Postgame schadenfreude, hog-calling How ’bout Them Cowboys? edition

I went into this weekend thinking that, as was the case throughout too much of the ’70s and ’80s, the Badgers and Packers could go 0 for the weekend.

To quote Howard Cosell while narrating NFL highlights during ABC’s Monday Night Football, “But no!”

The weekend began with Saturday night’s 38–17 steamrolling of Nebraska. (Well before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, UW Band members would sing, for reasons unknown, “When It’s Hog-Calling Time in Nebraska.”)

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Steven M. Sipple harkens back to the days of the Big Eight Conference’s Nebraska–Oklahoma rivalry:

You surely remember that thing folks used to call “Sooner Magic.”

It used to ruin Nebraska football seasons.

Well, how about that “Wiscy magic?”

Wisconsin pulled off quite a trick Saturday night before 89,860 spectators at Memorial Stadium.

With a 38-17 triumph, the UW program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s. The Badgers are 6-1 against the Huskers since 2011, the year NU started playing in the Big Ten.

Paul Chryst’s crew eked out wins against Nebraska each of the previous two seasons. But it brought the hammer in this game, showing in a forceful manner why folks regard Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) as the clear-cut favorite in the West Division.

Nebraska (3-3, 2-1) looks destined to go a fifth straight season without a division championship, and 18th without a conference title.

Yes, Wisconsin’s program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s.

So, what’s the trick here?

The Badgers pull away while simultaneously pounding away like a battering ram. At least that was the case on this night. Yeah, wonderful timing. Just wonderful. Nebraska honored its 1997 national championship team in a rousing pregame ceremony. That would be the Husker team that averaged 392.7 rushing yards to lead the nation. That would be the team that would dare you to stop the run because it knew you couldn’t do it.

That was Wisconsin on this gorgeous Saturday night.

The ninth-ranked Badgers rushed for 353 yards, their most in a road game since 2012.

Wisconsin simply did what Wisconsin does. It patiently imposed its will with its ground attack and hit an occasional big play through the air. Nebraska hung tough through most of three quarters, but soon the effects of UW’s body blows began to show.

In the fourth quarter, the Badgers rushed 22 times for 125 yards — and never attempted a pass.

The whole stadium knew a run play was coming, and it didn’t much matter.

The Nebraska run defense that held down Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois was overmatched.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former Husker linebacker, had to be sitting back with a wide grin. This is his blueprint. It’s recruit big and ornery linemen from Wisconsin or regions nearby and go to work. You can imagine the rugged nature of the Badgers’ practices. Facing a downhill running game every day will make a defense leather-tough.

Wisconsin’s ground attack is persistent and powerful, said Nebraska coach Mike Riley, whose record at NU dropped to 18-14.

He had his team ready for the game. Give him that. At times, Nebraska looked ready to win, particularly when junior safety Aaron Williams’ pick-six tied it at 17 with 10:43 remaining in the third quarter. The stadium was up for grabs. What a scene.

“(The Badgers’) response to that was pretty interesting,” Riley said. “And it was very physical.”

Wisconsin responded like a championship program — except for one thing. The Badgers were sloppy most of the night. On the kickoff following Williams’ touchdown, UW was flagged for two penalties, and thus began the possession at its 7-yard line.

No problem. Wisconsin bulldozed a 10-play, 93-yard touchdown drive, using eight runs, including six by true freshman Jonathan Taylor. On the night, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder carried 25 times for a season-high 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Forgive Nebraska fans if they were a tad envious.

And forgive them if they’re frustrated with the direction of Riley’s program.

He realizes what he’s going to hear in the days ahead. It will go something like this: Look at Wisconsin, winning big the way Nebraska used to win big.

Come to think of it, there’s nothing magic about a big offensive line pulverizing you. …

Nebraska always talks about recruiting. Nebraska wins the offseason with a formidable hype machine, with media playing a leading role.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin just keeps winning the West.

Consider this: Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, replaced by Gary Andersen, who left after two seasons for Oregon State to replace Mike Riley, who left for Nebraska. The results:

  • Bielema, who left UW to have a better chance of winning national championships, seems likely to be fired.
  • A Badger fan flew into the Portland, Ore., airport, where he was asked if he was from Wisconsin. When he said he was, he was asked, “Would you like your coach back?”
  • Riley was hired by athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who was fired last week. Don Mor(t)on can tell you that when the guy who hired you gets fired, you should probably update your résumé.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are undefeated and ranked seventh.

The following afternoon, the Packers inexplicably missed two extra points and thus trailed Dallas 21–12 at the half.

