I have not yet seen Iowa in person, but I have heard stories. Their fans travel extremely well and their players had a tendency to be cocky when playing the Badgers. Head coach Hayden Frye was the ringleader of this team, and his successful recruiting efforts in the state of Wisconsin certainly had much to do with the team’s puffed chests. However, this season has not been one to gloat about in Iowa City. The Hawks were riding a four game losing streak coming into Camp Randall Stadium. However, they also hadn’t lost to the Badgers since 1976. Wisconsin came into the game with a record of 4-4-1 and winning was mandatory if they were to expect a bowl invitation. Iowa needed just one victory to secure post-season action.
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.
This would be my first time watching a would-be Heisman Trophy winner in action. Ohio State running back, Eddie George, led fourth ranked Ohio State into Camp Randall Stadium. Based on the first three games of this season, Wisconsin would seem like a chew toy for the Buckeyes. But, last week’s win at #7 Penn State jumped the Badgers into the top 25 suddenly making Wisconsin vs. Ohio State the game of the week.
Two games into the season and the Badgers were in desperate need of a win. The punishing loss to Colorado to open the season was nothing short of a shock. Following that infamous evening was a trip to the Bay Area to play Stanford, which resulted in a 24-24 tie. So, Madison is the site for a game that the Badgers were expected to win. The Mustangs came in at 1-2.
There was so much hype surrounding this game that fans may not have seen a blowout coming. Originally, this game was to be played during the day, but due to its attractiveness, ABC picked it up and used it as part of their Saturday night lineup. Even without Brent Musburger and ABC, the game had built in hype. Both teams were ranked in the top 25, it was the season opener for both teams, Colorado and Wisconsin were both coming off New Years Day bowl victories and once again, the game was at night. Electricity is high in Madison for every game. But, give the fans an entire day to party? Camp Randall was rockin’ and ready for this contest. Many teams are accustomed to having every game nationally televised. Wisconsin was just getting used to it and Barry Alvarez was the physician who breathed life back into the program.
The Illini came into Madison much improved from last season. Their record was only 6-4, but that did not represent their strength. Wisconsin came in 5-4-1. Prior to the game, it was announced that the winner would be invited to the Hall of Fame Bowl in January. However, the situation was different for the loser. If Illinois lost, they would still be headed to a bowl with a winning record of 6-5. If Wisconsin lost, they would not be bowl eligible with a .500 record (5-5-1). A Badger win would serve the Big Ten best because both teams would receive bowl bids resulting in more money and more television exposure. We all hoped that justice would be served on this frigid day in Madison.
Many factors contributed to the dreariness of this game. Being a mid-November game was the first contributor. The day was dark, cold, and almost eerie. It was the quietest group of 77,000 that I have ever heard. Cheering was at a minimum. The game started early to mid afternoon and finished in the darkness.
The Badgers fell from the rankings with their TIE to Purdue. But, that was not the focus this week. All eyes were on revenge as the Gophers came to Madison. Last season, Minnesota was the only team keeping the Badgers undefeated. On top of that, all the relatives we went to visit in Minneapolis last year were coming to Madison for the rematch. Our chests were stuck out again believing that THIS time it would be different since Camp Randall was the venue. Throw in homecoming to the mix and Wisconsin seemed unbeatable.
The last Purdue/Wisconsin game I attended, I was grumbling about the absurdity of tie games. Honestly, you tie your shoes, or tie packages – you even may use one as an accessory around your neck. But, you do not TIE football games.
I never knew how much I liked purple – not that there was a lot of it in the stands on this day. I figured the low attendance was a result of the cold rain that dampened Dyche Stadium. But, I soon learned that Northwestern has had an unfortunate athletic history. 1949 marked their last Rose Bowl experience – or any bowl expereince for that matter. So, even though Wisconsin lost to Michigan State the week before, I felt confident that the Badgers would win with ease.