How can a team that loses six of their last seven still be in the running for a decent bowl game? Leave all wacky possibilities to the crew from Madison. So many losses suffered by slim margins may destroy the morale of most groups, but Barry Alvarez’s Badgers thrive on adversity. The return of quarterback Brooks Bollinger and runningback Anthony Davis helps too. Davis finished this day tying a school record with five touchdowns. In addition, he toppled the 300-yard mark in a game that finally saw Wisconsin finish with an exclamation point. Just in the nick of time. With a loss, Wisconsin would have been banished to their couches to watch the bowl season from a distance. Instead a resounding victory over their largest rival lofted them one win over .500 and sending them to San Antonio to play Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
The victory is refreshing for a multitude of reasons. The tumultuous season of highs and lows ended on a zenith that few will forget. The memory is more permanent since last year the Badgers were forced to stay home for the holidays. Above all, Wisconsin fans got to witness one of the greatest spectacles in college football. Since 1890, Wisconsin and Minnesota have played in what is now the longest running rivalry in this sport. They play for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which is the trophy signaling the winner of this annual contest. Along the handle of the axe are scores inscripted from every game played in the 112 year history.
Last season, Minnesota snatched the axe from Wisconsin after it had been in Madison for eight years. With Wisconsin’s victory this year, the Badgers got to take the axe back and parade it around the stadium. But, this is done in dramatic fashion. As soon as the last quarterback kneel was executed, Wisconsin players already in a three-point stance, dashed across the field to reclaim the axe from the Gopher sideline. With the trophy held high for all 77,000 to see, the Camp Randall crowd exploded knowing the importance of the victory this year. Not only has the rivalry been redeemed, but a second straight year of bowlessness has been avoided.
Wisconsin didn’t just take the bowl as extra practice either. They played to succeed and they trumped #14 Colorado in overtime. In a season where finishing positively was a chore, Wisconsin capped this season in the most remarkable way and maintained respectability in the process.