The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota skips ahead to the finish:

You’ve already seen it, but Aaron Rodgers did it again. He ripped the Cowboys’ hearts out in the final seconds Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
Here are my thoughts on the Cowboys blowing another halftime lead, this time falling to the Packers 35-31:
1. Well, that was exactly what the Cowboys didn’t need heading into the bye week, another blown impressive start. These are the types of games the Cowboys were winning at this time last year. The defense had some success getting pressure on Rodgers early, but then he just toyed with them in the second half. …
2. The third quarter was another disaster for the Cowboys. After going into halftime with a 21-12 lead, Dallas was held scoreless in the third quarter for the fourth time in five games. Not sure what’s going on at halftime, but the Cowboys continue to need at least 15 minutes to get things going again. Maybe just keep the guys on the sideline at halftime. Mix it up. The Cowboys only had the ball one time in the third quarter. Dak Prescott completed a short third-down pass to Dez Bryant, but that drive quickly stalled. Green Bay dominated the time of possession [11:20 to 3:32] and scored early in the fourth quarter to take its first lead, 22-21.

Machota’s colleague Kate Hairopoulos adds:

Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, – Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, before [Prescott] got it, I thought, ‘Just go ahead and get this score. OK!
“…You can second guess every little aspect of it, and certainly we’d have liked to give him the ball back with 10 seconds on the clock, no timeouts. But the only way to have really gotten that done is to know for sure we were going to get that touchdown. That’s the height of revisiting.”
And it’s impossible not to do, considering Rodgers is making a habit of crushing Cowboys’ souls when given any opening.
The Cowboys and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan milked the clock on the scoring drive, well aware of what Rodgers is capable of. He needed only 35 seconds left to lead the Packers to the winning field goal in January’s playoff game on this field last season.

The Cowboys ticked through 17 plays to go 79 yards, taking up 8:43, culminating in Prescott’s touchdown run.
But Linehan and head coach Jason Garrett will be fairly criticized for not consuming more clock.
Elliott and the offensive line had, finally, started to roll on the ground, yet:
On 1st and 10 from the Green Bay 29, Prescott threw a pass intended for running back Alfred Morris, but it was incomplete, stopping the clock.
Later, after a dramatic fourth-and-1 conversion by Elliott, Elliott ran for eight yards on first down to set up a second and 2 from the Packers 11. Prescott passed incomplete, unable to connect with receiver Dez Bryant in the back of the end zone, stopping the clock again.
Prescott scored on the next play. Should he have considered sliding at the 1 to take up more time?
“In theory, he could do that yes,” Garrett said. “I just think you have to be careful about trying to be perfect. It’s hard to score points in this league. It’s hard to score touchdowns. It’s a four-point game at that time. There’s no guarantee you’re going to score a touchdown there, so I think, in that particular case, he did the right thing.”
Said Prescott: “You’re playing with fire doing that. Those guys get paid on defense too. If you’re running down and you’re trying to get to third down, you’re wasting the time. It’s a slippery slope. For us, it’s important to get in the end zone and put the pressure on them. I’m going to trust my defense.”
But Jones did allow that the discussion it’s impossible not to have is whether the Cowboys should’ve bet on their strength — their offense — instead of ultimately put the game back in the hands of the defense that couldn’t stop Rodgers and Co. most of the day.
Jones said he believed Rodgers could lead the Packers to a field goal to tie the score, but thought the defense would keep them from a winning touchdown.
“We are all going to second guess on what happened at the end of the game and keeping the ball away from them a little bit more,” Jones said. “Everything speaks for itself here. You give Rodgers a minute, and you’re more than likely going to get a score in a critical moment.
“…All we wanted to do was keep the ball away from [Rodgers] but we needed to score a touchdown. We’ll be second guessing those last two calls for a long time.”

The News’ Samantha Pell describes the last play:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was going to call another play.

Instead of the game-winning back-shoulder touchdown throw to receiver Davante Adams with 16 seconds left in the game, he was going to look another way.

If he did, the outcome of the game — a 35-31 Packers win over the Cowboys — could have been a lot different. But Adams, who had had the ball knocked away on the exact same call on the previous play, wasn’t going to let that happen.

“I came back and let him know,” said Adams, who scored two touchdowns Sunday afternoon after getting knocked out of the Packers’ game last week against Chicago. “I said, ‘Do it again. Let’s go back to it.’ He gave me a look. I said, ‘Let’s do it again.'”

And as Rodgers tossed a “perfect ball” into the outstretched arms of Adams in the end zone, the Cowboys faithful saw flashbacks to the team’s 34-31 playoff loss to Green Bay in January — when Packers kicker Mason Crosby nailed a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

“We’ve been through that before,” Adams said. “We’ve been through that before in this building. When you’ve got ’12’ (Rodgers) back there, it allowed you to be a little more calm.”

Trailing 31-28 with 1:13 to play, Rodgers needed a field goal to tie, not win the game as he did last season. But regardless, Rodgers said afterward he was thinking of a touchdown the entire time.

“We had time,” a nonchalant Rodgers said of driving his offense 75 yards down the field in just over a minute.

Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was defending Adams on the game-winning touchdown catch, praised Rodgers’ play.

“He’s a great quarterback, has great weapons around,” Lewis said. “We have to stop him. I didn’t.”

In Rodgers’ execution of the offense downfield in the waning minute, he also had a crucial third-down scramble — in classic Rodgers fashion.

Facing third and 8 on the Dallas 30-yard line with 29 seconds to go, Rodgers said he had a good play called for the situation, but bad leverage on the backside forced him to scramble.

