Dec. 3, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- Among the many football keepsakes in Barry Alvarez's basement is a framed picture of Cory Raymer accepting congratulations from Bob Hope on Raymer's selection as an All-American.
Hope was a legendary comedian, humanitarian and good-will ambassador who traveled around the world with his USO shows to entertain military troops during times of crisis and peace.
To be named an All-American by the Football Writers Association of America was a bigger deal than most because of Hope's involvement as a "greeter" to each of the players on the network telecast.
Raymer was the starting offensive center on the 1993 Badger team that won a share of the Big Ten championship and knocked off UCLA in the Rose Bowl, the program's first trip to Pasadena since '63.
Alvarez still laughs today at the inscription on Raymer's photo: "Thanks for following through on your promises of making me a great defensive lineman, Cory Raymer."
When Alvarez recruited Raymer out of Fond du Lac, he promised Raymer that he would be given a chance to be a starter at defensive tackle. When he got on campus, he was converted into a center.
That's where he could help the team the most, and the fastest, Alvarez rationalized.
Raymer started the final four games of his true freshman year at center. As a junior, he helped anchor that '93 O-line, which featured two other starters who had been recruited for defense.
Joe Panos lettered at UW-Whitewater on the defensive line before transferring to Wisconsin. He wound up playing center and guard before finally finding a home at right tackle.
Joe Rudolph was recruited as a linebacker and played some on the defensive line before being converted into offensive lineman. It didn't take long for Rudolph to become a fixture at left guard.
"Those three guys," Alvarez said of Raymer, Panos and Rudolph, "had a defensive temperament, which helped make them great offensive linemen."
Rounding out the starting five were left tackle Mike Verstegen, an undersized 220-pound recruit, who grew into his 6-foot-6 frame, and right guard Steve Stark, the most unsung starter.
The offensive line was a common denominator in the success of all three of Alvarez's Rose Bowl teams. "I've always said that when the leadership comes from the O-line, you have something special," Alvarez said. "Those guys are unselfish, unrecognized and they love the game for what it's worth."
That would be one of the links, Alvarez said, to the current Badgers, who have bridged the gap between then and now - 1999 and 2010 - with another Big Ten title.
While it's not official until Sunday night, there's also the favorable prospect of another trip to Pasadena. If so, this would mark Alvarez's sixth appearance at the Rose Bowl in an official capacity.
Alvarez went twice as an Iowa assistant, three times as the UW head coach, and now he would be going back as the Badgers' athletic director. "I'm thrilled," he said.
He's also excited for hand-picked successor Bret Bielema - and his staff and players - along with all of Badger Nation. Nobody loves the bowl system more than Alvarez. Especially big-on-big bowls.
Just a year ago, Alvarez was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
"And I encouraged Bret to go back with me just to experience it for himself," he said.
The timing couldn't have been better. Last spring, Bielema presented this famous quotation to his team: "To get something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done."
Since he arrived on campus, Bielema has been eyeing Alvarez's Rose Bowl ring; the one that was designed after the '99 season, reflecting all three Rose Bowl teams.
"I wasn't a part of that obviously," Bielema said. "I had worn a ring that we got for our first year when we were 12-1 because I thought it was a special year. But it wasn't a championship year.
"Two years ago, I told our guys that I'm never going to wear a ring again until it's one of our own championship rings. To sit down today with the ring guy - and design it - is kind of a neat thing."
Since each of the UW's last four Big Ten title teams has been designed with one thing in mind - building a solid foundation through the offensive line - which group stood out for Alvarez?
"I thought my best offensive line was in '98," Alvarez said.
Chris McIntosh and Aaron Gibson were the starting tackles, Bill Ferrario and Dave Costa were the starting guards and Casey Rabach was the starting center. None of them missed a start in 12 games.
"Gibby was just so dominant that season; he was a freak, trim at 385 pounds," Alvarez said. "Mac (McIntosh) was tough as nails. Casey was very athletic. And our guards were very solid.
"That was my best line. But I think this year's line is every bit as good, if not better."
That's quite an endorsement, especially in light of the fact that the Badgers returned McIntosh, Ferrario, Rabach, and Costa in '99 and replaced Gibson with Mark Tauscher at right tackle.
