Dec. 27, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- Few teams, if any, have ever been as opportunistic as the 1959 Badgers, who came away with points every time they advanced into the red zone during the regular season. Not only did they take advantage of field position, but they created short fields by forcing 41 turnovers, a school record.
One of the highlights was a 12-3 win over Ohio State at Camp Randall Stadium. A crowd of 55,440 braved the rain and raging winds (27 miles per hour out of the northwest, with gusts up to 40). And those who hung around witnessed a dominating performance by Danny Lanphear, who blocked a punt and knocked two running backs (Bob White and Bob Ferguson) out of the game.
Ohio State’s perpetually cantankerous Woody Hayes was a gracious loser afterward. “If I have to lose to any single team – and I don’t like to lose – I’d rather lose to Wisconsin than any other team,’’ Hayes said. “I’m not saying I want Wisconsin to win the championship. But I do say it couldn’t happen to a finer bunch of players and coaches. We just got beat by a better team.’’
The Badgers did go on to win the school’s first outright Big Ten title since 1912. But they struggled in their final two games – losing at home to Illinois before bouncing back to win at Minnesota. “We took care of business when it had to be taken care of,’’ suggested tackle Jim Heineke.
As a result of their Big Ten pedigree -- the conference had won 12 of the last 13 in Pasadena -- the Badgers were listed as a 6 1/2-point favorite against Washington, the champs of the newly-formed Athletic Association of Western Universities, also known as the Big Five. This alliance was formed after the collapse of the Pacific Coast Conference, which was riddled with “pay for play’’ scandals.
Because the Tournament of Roses had no formal contract at the time with either the Big Five or the Big Ten, Wisconsin (7-2) and Washington (9-1) were at-large selections to the Rose Bowl. Not much was known about the Huskies beyond the perseverance of their quarterback Bob Schloredt, who was legally blind in one eye. By contrast, the Badgers were an open book.
“We had a lot of hard-nosed, rough players who would go out and battle with any team in the country – or each other,’’ said UW co-captain Bob Zeman, whose “each other’’ reference was to a group of free-spirited players who had the tendency to play as hard off the field as they did on the field. “We won our games by out-hitting rather than out-smarting people.’’
Dale Hackbart, a local legend from Madison East High School, was a catalyst and a bigger than life character who set the example on so many different levels for the Badgers – offense, defense and special teams. Hackbart relied heavily on his instincts as a dual-threat quarterback and a ball-hawking defensive back. He was not only savvy but smart. He was a first-team academic All-American in 1959.
The Badgers generally followed the lead of Hackbart and Jerry Stalcup, a 217-pound guard who was the team’s most valuable player. More often than not, though, they were the sum of their parts. “No one guy really stood out,” said Heineke. “We were all about on the same level and one game it might be one guy (who made the big play) and the next game it would be somebody else.’’
The backfield rotation was deep with Hackbart, Zeman, Billy Hobbs, Tom Wiesner, Eddie Hart, Jim Bakken, Ron Steiner and Bob Altmann. But that was the exception, not the rule. “We didn’t have many reserves and each of us was averaging about 56 minutes a game,’’ said Heineke, one of the two-way players. “We had a good team but Washington had a spectacular team.’’
That was evident from the start as the Huskies jumped out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead; the punctuation mark being a 53-yard punt return by George Fleming, who also kicked a field goal. The Badgers got on the board in the second quarter on a short run by fullback Tom Wiesner. Hackbart connected on a pass to receiver Allan Schoonover for the two-point conversion.
Wisconsin had a chance to cut into Washington’s lead in the third quarter but couldn’t convert in the red zone; a rarity which underlined how out of sync (and maybe overmatched) the Badgers were. Losing four fumbles will usually get you beat. And it did on this day, 44-8. “We out hit ’em and we out fought ’em all the way,’’ said Schloredt, who was the Rose Bowl’s co-MVP with Fleming.
UW coach Milt Bruhn praised Schloredt’s leadership skills – Schloredt would go on to be named the MVP of the 1961 Rose Bowl – but he also lamented the way his players had under-achieved. “Washington was just more aggressive than we were, much more aggressive,’’ Bruhn said.
What happened to the Badgers? “We just lost focus,’’ Wiesner later told the Milwaukee Journal. “I’d never seen Milt look that way (after the game). He was disappointed, sure, but he was also embarrassed. You have to blame all of us: the players and the coaching staff.’’
Decades later, Bruhn admitted that the 1960 Rose Bowl was his biggest disappointment. “I could sense that first team I took out there was a little too interested in seeing California – wanting to go to the Strip and all that,’’ said Bruhn, who would get a chance for redemption in 1963.