He found daylight on the left side of the field, running for 18 yards before stepping out of bounds at the 12-yard line. The next play was the incomplete pass to Adams in the end zone. The one after? The game-winner.

“Once I was able to get loose, it was about getting the first down and getting out of bounds,” Rodgers said. “My eyes got kind of big there for a second, as I tried to get back inside, but going out of bounds was a smart play, and it gave us a chance to get a shot in the end zone.”

Of course, postgame social media was almost as entertaining as the game:

Shannon Sharpe tweeted:

Can someone check on @RealSkipBayless for me? Want to make sure he’s ok

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Signs things are better at Camp Randall

UW athletic director Barry Alvarez talks about last week:

I got word at about mid-week that Florida Atlantic was looking to see if we could move or cancel Saturday’s game because of understandable concerns with Hurricane Irma.

I told Chris McIntosh, our deputy athletic director, “Let’s get a hold of their AD (Patrick Chun) and let them know if they got stuck here, we’d do whatever was necessary to accommodate them.”

Some different contingencies were brought up and considered after games involving other Florida schools were canceled or postponed. But those options just weren’t going to work out.

Instead, we said, “Come up and play the game at 11 a.m. on Saturday and if you can’t get back, stay here. It may be the safest thing anyhow. We’ll take care of you.”

It wasn’t finalized until Thursday. We were still worried whether they’d get out of Florida on Friday. I understand they may have been one of the last flights to leave before the airport closed.

Because they took a bigger plane out of Florida than they would have normally for the travel party, the coaches were able to bring their wives and children with them to Madison.

We connected all of our people with all of their people: our strength coaches with their strength coaches, our equipment people with their equipment people, our video people with their video people.

Our coaches’ wives even hosted a tailgate for their coaches’ wives.

After Saturday’s game, their administrators were kind of playing it by ear — taking everything day by day — until they could determine when they could get back to Florida.

We had a lot of people step up to help them. Their players lifted in our weight room on Sunday and practiced in the stadium on Monday and Tuesday. So, they’ve tried to make the best out of the situation.

Here is the follow-up:

 

To the south, however, Brett McMurphy tweets about Alvarez’s successor as football coach:

Since Jen Bielema tweeted on this day in 2013 after Wisconsin’s wild loss at Arizona State; Wisconsin is 41-12, Arkansas is 23-27

Evan Flood expands on that:

When they face BYU (1-2) on Saturday, No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0) will travel out West for the first time since 2013 against Arizona State.

In that game, the Badgers fell 32-30 in a wild finish that was later ruled an officiating error, resulting in the referees being suspended by the Pac-12.

Following the loss, Jen Bielema, the wife of former Wisconsin and current Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, tweeted “#Karma.”

Arkansas hasn’t won more than eight games since Bielema’s arrival in 2013.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has won at least nine games every season since Bielema left, including three consecutive bowl victories and two 11-win campaigns.

And to think, as a friend of mine pointed out, that Bielema left Wisconsin because he thought he’d have a better chance at a national championship at Arkansas.

Meanwhile, FanSided reports about Bielema’s successor:

With his Oregon State team not looking good in its two losses so far, head coach Gary Andersen is not too happy.

Oregon State is 1-2 this season, and the win was a narrow victory (35-32) over Portland State. In two losses to FBS opponents, the Beavers have been outscored 106-41 by Colorado State (58-27) and Minnesota (48-14). Things won’t get any easier, with a road trip to take on No. 21 Washington State on Saturday followed by games against Washington and USC.

Andersen made a radio appearance with John Canzano of The Oregonian on Thursday, mostly to preview the Washington State game. He also acknowledged the frustration he hears from fans.

“There’s nobody more frustrated than I am…I’ll do my best to keep banging there and keep fighting. I’ll always have my kids’ backs.”In two-plus seasons at Oregon State, Anderson has a 7-20 record. Things improved a little last year, with a 4-8 record and a win over chief rival Oregon after a 2-10 debut season in 2015. But there’s still a rebuilding job to be done in Corvallis, and last year’s three conference wins will be tough to repeat.After an 11-2 campaign and a top-20 finish in both polls at Utah State in 2012, Andersen moved on to take the head coaching job at Wisconsin. The Badgers won 19 games in his two seasons there, and Big Ten West division title in 2014. But reported frustration with the academic standards at the school, and family considerations, led to Andersen leaving for Oregon State before the bowl game to end his second season.In leaving Wisconsin, with good (family) or flimsy (academic standards) reasoning, Andersen went from coaching a perennial Big Ten contender to coaching a low-tier Pac-12 team. Andersen also pointed to the difficulty of the situation he finds himself in.

“This team has had some tough times come its way, “I’m not going to be a guy who is going to yell and scream, whine and cry. … We come back on Monday and we learn on Monday from the good and the bad, win or lose.”

Andersen signed a contract extension through 2021 during the offseason, so he’s got some measure of job security. But another season with less than five wins is surely coming, and unless his buyout is excessive Andersen could still be relieved of his duties. Expectations can’t be incredibly high for the football program at Oregon State, but barely beating an FCS program is not a sign of progress so far this year.

