The thud heard coming from the direction of the Rocky Mountains was the Badgers hitting reality after their 55-17 loss to Colorado last week. Following a Rose Bowl season, such results were neither expected nor welcome in Madison. The Hoosiers entered Camp Randall Stadium with rising expectations.
The anticipation for the 1994 season was extremely high after the Rose Bowl Championship season. A top-ten preseason ranking prodded the excitement further. In addition, the game was preceded by a reenactment of quarterback Darrell Bevell’s key touchdown in Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl triumph. A few band members/students/alumni set up the play on the field while the actual radio broadcast of the play was aired over the PA system. The mock Darrell Bevell slashed to the left and ran twenty-one yards into the end zone. The crowd reacted similarly to the actual event in Pasadena nine months earlier. The entire spectacle was to commemorate the 1993 season, and it was well deserved.
The game against Eastern Michigan on this steamy day was hardly a contest. Wisconsin won 56-0, which only fueled the fire of expectation for the rest of the season. Sitting through such a blowout gave Badger fans a new experience. The anxiety packed games of 1993 appeared to be a thing of the past as Wisconsin ventured in the status of national power. The overmatched Eagles didn’t stand a chance against the defending Big Ten champions. The atmosphere in Camp Randall Stadium had reached high levels of intimidation for opponents, and Wisconsin football had its sights set on many more return trips out west.
The dreadful tie with Ohio State would not keep the Badgers from focusing on the Big Ten title. Two weeks after that game, Michigan clobbered the Buckeyes leaving the door open for Wisconsin. With wins over Illinois and Michigan State (in Tokyo of all places), the Badgers completed one of the most improbable runs in college football history. It took thirty-one years for Wisconsin to return to the Rose Bowl, and this 1993 season would firmly plant my love for college football into the turf.
I missed last week’s game against #24 Michigan, and it left me feeling bittersweet. It would be the last game that I would voluntarily not attend at Camp Randall for the next eleven years. It was a blessing. That Michigan game was the infamous “crowd crush” game that forced all stadiums across the country to reevaluate their stadium structure and safety procedures. Wisconsin defeated Michigan for the first time in many years (thus, the crowd rush). But, it nearly killed so many fans.
At this point, I have witnessed five games for Wisconsin and five Badger victories. My interest level was on the rise and I was actually excited to sit in the van for six hours to see my beloved team on the road for the first time. We went to visit relatives in Minneapolis and they got us a skybox in the Metrodome. All of the Wisconsin relatives were completely confident that the Badgers (6-0) would succeed, as it was our chance to show off our new national power against the lowly Gophers (3-4). My father displayed his confidence the most overtly as he paraded our Wisconsin flag up and down the driveway upon our arrival.
Wisconsin’s glory season was underway as they entered this contest 4-0 and nationally ranked for the first season in years. A crazy Camp Randall made things difficult for the Wildcats and they lost 53-14. Quarterback Darrell Bevell completed his first 14 passes, and Wisconsin accumulated more points than they had in a single game in ten years – all this in front of a sellout crowd of over 77,000, a number that included a few bowl scouts.
The season opener for the Badgers was expected to be a struggle – Nevada showcased a potent offensive attack. But, Wisconsin handed the Wolfpack a 35-17 defeat spearheaded by an impressive defensive effort featuring four interceptions, and an offensive frenzy led by quarterback Darrell Bevell’s school-record five touchdown passes. Things were different this year as both sides of the ball started to show a bit more leg. Although fans knew the Badgers were improving, it was the first win of a magical season that no Wisconsinite could possibly envision.
Just because I had witnessed a great game two weeks ago did not mean that college football was a significant part of my life yet. It took time. I remember this gloomy day in Madison as one where I learned a very important rule in college football – no overtime. With the game tied at 16 and Wisconsin’s field goal kicker setting up for the winning kick, I asked my father, “What happens if he misses?” When he replied that the game simply results in a tie, I was filled with frustration from three sources –
Today would be a memorable day in the career of Wisconsin head coach, Barry Alvarez. I didn’t care. I don’t even think I knew why this Berry Alcatraz was so special. Once again, I was being handcuffed to the car and dragged to another football game. Not interested. I remember the last game I attended. Dreary. Boring. Low attendance. But, there was something different about today. Camp Randall Stadium was PACKED with a vibrant red that stretched to every curve and corner.
I didn’t even realize that this was my first college football game until I was digging through old photos and came across a dated image of my mother, brother, and me soaking up the action and the rain in Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. These were the pre-Barry Alvarez days in “The Camp” where the few points on the board matched the few people in attendance.