Big Red roses

The Wisconsin State Journal’s special Rose Bowl section Sunday made me realize something startling:

I have been alive for every single Badger Rose Bowl win. And I remember every one of them.

So? you ask. (I’ll pause while you get your favorite brain pain reliever, or more hair of the dog, or possibly both.)

Consider that before Jan. 1, 1994, Wisconsin had played in exactly three Rose Bowls — 1953, 1960 and 1963 — and lost all three. (In order, 7–0 to Southern California, 44–8 to Washington, and 42–37 to USC.) For me to remember a Rose Bowl would have been like remembering John F. Kennedy’s assassination, since each occurred two years before I was born. I was alive for the Packers’ first two Super Bowl wins — to be precise, 1½ and 2½ years old, respectively — so I don’t remember the Glory Years either.

I’m not sure what year this was, but I remember spending one New Year’s Eve watching a black-and-white movie where football was involved, which was followed by a highlight reel of the 1953 Rose Bowl. And I remember thinking wouldn’t it be amazing for Wisconsin to play in the Rose Bowl, ha ha ha.

I’ve watched the Rose Bowl every year. Most years, I rooted for the Pac 8 or Pac 10 team, usually after watching the USC–UCLA game, because the weather was so nice out there and so hideously cold here. Besides that, the Big 10 representative was usually Michigan or Ohio State, and I hated Missedagain and O!S!U! (My rationale was that if they beat Wisconsin — and that was a given — they could go to hell.  That later applied to Iowa too.)

My early Wisconsin football memories are of four-win seasons, with an occasional hiccup (7–4 in 1974, but no bowl — thanks, Big Ten), and, wonder of wonders, three bowls in four seasons between 1981 and 1984. (Similar to my early Packer memories.) Then Dave McClain (he of the seven-win seasons) died, UW hired Don Mor(t)on, and UW football cratered.

But then, the impossible happened — UW not only got to the 1994 Rose Bowl (thanks to a win over Michigan State in Japan and an Ohio State shutout at the hands of Michigan), but won, 21–16 over UCLA.

And then, after a five-year absence, UW went back to Pasadena, again faced UCLA, and again won, 38–31. And then, one year later, UW got back to the Rose Bowl the only way they could — winning the Big Ten Conference outright — and beat Stanford 17–6. (Which, in a battle of Rose Bowls and mentors, makes Barry Alvarez 3–0, vs. Hayden Fry’s 0–4 and Lou Holtz’s 0–0.)

Similar to every other of the Badgers’ Rose Bowl trips, UW’s participation in today’s Granddaddy of Them All is unexpected. Wisconsin got to the 2011 Rose Bowl by having a better BCS ranking than the teams with which they tied for first.

Wisconsin got to the 2012 Rose Bowl by avenging an early-season defeat to Michigan State:

Same story this year, though the season had enough twists for a mystery and enough angst for a soap opera, including a narrow loss to Nebraska and coach Bret Bielema’s departure for Arkansas, to be replaced today by his predecessor, Barry Alvarez.

This would have been the season’s brightest memory were it not for what happened the next week:

I therefore have more appreciation of just getting to the Rose Bowl, because I’ve seen how horrible Wisconsin football can be. (Players win games, but there is no substitute for the right leadership.) This is an amazing and unprecedented photo:

Those are the 56 Badgers who as of kickoff today will have been on the roster for three consecutive Rose Bowls.

The interesting thing about today, besides their similar colors (Stanford’s colors are what Wisconsin’s should be, but you knew that), is their similar styles of play. In contrast to what you’d expect of high-flying Western football teams, the Cardinal play more of a Big Ten style, and in fact the Cardinal are about as similar to the cardinal-and-white as you could imagine.

Teams that play like Wisconsin and Stanford usually succeed when they can get the lead early, and force their opponent to deemphasize running the football. My prediction, therefore, is that whoever scores first will win today. Wisconsin has never been a comeback team under Alvarez; each of the Badgers’ biggest wins, including Alvarez’s three Rose Bowl wins, were when the Badgers got the lead and dictated how the game would go.

I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic about the game. Stanford appears to do what Wisconsin does, but better. Badger fans have overemphasized the effect of Alvarez’s one-game unretirement on this game, although the players appear to love the guy they’re calling the Godfather (from Madison.com):

In the week leading up to Tuesday’s Rose Bowl against Stanford, UW players have raved about the approach to practices taken by Alvarez, who is the interim coach for this game.

Attempting to make sure the players’ legs are as fresh as possible, Alvarez has shortened practices considerably, while still maintaining their intensity, including a 10-minute scrimmage session with live tackling on Thursday.

“I always try to think like a player,” Alvarez said Sunday during the final coaches’ news conferences before the game. “I hated to waste time. I really value and respect the players’ time. So I want to be very efficient in how we practice.”

It will be interesting to see how conservative UW’s offensive approach is, given the fact that Bielema and offensive coordinator Matt Canada clashed this season about the offense, and we don’t know how hands-on Alvarez will be with the offense today. (This is how non-pass-wacky UW is: Bielema argued that UW should do nothing but run inside, and Canada wanted to run jet and fly sweeps.)

The Wisconsin State Journal’s Tom Mulhern predicts a 27–21 Stanford win. I think that’s too many points because both teams’ defenses are better than the opposing offenses, but I agree with Mulhern’s winner.

The thing is, though, that the Rose Bowl isn’t just about the football game. My wife annually watches the Rose Parade. And of course

… there is The marching band performing at the game. You probably didn’t know Stanford doesn’t have a marching band. That … thing … that will be performing with UW can hardly be called a musical group.

Anyway, even though I’m predicting a third consecutive Rose Bowl loss, similar to the Super Bowl or World Series or any championship event, it is better to get to the Rose Bowl and lose than to not get to the Rose Bowl.

One thought on “Big Red roses

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