Andersen did not come off as a proverbial “Wisconsin guy” when he was the coach there. But there’s something to be said for winning at least nine or 10 games every year, and based in part on high academic standards for his players Andersen bailed on a very good situation. What’s that they say about being careful what you wish for?

Andersen did not disgrace himself and nearly torpedo the entire UW Athletic Department, like Don Mor(t)on, the poster boy for bad coaching hires, did, but Wisconsin really dodged a bullet when Andersen decided to leave. One good thing that can be said is that Andersen brought along defensive coordinator Dave Armada, whose work made up for an unimpressive offense.

Wisconsin goes to Brigham Young for only their third meeting Saturday. (I saw the first, when a punky QB later to be known as McMahon carved up the Badger defense.) Chryst is 8–1 on the road in his Badger career, and BYU is not the same dominant football team it used to be.

There is a concern about the game, however, as reported by SBNation:

One of the best parts of the early college football season is the high number of cross-country, out-of-conference games, pitting wildly different fan bases together. Just this week, UCLA fans get to visit Memphis, Ole Miss and Cal fans will hang out in Berkeley, and Kansas State fans get introduced to Nashville.

One of the funniest mixes? Wisconsin is headed to Provo, Utah, to take on BYU.

Sure, this game is compelling for football reasons. BYU, despite its anemic offense, has an excellent defense and will be Wisconsin’s toughest test before Big Ten play. LaVell Edwards Stadium is gorgeous, both programs have a ton of history, and anybody watching will see cool uniforms and lots of hard hitting.

But there’s something else we should be watching here.

Wisconsin fans like to drink. BYU is a Mormon school.

Look, I’m not saying this as a pejorative or anything. But bars outnumber grocery stores in Wisconsin almost three to one for a reason.

Flowing Data

Provo, home of Brigham Young University, does not enjoy adult beverages quite as much. Over 90 percent of Provo’s population is made up of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), and Mormons don’t drink.

If most of your city doesn’t drink alcohol, you’re probably not going to build too many bars, right?

So I looked into where Wisconsin fans might drink, and it appears Provo has two bars.

Before I get Well Actually’d about this, this doesn’t include places like Chili’s, where you can get a beer, or liquor stores, grocery stores, private clubs, or bars at hotels. And there are bars in nearby cities, like American Fork or Orem. I’m just talking about bars with Provo addresses. And that leaves us with City Limits and ABG’s Libation Emporium.

They’re not worried about running out of alcohol, but that seems like a challenge to me.

I called up ABG to see if it was making special preparations ahead of the Wisconsin game, and I was told that the bar hadn’t even thought about it yet.

“Look, if it’s on TV, it’s on TV, but we’re not going to put on a specific game, because then the college kids come in here and drink waters and don’t buy anything,” I was told.

But ABG’s representative isn’t worried about actually running out of alcohol.

“We have 53 flavors of beer and probably the largest liquor selection in the [Utah] Valley,” the rep said.

Multiple attempts to reach the other bar, City Limits, were not successful. Maybe it was just too busy serving Wisconsin fans?

I don’t know how many Wisconsin fans will make the 2,000-mile trip to Provo. I imagine many will bring their own supplies or pick some up along the way.

But the idea of a fan base actually drinking the whole town’s bars dry is funny.

If Washington State fans were able to drink all the booze in a bar at Auburn (and again on a flight to UNLV), then Wisconsin fans ought to be able to clean out Provo’s bars.

I don’t want to encourage any risky or unsafe behavior. But there are only two bars here, Wisconsin fans. This is within your power. Especially if BYU pulls the upset.

I’ve been to Provo. I’ve also been to Salt Lake City on New Year’s Eve, the only time I ever went anywhere on New Year’s Eve where I had no concern anyone was going to spill beer on me. The best way to describe the people of Utah is the phrase “pathologically polite.”

I played at Wisconsin’s first game in Las Vegas (which will never be confused for any community in Utah) in 1986. Legend had it that Badger fans drank the entire supply of brandy in Vegas. So the bar owners might be whistling in the dark.

U rah rah Wisconsin

The Daily Caller reports:

The Wisconsin Badgers have been revealed as the most admirable team in college football.

The Wall Street Journal released an updated ranking of college football programs, and the kings of Madison took the top spot for most admirable. The WSJ uses several factors for the “Football Grid of Shame,” including team performance on the field and the actions of players off the field.

Or as the Journal puts it:

Winning goes a long way in college football. It packs stadiums, brings in money and can even lead to the glory of a national championship. But at many rpograms, there’s a qualifier: How much did fans have to grit their teeth and pinch their noses on their way to those victories?

This is the awkward harmony of college football. There’s what happens on the field, which grips fans like nothing else on Saturdays. Then there’s what goes on off the field, which may be the only thing capable of overshadowing the football itself.

