Dec. 30, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- Minutes after punctuating an historic season with a stunning 38-31 triumph over heavily-favored UCLA in the 1999 Rose Bowl – a serious candidate to win the national championship less than a month earlier – an emotionally charged and content Barry Alvarez gathered his team in the UW locker room and exhorted his returning players to stay hungry and focused.
In effect, he threw down the gauntlet, challenging the Badgers to earn their way back to Pasadena. “First, I talked to the older guys and thanked them for their leadership, I told them how proud I was of them,’’ Alvarez said. “I then challenged the young guys to stay hungry. We were not going to let them become fat cats. A lot of them haven’t played yet and the ones who played need to get better.’’
Alvarez then went around the room and exchanged hugs with his assistant coaches and many of his players, writing a fitting and final chapter to an 11-1 season that no one outside the team’s inner circle dared dreamed was possible. Certainly, few people thought the burly, ground-hugging Badgers could outscore the sleek, pass-happy Bruins. But it came to pass. And Bucky even completed a few.
Craig James be damned. It was the CBS analyst who stuck out his glass jaw and branded the Badgers as the “worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl’’ after the matchup was announced.
“The worst team ever?’’ Alvarez pondered. “Really? That was a lay-up. I always look for an edge going into a game. And I didn’t have to look too far.’’
Alvarez also knew the Bruins were still gutted from a 49-45 loss to Miami in a rescheduled game at the end of the regular season that cost them a chance at playing Tennessee for the national title.
“I knew the Bruins weren’t taking us seriously,’’ Alvarez said. “Nobody was. On a player’s tour of Universal Studios, Jamar Fletcher got really upset when the tour guide said, ‘We’d like to congratulate the two Rose Bowl teams. We have UCLA and the other guys.’’
During one of the press conferences, UCLA coach Bob Toledo mistakenly referred to UW defensive end Tom Burke as Tom Barnes. Burke handled it well. When the writers came to him for a response, he said, “I don’t say much with my mouth. I talk with my pads.’’
At a black-tie event, William Shatner, who was the Grand Marshall for the Tournament of Roses parade, got up and rooted for UCLA to beat Wisconsin. Both teams were at the function.
“Damn it, you can’t say something like that,’’ Alvarez bristled. “I was ticked. The next day at a luncheon, Shatner walked up to me and handed me his autographed picture. I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want the damn thing. So I crumpled it up and threw it at his feet and walked away.’’
Alvarez already had his game face on.
Ron Dayne wore his, too.
Dayne rushed 27 times for 246 yards.
“I got so hyped up after our first touchdown that I threw up,’’ he said.
Not that you would know. He scored on runs of 54, 7, 10 and 22 yards.
“Man, was he good,’’ Alvarez said.
Dayne had injured his pectoral muscle and shoulder in the final regular season game against Penn State. And Alvarez felt it was imperative to get Dayne off to a fast start against a UCLA defense which had been burned in Miami by tailback Edgerrin James. He got his wish.
“Boy, he’s special,’’ Alvarez enthused.
Defensively, the Badgers wanted to get their defensive ends – Burke and John Favret – up the field to contain UCLA quarterback Cade McNown. Wendell Bryant provided the push in the middle. Bryant was one of four true freshmen who contributed on defense. He was joined by linebackers Bryson Thompson, Nick Greisen and Ben Herbert (now the UW’s strength and conditioning coordinator).
In a shootout that featured 1,035 yards of total offense, McNown did a good job of keeping the game close by passing for 340 yards. With the Bruins trailing 31-28 in the fourth quarter, though, McNown was guilty of a critical mistake on a third-and-9 from his own 26.
McNown couldn’t step into the throw because of the pressure in the pocket. As a result, the ball was underthrown and picked off by Jamar Fletcher, the Big Ten’s premier ballhawk, who danced down the sidelines 46 yards to score the decisive points in the victory.
“We thought we were national champions a month ago,’’ lamented UCLA offensive tackle Kris Faris, who cited the Dec. 5 loss to the Miami Hurricanes which prevented the Bruins from playing for a national championship in the Fiesta Bowl. “I blame this loss in the Rose Bowl on the offense. We gave them a touchdown, and that’s what won the game.’’
He was referring to Fletcher’s interception return. The pass was intended for DeShaun Foster. McNown had called an audible on the play, but the Badger fans in the north end zone were so loud that Foster didn’t hear the call. “Their crowd had a big part on that particular play,’’ Toledo conceded.
Meanwhile, the UW’s reported “weak link’’ – much maligned quarterback Mike Samuel completed 9 of 17 passes for 154 yards and those numbers would have better if not for a couple of drops. Samuel also had a 52-yard run on an option play that set up a score.
“He brought a tough, hard-nosed competitive spirit to the offense,’’ Alvarez said of Samuel who finished his career with a 27-11 record, the 27 wins matching Darrell Bevell. “Our kids fed off Mike because they saw someone who never backed down and never showed a sign of weakness.’’
With a big smile on his face, Alvarez related how one of the officials came up to him during the game asked, “Barry, where did you get all of this team speed?’’ Alvarez laughed and said, “It’s the same guys we played with against Georgia (a 33-6 loss in the 1998 Outback Bowl).’
“I had to listen to that nonsense for a whole year – that we couldn’t compete with the better teams nationally because we didn’t have enough team speed and skill players. We got the last laugh. That’s the one thing about this group of players, they never flinched. That was our motto.’’