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Lucas Looks Back: 1953 Rose Bowl



Dec. 26, 2010

Rose Bowl Bound!

MADISON, Wis. -- Following a wild 21-21 tie with arch-rival Minnesota in the 1952 regular season finale at Camp Randall Stadium – an entertaining but sloppy game during which the Gophers and Badgers combined for 14 turnovers – there was an air of uncertainty surrounding Wisconsin’s fate.

The Badgers and Purdue tied for the Big Ten championship with 4-1-1 records. But since the UW and the Boilermakers didn’t play each other, a number of other factors had to be evaluated in determining who was going to represent the conference in Pasadena.

“One thing is certain,’’ Henry J. McCormick wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal, “this is the most difficult selection the Big Ten has been called upon to make since the modern Rose Bowl pact with the Pacific Coast Conference went into effect with the 1946 campaign.’’

On paper, it seemed like such a no-brainer based on the team’s overall records. Wisconsin was 6-2-1 and Purdue was 4-3-2. Still, it came down to a vote of the Big Ten’s athletic directors, who had to submit their choice to the league’s office and commissioner Tug Wilson.

A local radio station aired the official announcement at noon on Monday and the news resonated from speakers at the Memorial Union where thousands of students had gathered. The athletic directors had voted to send Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl by a 7-3 margin over Purdue.

Let the party begin. Parading revelers brought traffic to a standstill on State Street. The State Journal reported that many fans stopped in flower shops and staged a “Run on the Roses.’’

Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider

Carrying their long-stemmed roses, the students marched to the steps of the state capitol, where the growing throng chanted, “We want Kohler, we want Kohler.’’ Gov. Walter Kohler left a budget meeting and greeted the crowd from a first floor balcony with a “V’’ for victory salute.

“We all have great reason to be proud,’ ’Kohler told the gathering which cheered his every proclamation. “I want to say that I think the election of this team to go to the Rose Bowl is richly deserved by a Badger team that fought hard and fought cleanly and won.’’

For the first time in school history, the Badgers were going bowling. “I feel great about the whole thing,’’ said fullback Alan Ameche, who could now use the West Coast trip for his honeymoon. Ameche and teammate Terry Durkin both planned on getting married on Thanksgiving Day.

Everybody was giving thanks for this special moment, including 13-year-old LaVonne Nachreiner, whose open letter to a “higher power’’ was featured on the front page of the State Journal.

“Dear God,’’ she wrote, “I wish to thank you for letting those men who voted and chose Wisconsin to go to the Rose Bowl … and God bless the players, especially Alan Ameche and Harland Carl, so they might play a good game. Send your archangel out there on the field to take care of our boys.’’

The Badgers could have used some divine intervention against Southern Cal. Despite outrushing the Trojans, 211-48, they came up empty-handed and short on the scoreboard, losing 7-0 (the second fewest points ever scored in a Rose Bowl).

Here’s how the Associated Press summed it up:  “The Big Ten’s embarrassing stranglehold on the Rose Bowl – six years of rubbing West Coast noses in the turf of the big saucer – came to an end.’’

The Big Ten had dominated the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) since the league agreed to an exclusive contract to annually showcase their teams, beginning with the 1947 Rose Bowl.

The star of the 1953 game was a backup USC quarterback named Rudy Bukich, a senior from St. Louis, who came off the bench less than four minutes into the first quarter after the starter Jim Sears – a first-team All-American – had broken his leg. Bukich completed 12 of 20 passes for 137 yards.

After a scoreless first half, Wisconsin grabbed the momentum on the opening possession of the third quarter as Ameche broke loose on a 54-yard run. But a couple of plays later, the Badgers were guilty of a costly turnover, a fumble which was recovered by the Trojans on their 27 yard line.

That led to the only scoring drive of the game. Bukich mixed it up by completing passes to Ron Miller and Tom Nickoloff before finding Al Carmichael on a 22-yard touchdown strike.

The Badgers had little trouble moving the chains. Ameche finished with 133 rushing yards on 28 carries. Gerald Witt had 47 and Archie Roy Burks, who had lost that fumble earlier, added 31 while filling in for Bill Hutchinson -- who started the game ahead of the injured Harland Carl.

The UW drove to the USC 14, 21, 7, 17, and 20 and came away with no points each time. Quarterback Jim Haluska connected on 11 of 26 passes for 142 yards. Erv Andrykowski and Kenton Peters each had three receptions. A fake field goal also backfired on Bucky.

Southern Cal coach Jess Hill, an SC alum, became the first person to play and coach in a winning Rose Bowl. The Trojans finished with a 9-1 record.

UW coach Ivy Williamson conceded afterward, “We played up to our ability. They were just too good for us.’’

Mike Lucas

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