Now the season is set to kick into full gear this weekend. Which means it’s time for The Wall Street Journal’s annual Grid of Shame, an exercise that quantifies answers to the two most important questions about your favorite team: How good are they? And how embarrassed should you be about them?

Observe in the upper right corner of the grid:

 

The only schools close to Wisconsin are Northwestern, Washington, Clemson and Kansas State.

Alabama and Ohio State are named as the two biggest power houses on the grid, but the Buckeyes are substantially higher on the ranking of most admirable. Baylor and Ole Miss were ranked as the worst programs for off-the-field issues.

I’m not going to lie, this is the least surprising thing I’ve ever seen in college football. Of course the Badgers are the most admirable. That’s what being a Wisconsin Badger is all about. We take care of business on the field, and we’re champions off the gridiron.

We accept nothing less than a culture of perfection. Do we win as much as Ohio State or Alabama? No, but we are still an elite program, and we do it the right way. We do it the Wisconsin way.

Glad the Wall Street Journal is showing my people the recognition we deserve, but of course, a true Wisconsin man doesn’t revel in attention. We just keep outworking our opponents on and off the field.

The story is behind a paywall, but if you’re wondering how schools got where they are:

Teams’ on-field rating is an average of the 2017 projected finish by two media outlets and two predictive models. Teams’ off-the-field rating is a somewhat subjective rating of elements including Academic Progress Rate, recent history of NCAA violations and probations, athletic department subsidies, player arrests, attendance at last season’s games, concussion lawsuits, and overall “ick” factor.

What’s not to like about this? The Badgers play in a bowl game every year, and have played in more Big Ten championship games than any other Big Ten team. An alumnus coaches the team. The players graduate and generally behave themselves by the standards of college students. J.J. Watt, now of the Houston Texans, sought to raise $200,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief, and raised $27 million.

Note, meanwhile, who is in the opposite corner — Minnesota and Michigan State.

Two losses

There were two more reminders of the passage of time this past week.

One was reported by Rolling Stone:

Glen Campbell, the indelible voice behind 21 Top 40 hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” died Tuesday. He was 81. A rep for Universal Music Group, Campbell’s record label, confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone. During a career that spanned six decades, Campbell sold over 45 million records. In 1968, one of his biggest years, he outsold the Beatles. …

Campbell was a rare breed in the music business, with various careers as a top-level studio guitarist, chart-topping singer and hit television host. His late-career battle with Alzheimer’s—he allowed a documentary crew to film on his final tour for the 2014 award-winning I’ll Be Me—made him a public face for the disease, a role President Bill Clinton suggested would one day be remembered even more than his music.

“He had that beautiful tenor with a crystal-clear guitar sound, playing lines that were so inventive,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone during a 2011 profile of Campbell. “It moved me.”

Campbell was a hugely popular singer, which may have obscured his guitar talent.

The other is reported by Channel3000.com:

Phyllis Leckrone, 81, the wife of UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone, and the woman known to band members as “band mom” has died.

UW Marching Band spokesperson Jay Rath said, “She was a mother to generations of band students and her impact will live on in those countless lives.”

“She loved the whole Badger Band Family. She was known to many alumni members as the band mom,” a post on the UW Band Alumni Association Facebook page said.

A native of North Manchester, Ind., Phyllis and Mike met in junior high school and became childhood sweethearts. They were married 62 years. Phyllis taught with the Middleton-Cross Plains school district for more than 25 years, according to a news release.

Leckrone died early Tuesday morning surrounded by family after a long illness, Rath said. She is survived by her husband, five children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. …

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorials be made to Phyliss’s favorite charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, www.stjude.org/donate.

The first thing to know about the Leckrones is that they were married for 61 years.

I saw Phyllis a couple of times every year — on the two epic road trips we took, to the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and Las Vegas, and at the annual UW Marching Band banquet in the Memorial Union. (Three words: “Fudge Bottom Pie.”) Compared to performance Mike, she was quiet. For that matter, non-performance Mike is quiet compared to performance Mike. I went to their house a couple of times as a rank leader; the Leckrones invited band leaders to their house before rehearsals began.

I also have become Facebook Friends with some of their kids. The only consolation I can offer is that it is the natural order of life that parents die before their children; no one who is a parent wants the reverse to happen. (There are, sadly, several people I marched with who have since passed away.)

Mike Leckrone became the UW Band director in 1969. So Phyllis had to share Mike with 200 to 250 college students every year for nearly 50 years. We remember Phyllis fondly.

Fight, fellows! Fight! Fight! Fight! We’ll win this game!

What a fine and unusual time we Badger fans find ourselves in these days.

I wrote last week that the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament selection committee screwed the Badgers by lining up a potential second-round meeting with the tournament’s overall number one seed, Villanova, which was an obvious attempt to get rid of the Badgers as soon as possible. Instead …

… the Badgers have suddenly, and crazily, become a Final Four favorite after ending Villanova’s chance to repeat as NCAA champions. Wisconsin plays Florida at [UW–] Madison Square Garden in New York today at 9 p.m., with the winner playing seventh-seed South Carolina or third-seed Baylor Sunday for, in the Badgers’ case, their third Final Four trip in four seasons.