Yet Alvarez still feels the current group might rank above '93, '98 and '99. That would include Gabe Carimi and Ricky Wagner at tackle, John Moffitt and Kevin Zeitler at guard and Peter Konz at center.
"This current offensive line is so much bigger than any I had," Alvarez said. "In 1993, our No. 1 run play was our power, but we only ran it one way. Rudy (Rudolph) was the only guy who would pull, and we ran it to our right every time the entire season but once.
"This year's team will pull both guards and the center. And you won't find many centers that are capable of pulling and getting around the corner and being effective. Peter Konz can do that at 320. He will make a lot of money for himself someday in the NFL.
"Cory Raymer could run. He was really athletic. But I don't remember us pulling him that much. Casey Rabach was a really good player and we pulled him a little but we were more of a zone team. Konz? He's unique; as big as he is and as smooth has he gets around the corner. Man, he's impressive."
Depth along the O-line gives this season's team the edge over the previous teams.
"These guys are way deeper than any group we've ever had here - I mean, way deeper," Alvarez said. "You see Josh Oglseby go down with an injury and Ricky Wagner steps in there and you don't miss a beat. And Bret says Wagner is going to be as good as Carimi in another year."
In 1993, the Badgers led the Big Ten in rushing offense (250.8) and total offense (465.1).
In 2010, the Badgers are second in rushing offense (247.3) and total offense (450.1).
In '93, they averaged 30.3 points per game.
In 2010, they average 43.3.
In 1993, Darrell Bevell completed 68 percent of his passes, while Brent Moss rushed for 1,637 yards and Terrell Fletcher rushed for 996.
In 2010, Scott Tolzien is completing 74 percent of his passes, while James White has rushed for 1,029 yards, John Clay has rushed for 936 yards and Montee Ball has rushed for 864 yards.
In 1993, the team leaders were Panos, Rudolph and tight end Mike Roan on offense.
What about Bevell's impact?
"The guys all respected Darrell because it was all football with him," Alvarez said. "But they had a hard time relating to Darrell because he was older (23 after having served two years on a Mormon mission) and he was married and had children. The other cats couldn't relate to that.
"But they responded to Darrell Bevell."
The Badgers were very balanced on offense in '93. Sound familiar?
"We had two tailbacks in Moss and Fletcher who complemented each other," Alvarez said. "Darrell was smart and he knew where to go with the ball, much like Scott Tolzien. We had a speed receiver in Lee DeRamus to go along with Roan. We just had a lot of weapons like this year's team."
On defense, the '93 Badgers were very opportunistic. They had 23 interceptions. Jeff Messenger had seven, Scott Nelson had five and Kenny Gales had four. They also recovered 11 fumbles.
"I don't want to say our '93 defense was the weakest of the Rose Bowl teams," Alvarez said. "But it didn't rank as high as '98 and '99 teams. But they made plays like this season's team. We gave up a lot of yards, but we created turnovers. We forced six in the Rose Bowl against UCLA."
So what would happen if the 1993 Badgers faced the 2010 Badgers?
"That would be a track meet," Alvarez said. "But I'd slow it down. I'd take the air out of the ball. I'd have to shorten the game, because it would be hard for our guys to defend this season's offense.
"When I was a defensive coordinator, I liked making people play left-handed or against the grain and their tendencies. I don't know that (UW offensive coordinator) Paul Chryst has many tendencies."
Alvarez noted that Chryst puts a lot of pressure on defenses with his pre-snap motions. Because he's constantly changing the strength of the formation, a defense can't overload against the Badgers.
"You'd better be able to communicate in the back end," Alvarez said, "because Paul creates a lot of problems with the things that he does and that, in turn, can limit what you can do on defense."
Of Alvarez' three Rose Bowl teams, which one was the best?
"I'd say the '98 team because of our defense," he said. "Offensively, you were not going to move the ball on us, and we had about 150 hidden yards in the kicking game. The only thing we couldn't do well was throw the ball well, but we didn't have to."
Mike Samuel completed just 52 percent of the 172 passes that he attempted in '98. He had six touchdown throws and four interceptions. But he rushed for 382 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"We weren't much of a first-down throwing team because Sammy was inaccurate," Alvarez said. "But he could throw when he needed to make a throw. We'd use some play-action with Chris Chambers, who would create some problems for people with his deep routes."
