospect, he was talked into going out for football with the Badgers. But he made a far bigger name for himself in basketball with one timely jump-shot against Indiana at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
On Feb. 24, 1977, Falk was in the UW starting lineup along with Clyde Gaines, James "Stretch'' Gregory, Sugar Ray Sydnor and Joe Chrnelich. The Badgers caught a break because the Hoosiers were playing without their All-American center Kent Benson, who was sidelined with a back injury.
With three seconds remaining, Falk knocked down his jumper from the deep right corner to lift the Badgers to an improbable 66-64 victory over the Hoosiers. Falk finished with a game-high 19 points. Ryan was on the bench that night and, fittingly, he was on the bench - as UW's first-year head coach - when the Badgers snapped a 22-game losing streak in Assembly Hall by beating the Hoosiers in 2002.
Oh, that Bob Falk.
But what about Johnny Egan?
As a New England schoolboy phenom, Egan was predicted to have great success at Providence College for coach Joe Mullaney. And he lived up those expectations while teaming in the backcourt with Lenny Wilkens. Together, they carried the Friars to an NIT championship in 1961.
Egan, a two-time All-American, averaged 17.9 points and ended up with 1,434 career points. A first-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons, he also played for the Knicks, the Bullets, the Lakers, the Cavs and the Rockets. After his playing days were over, Egan replaced Tex Winter and coached the Rockets for four years before being replaced himself by Tom Nissalke.
In 2008, Providence retired Egan's No. 34 adding his name to a short of list Friars who have their numbers hanging from the rafters: Wilkens, Jimmy Walker, Ernie DeGregorio and Marvin Barnes.
Oh, that Johnny Egan.
Now that's old school.
To this end, Ryan, like many coaches, has named different post moves after former NBA legends for the sake of identification and instant recognition. In practice, for example, he might tell a player, "I want you to Bernie into a McHale."
Translation: Ryan wants the player to use a shoulder fake one way and as he's turning to shoot the other way - drawing a defender - he wants him to use a little jump hook.
The Bernie is named after Bernard King who played 11 seasons in the NBA. The McHale is named after Kevin McHale, the former Minnesota Gopher, who went on to stardom with the Boston Celtics.
The other post moves honor Moses Malone (a drop step and power move); Dominique Wilkins (an up and under move); and Jack Sikma (a reverse pivot where you open up to the basket).
Ryan was asked if he has given any thought to updating the post moves to reflect more contemporary players. Maybe the Kobe? The LeBron? The D-Wade? The Durant? The CP3?
Might he consider changing?
"Not really," Ryan said. "Not as long as the guys I'm coaching know what they are."
Fans of both the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers might have needed two television sets in their living rooms Sunday night. As the Packers were about to begin their beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys, ESPN was airing its weekly BCS Countdown show.
Anyone who has lived in this state longer than five minutes knows about the popularity of the Packers. When they play, much of our world stops. I'm just not sure how many fans figured that a show about the BCS rankings would be appointment viewing.
As the regular season heads into the stretch drive, the seventh-ranked Badgers remain the Big Ten's highest-rated team in the BCS standings, two notches ahead of Ohio State. In a potential three-team tie-breaker scenario, that is very significant.
Who knows how the final few weeks of the regular season will play out, but one possibility would be a dead heat featuring Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. In that specific case, the highest-ranked team would be the conference representative in the Rose Bowl.
That raises an interesting issue for head coach Bret Bielema.