Did you ever think you would read a paragraph like this, from the Los Angeles Times?

No team left in the NCAA tournament is as used to being in the Sweet 16 as Wisconsin. The Badgers are in their fourth straight regional semifinal, a feat no other team can claim. They have also reached the round of 16 in six of the last seven years.

SEC Country reports the prediction of ESPN’s Dick Vitale:

The ESPN commentator, who is helping fans make prediction’s using the Allstate Bracket Predictor a predictive tool that analyzes a number of statistics and probability metrics, added that while many were picking the Badgers to advance, he likes Florida to move on the Elite Eight. Vitale did hedge a bit in that the Gators could be in for trouble against a very good Wisconsin front court.

“The thing that scares me with them is that this might be the time they really miss John Egbunu. He was a tough kid and a physical rebounder and gave them unbelievable defense,” Vitale said. “But in this game he could be a major loss because the one problem you deal with against Wisconsin is they get great spacing but their two bigs in Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. They cause major problems for Villanova and could do the same for Florida. And that could be the case for Florida.”

Egbunu tore an ACL against Auburn back on Feb. 14 and will not play again this season. The Gators struggled against teams with strong front courts, notably Kentucky and Vanderbilt. The Gators seek their first Elite Eight appearance since 2014, when the Gators advanced to the Final Four.

At this point you might see similarities between this team and the 2000 Badgers, which had a most unexpected Final Four trip after knocking off number-one-seed Arizona in the second round. For those who don’t remember, though, that 2000 team was predicted by absolutely, positively no one to get to the Final Four. As stated previously, if the Badgers win tonight and Sunday they would make their third Final Four trip in four seasons, their number eight seed notwithstanding.

The thing that makes one pessimistic is that the Badgers have to play at the top of their game in order to win; they don’t have enough talent to win despite playing poorly in some aspect of the game. (Except, apparently, free throw shooting, given that the Badgers shot worse than Villanova Saturday, but the Wildcats’ missed free throws, particularly the last one, hurt them worse than the Badgers’ misses hurt them.)

So is defense and experience at this level enough?

 

Coming this fall: An all-heart halftime show

Big news from Madison reported by Samara Kalk Derby:

Observant Badgers fans may be wondering why legendary band conductor Mike Leckrone has been missing from the NCAA basketball tournament games.

It’s because the 80-year-old conductor, known for his agility and stamina, recently underwent double-bypass surgery.

According to Jay Rath, marketing manager for UW band concerts, the heart surgery took place Jan. 24, and Leckrone didn’t return to band rehearsals until last week, when he met with the 300-member Varsity Band for two hours before Spring Break.

Leckrone, the marching band’s conductor for 48 years, received permission from his doctor to return that morning. There was loud applause and some tears from the Varsity Band, as the marching band is known during the spring semester.

For weeks, band staff explained only that Leckrone’s absence was due only to a “procedure,” Rath said.

Leckrone said he was anxious to get back. Besides tournaments, the band’s biggest event of the year, the Varsity Band Concerts, are coming up April 20, 21 and 22 at the Kohl Center. About 21,000 people attend the concerts each year, according to UW.

The theme is “Nobody Does It Better,” a song from the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me.” It was chosen before Leckrone went in for surgery.

The theme was meant as a compliment to the band, but lately, band members have suggested that it apply to their leader instead. Others have informally renamed the concert, “This One’s for Mike.”

(Side note: I played “Nobody Does It Better” as part of a James Bond halftime show for Homecoming. That was in 1983. Yes, I am from the first half of Leckrone’s UW career.)

Besides conducting, emceeing and cracking jokes, Leckrone is known for his stunts, like his tradition of flying through the air with wires and doing somersaults above the audience.

The flying has been firmly ruled out now, Rath said, but Leckrone is looking for other activities.

“The honest truth is that I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to be able to do,” he said in a press release. “We’re kind of planning contingencies, with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.”

Leckrone will not travel with the band to Friday night’s tournament game, but he’ll be there next week if the Badgers advance.

 

My NCAA pick is … no one

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament starts today, if you don’t count the “first four” games earlier this week.

I have for a few years posted on this blog one or more (per tournament) brackets, because I am fine with public self-deprecation. I am not doing that this year, though my opinion about self-deprecation hasn’t changed.

Given the traveshamockery of the NCAA’s seeing Wisconsin — the team that finished second in the Big T1e4n, one of the Power Five conferences, and second in the Big T1e4n tournament — 32nd, lining up a second-round loss to Villanova Saturday, I refuse to support the tournament. I will not watch any game that doesn’t include Wisconsin, including the Final Four. (I have to work late Monday nights anyway. The last national championship game I saw was 2015, and I didn’t watch the 2013 or 2014 title games.)

One assumes the Badgers’ poor seeding is the result of their poor play in February. What that means, of course, is that no other month of the season apparently matters. Your conference record? Irrelevant. Whom you beat? Who cares? The entire season? So what?