Ron Dayne rushed for 1,525 yards and 15 scores in 1998. Samuel was the second leading rusher.
The defense revolved around the edge rusher, Tom Burke, who had 31 TFLs and 22 sacks. The other starters upfront were Ross Kolodziej, Eric Mahlik and John Favret. The linebackers were Donnel Thompson, Chris Ghidorzi and Bob Adamov.
The secondary was superb with Jamar Fletcher - who had seven interceptions, including three for touchdowns - and Mike Echols at the corners and Jason Doering and Leonard Taylor at safety. Nick Davis was the kick returner, Kevin Stemke was the punter and Matt Davenport was the placekicker.
"You had to work hard to score on that team," Alvarez said.
In 1999, Brooks Bollinger eventually took over as the quarterback and gave the Badgers more of a passing threat than Samuel. In addition, he rushed for 454 yards and four TDs.
"Defensively, if you loaded up on Ronnie," Alvarez said of Dayne, who ran for 2,034 yards, "Brooks was going to run the ball. Plus, he could throw it and create more problems for a defense."
The '99 Badgers had to deal with a long layoff between playing in the final game of the regular season and playing in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. The rust showed up in the first half, too.
"We finished the week before Thanksgiving and Stanford was playing the first week of December, and the layoff really hurt us," Alvarez said. "Having a veteran team, I didn't want to hit.
"That was very unlike me. But in the practices leading up to the Rose Bowl, I didn't scrimmage much. I just felt it was more important to have everyone healthy. And we were sluggish the first half."
At halftime, Alvarez had a heart-to-heart with his players. "I almost broke the metal cane that I was using to get around - bent it pretty good trying to get some points across," he said.
The Badgers responded in the second half and Dayne delivered the knockout punch.
3 for 3.
Three Rose Bowls - under Alvarez - three wins.
"Just getting there is not the answer," Alvarez said. "If you're going to the Rose Bowl, you have to win it. You have to win because that's how they will remember you. That has to be the priority."
But what about the time off at the end of the regular season? How does that affect a team?
"You can change, you can be a totally different football team when you play in the bowl, we see it happen all the time," Alvarez said. "That's why you have to make sure you have your guys with you.
"Your seniors have to stay with you and realize that it's not over yet. They can't be worried about playing in all-star games or signing pro contracts - they can't be worried about what's going to be happening to them in the NFL draft or what might happen the following year.
"They have to finish out the year with you. It has to be important to them because it's important to keep your leadership consistent from the end of the regular season to the time you play in the bowl."
There's another special consideration in preparing for a Rose Bowl.
"You have to keep your family happy," Alvarez said. "They're going to be there with you for eight days. And if a coach comes back to the hotel after practice and his wife and kids have been stuck in that hotel room all day and they're grumbling, he's not going to be happy."
To this end, Bielema has asked Cindy Alvarez to oversee a schedule for the wives and kids. "She used to organize it for me," Barry Alvarez said of his wife. "The bowl has some functions, but not a lot." No detail is too small, particularly when there's so much at stake, he added.
There's yet another special consideration in preparing for a Rose Bowl.
"You have to address the beauty of the Rose Bowl stadium," Alvarez said. "It will take your breath away the first time you go out there and if you're not careful, you can stand around the first half with your mouth open and not realize that the game is on."
Alvarez has been there, and done that - which should be a big benefit to Bielema.
They've already crossed a lot of bridges together.
"At about midseason, I brought up something to Bret about playing in a BCS game," Alvarez related. "There wasn't a lot of talk then about winning the Big Ten title (or the No. 1 seed)."
So Alvarez floated some ideas about playing in the Sugar Bowl or the Orange Bowl.
"Bret said, `No, I want to go to the Rose Bowl, I want to go to the Rose Bowl,'" Alvarez repeated with a twinkle in his eyes.
Each of Alvarez's Rose Bowl teams have a personalized stone (date, opponent, score) in the landscaping beyond the North end zone of Camp Randall Stadium.
They are permanent reminders of those successful seasons.
"Bret told me, `I want one of those stones out there with my team's name on it,'" Alvarez said, recalling their mid-season conversation. "I thought that was pretty cool."