After defeating #7 Penn State on the road, Wisconsin dropped its next two to #4 Ohio State and #11 Northwestern to set their record at 2-3-1. Northwestern’s 35-0 victory demoralized the Badgers on route to their stunning 8-0 Big Ten Championship season. Therefore, coming into the game with 4-2-1 Michigan State, Badger fans were not expecting much from their team.
However, that lack of expectation must have taken the pressure off because Wisconsin defeated the Spartans in commanding fashion. Mixing Halloween and homecoming certainly ignited the cause, as well. But, everything about gameday in Madison from the intense pageantry and the wildness of the fans to the march of the band would keep spirits up and often put checks in the win column.
On the other side, Michigan State appeared overconfident. In Camp Randall Stadium, there is a pathway at field level that fans can walk around. At the visitors tunnel, the opponents must cross this path onto the field. Ropes are strung up to hold back fans as they intently size up the players taking the field. Often, I would wait down by those ropes to get a good look at opponents. It wasn’t until about 1998 that I religiously brought a camera. As I waited this cameraless day, I saw new head coach for Michigan State, Nick Saban, leading his team out. I remember him dressed in a dark windbreaker clapping to his team and trying to lift their enthusiasm. But, Saban’s attempts were not reaching the players. Their entrance onto the turf was somewhat lifeless. This was my first time seeing the Spartans, so I was in awe of the famed green and white no matter how they responded. But, this should have been my cue that they were going through the motions and not truly prepared to take on the Badgers.
Wisconsin controlled the game from the start and a sea of red transitioned from hopelessness to optimism. A final score of 45-14 gave Badger fans dreams of a third straight bowl season. Yet, the battle was uphill as they would need to win three of their last four to qualify.