I am aware that UW is probably not as good as sixth through 10th best in Division I, which is what you’d expect a Power Five runner-up to be. That translates to a second or third seed, which is better than the various power ratings. But if you believe those, which generally had UW in the early 20s, then UW should have gotten a sixth seed. There is a huge difference between a sixth seed (which gets you an 11th-seed first-round game, then a game between the 14th or third seeds, then most likely the second seed) and an eighth seed, particularly when the selection committee deliberately put UW into the same regional as Villanova, the overall number one seed. There is only one reason to do that, and that’s to get rid of that team as soon as possible because the NCAA doesn’t like UW’s style of play or Greg Gard’s suits or whatever stupid rationale the selection committee wants to use.

So I don’t care who wins the tournament. Except for UW games (and that’s a big if too), I won’t be watching it.

 

A Wisconsin voice from the past

If you are old enough to remember the Glory Years Packers, the answer to the question of who was the Packers’ announcer those years might be Ray Scott, from CBS-TV.

Unless you missed their home games on TV because you lived near Green Bay or Milwaukee in the old NFL blackout days, in which case the answer might be radio announcer Ted Moore:

And if you’re not old enough to remember Moore, surely you remember Jim Irwin:

Before Moore, who started announcing Packers games in 1960, there was Mike Walden, who announced Badger, Packer and, on TV, Milwaukee Braves games. One of Walden’s games was the 1963 Rose Bowl, which he announced on the NBC radio broadcast with USC announcer Tom Kelly:

Apparently Walden liked southern California, because he then left Wisconsin and moved to California, replacing Kelly on radio while Kelly moved to TV.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

USC’s broadcaster Mike Walden was in enemy territory when the Trojans’ basketball team finally handed UCLA its first loss at Pauley Pavilion in 1969. When it was over, Walden climbed atop the announcer’s table and yelled, “The Trojans win! The Trojans win! The Trojans win!” much like the legendary Harry Caray.

So Walden lost a few friends several years later when he took a job across town and became the only person to serve as the broadcast voice for both USC and UCLA.

“But Mike Walden was a journalist first, and did not want to be known as a homer,” his son, Gregory Walden, reminisced in an email.

Walden, a Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame member best known for his coverage of the Trojans and Bruins, and for his loud sport coats, died Sunday at his home in Tarzana from complications related to a stroke, his son said Thursday. He was 89.

The interesting thing about the aforementioned Walden, Kelly (who died in June), Enberg, Miller and longtime Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is that they all grew up in the Midwest. Kelly’s first radio job was in Janesville, and though he started broadcasting for USC in 1962, he returned to Illinois for years to broadcast the Illinois state boys basketball tournament. Miller was one of the two UW hockey radio announcers (two stations broadcasted games until Clear Channel purchased both stations). Enberg is from Michigan, graduated from Central Michigan University, and earned a Ph.D. at Indiana while announcing its games before he too headed west. (Hmmm … do I know anyone who grew up in Wisconsin and then headed to California …) Hearn, who grew up in Illinois, preceded Kelly (for one season) at USC, and once worked with Kelly on the Illinois state tournament.

 

Badger Jeff

The UW Athletic Department reported sad news yesterday:

The Wisconsin Department of Athletics is saddened to learn that Jeff Sauer, UW’s men’s hockey coach from 1982 to 2002, has passed away at the age of 73.

Sauer led the Badgers to 489 victories, the most victories for a UW coach in any sport. He guided Wisconsin to the 1983 and 1990 NCAA titles. In addition, the Badgers won WCHA regular-season titles in 1990 and 2000 and WCHA playoff crowns in 1983, 1988, 1990, 1995 and 1998.

Sauer was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame on Sept. 16, 2016.

“Our entire athletic department family is saddened to hear of the passing of Coach Sauer,” Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said. “Jeff was a hockey man through and through. He had a passion for the sport and for coaching, and his imprint on the game will be felt forever through the lives he touched. Our hockey programs at Wisconsin benefitted greatly from Jeff’s influence. I want to extend the condolences of Wisconsin Athletics to Jeff’s family, friends, colleagues and former players.”

“Coach Sauer’s record speaks for itself, but he’s just done so much besides coaching hockey,” UW men’s hockey coach Tony Granato said. “That is the part I will miss most about him. He was about caring for people and sharing. I watched him volunteer endlessly for both the U.S. Sled Hockey and Hearing Impaired teams and watched him do anything that was asked of him for any special situation that was needed.

“He was just a great person and anyone that has had the pleasure of knowing him, playing for him or that was touched by what he gave us was just so lucky to have him as a coach and friend.”
“It’s a tough day, certainly for the people that were close to Jeff and knew him,” UW women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson said. “He was a great man and a tremendous ambassador for the game of hockey.
“I’ve known him since I was seven or eight and he has had an impact on my career, whether as a young player, a college player or coach. He was the one in 1980 that convinced my dad, after their Friday night game between Wisconsin and Colorado College, that my dad should fly out to Lake Placid that Saturday to watch our gold medal game. Obviously Jeff and my dad were extremely close, my dad coached him when he was at Colorado College and he was an assistant coach for my dad. They both loved baseball and both got involved in hockey and had a passion for the game.
“He’s going to be missed for a lot of reasons. He was great for the sport, he ran a great program at Colorado College for 11 years and he took over for my dad here in the early 1980s and did an outstanding job for 20 years, winning a couple of national championships. I coached with him here for six years and I played under him with different national teams.
“Jeff was also instrumental in the foundation of our women’s hockey program as he was a great friend to the program, especially in the early years. He has impacted my life in a lot of different ways and I want make sure people are praying and their thoughts are with Jamie and the rest of his family. I’m sure they are stunned by his passing and it is a sad day for the hockey community, especially for the people that were close to him.”

