Aug. 27, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
• UW Athletics Hall of Fame
MADISON, Wis. - When Cory Raymer left Fond du Lac, Wis., and arrived on the UW campus as a freshman, the thought never crossed his mind that he would leave Madison four years later as a consensus All-America center. There was a very good reason for that, too.
"I had never played center in my life,'' he said with a hearty laugh.
Raymer was originally projected as a defensive lineman coming out of Goodrich High School.
"All of a sudden, the first day of training camp, I got introduced to Bill Callahan,'' he said of the former offensive line assistant under head coach Barry Alvarez. "He came up to me and says, `We're going to try you at center.' And I was miserable. What the hell am I doing at center?''
Good question. But he came up with the right answer. Or, rather, they did.
By putting his faith and trust in Callahan and Alvarez, and by learning the nuances of the position, Raymer started his last four games as a freshman and developed into the most decorated center in school history. In 1994, he was named a first-team All-American by seven different national publications.
"I don't know what they (Callahan and Alvarez) saw in me, but it was a stepping stone to my career in the NFL,'' said Raymer, a second-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in 1995 who went on to survive 11 seasons with the Redskins (two tours of duty) and the San Diego Chargers.
"Growing up there (the UW) was special -- it was the greatest time of my life. If there was such a thing as Groundhog Year instead of Groundhog Day, I would go back and do it and not feel cheated in life whatsoever.
"I learned more in that one year (1993) than I did in my entire life put together.''
Raymer couldn't be happier to be returning "home" as a member of the 2012 induction class for the UW Athletic Hall of Fame. Three years ago, he was present when one of his former Badger teammates, offensive tackle Joe Panos, was inducted. Panos was a co-captain of that '93 team.
Reflecting on that special mix of UW players that ended a 31-year Rose Bowl drought, Raymer said,
"The whole team came together that year and we were surprising ourselves. I still believe he (Alvarez) didn't think we would be as successful as we were that quickly.''
Raymer said there was nothing complex about their game plan or what it took to succeed "when you have a bunch of nobodies and no-names that just show up and they click; and when you have a team that understands what it is to be an underdog and what hard work is all about. ''
Raymer and Panos anchored an offensive line which also featured tackle Mike Verstegen and guards Joe Rudolph and Steve Stark. As a group, they never got cheated on the field, or off. "We had a lot of fun doing what we were doing,'' Raymer said, "and we were successful doing it.''
One of the many distinctive achievements of that Big Ten championship team was clinching the Rose Bowl berth by knocking off Michigan State in a conference game that was staged in Tokyo, Japan. The Spartans were simply no match for the Badgers, who rolled to a convincing 41-20 victory.
Initially, there was some anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the trip.
"We gave up a home game to go to Japan and everybody was miffed about that,'' Raymer said. "It was like, `What the hell are we doing in Tokyo? We're a bunch of fat white kids from Wisconsin.' So many scenarios could have played out but we went there and kicked the crap out of Michigan State.''
Pasadena was even more memorable for Raymer, who has an aerial shot of Camp Randall West (i.e. the Rose Bowl) hanging in his home. More than 70,000 Badger fans were in attendance. There's another visual that Raymer hasn't forgotten: Darrell Bevell's 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. That turned out to be the winning score against UCLA.
"That's the first thing I think of,'' Raymer said. "I still see him sprinting towards the end zone and faking out that little DB. And I remember walking up to that DB and I looked at him and said, `You just got juked by the slowest bleeping quarterback in NCAA history. How does that make you feel?'''
As a pro, Raymer was tested throughout his career by injuries, which prevented him from completely fulfilling all of his expectations. He retired in 2005 with 83 starts in 98 games. Ironically, the player who replaced him in the starting lineup with the Redskins was Casey Rabach, another former Badger.
In retrospect, Raymer was grateful to play as long as he did in the NFL.
"I was able to continue living a dream and be a kid,'' he said.
Today, he's living in Round Hill, Va., some 45 minutes from Washington, D.C. His employer is a former UW offensive lineman and teammate Brian Patterson, a successful businessman. "Brian is the brains, and I'm the brawn; works for me,'' Raymer said.
So does returning to Madison as a hall of famer.
"That means a lot to me,'' he said.