Andrew Baggot chronicles Sauer’s accomplishments:

One: Sauer succeeded an icon and found a way to create his own championship legacy.

Bob Johnson was that legend. He built the Badgers into a perennial powerhouse, winning three NCAA titles from 1973 to ’81 before Sauer took over in 1982 and produced two national championship-winners of his own.

Two: Sauer left the college game as a coach in 2003, but instead of easing into retirement, he took his generosity and love of hockey to the disabled and excelled on an international stage.

In addition to coaching Team USA in the Deaflympics, he led the American sled hockey team to two Paralympic gold medals.

Three: Sauer nurtured a coaching tree that has some prominent local branches.

One of Sauer’s former assistant coaches, Mark Johnson, oversees the four-time NCAA champion women’s hockey team at Wisconsin. On the other UW bench is first-year head coach Tony Granato and associate head coaches Don Granato and Mark Osiecki, all of whom played for Sauer and the Badgers.

When the new staff was unveiled last March, Sauer was included in the welcoming video and beamed throughout.

“You could see how proud he was,” Tony Granato said.

The roles were reversed last September when Sauer was inducted in the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame as a host of former players looked on.

“The day resonates with me just because I was able to get there,” said Rob Andringa, whose grew up in Madison and played four years for Sauer.

“It was such a great feeling to see him,” Osiecki said.

Osiecki and Tony Granato had lunch with Sauer in late autumn and the three men spoke enthusiastically about the future. Granato made sure Sauer knew he was welcome to visit the Kohl Center offices or practice any time.

Many colleagues and confidants were stunned by the news of Sauer’s death and its cause, pancreatic cancer. He attended a UW game against Michigan State in early January, but was hospitalized not long after that. …

Sauer was born in Fort Atkinson, graduated from Colorado College in 1965 and spent 31 seasons coaching college hockey at his alma mater and Wisconsin.

He amassed 655 career wins, which ranks among the top 10 all-time, and a program-best 489 victories with the Badgers from 1982 to 2003.

Osiecki said his enduring lesson from Sauer was about psychology.

“Allowing personalities to come out,” he said. “That’s one of the things he did well.

“We always talked about him being a conductor of the orchestra. Knowing what you had in the locker room and never really constricting it so much and let the personalities come out. His teams played to that.”

Osiecki spoke from Minneapolis, where he got the news while having breakfast with his father, Tom. It turns out that Sauer and Tom Osiecki played on the same Twin Cities-based bantam team growing up.

With Sauer behind the bench, Wisconsin won an NCAA title in 1983, but many refused to give him due credit because the roster was comprised of Johnson’s players.

The critics were silent in 1990 when the Badgers swept the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season and playoff crowns on the way to claiming the national championship.

Andringa, Osiecki and Don Granato played on that team. Andringa and Osiecki were defensive partners when UW hammered Colgate 7-3 in the NCAA title game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Andringa and Granato were co-captains the following season.

Andringa recounted how emotional Sauer became in the winning dressing room.

“We did this together,” Sauer told them. “You guys deserve this. You are like sons to me.”

Andringa said Sauer was one of those coaches who appeared on the fringe of team pictures, not out front.

“He love being a part of what is special about being on a team and in the locker room,” Andringa said. “That closeness.”

Andringa said one of Sauer’s greatest strengths was “the way he allowed us to be the 20-year-old kid who could make a mistake. He could laugh and joke about a prank.

“He was so good at being in the moment.”

Following an icon like “Badger” Bob Johnson isn’t easy.

“You look at history and I don’t care what sport you pick, there’s not too many people who can succeed after a legend,” Andringa said of Sauer. “He was able to do that.”

Mark Johnson, Bob’s son, was an assistant under Sauer from 1996 to 2002.

“He was a great man and a tremendous ambassador for the game of hockey,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be missed for a lot of reasons.”

Paul Braun was the long-time radio and TV voice of the program. Not long after getting the dreadful news about Sauer he was sifting through hundreds of cassette tapes from UW games long ago, many featuring his good friend and fellow golf aficionado.

“He was one of the classiest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Braun said of Sauer. “A guy who had impeccable integrity.

“What I liked about him was that he was just Jeff. He was the same all the time.”

At one time, Joel Maturi, a former high school basketball coach, was the UW Athletic Department administrator in charge of overseeing men’s hockey. He remembers Sauer ribbing him good-naturedly about his suspect background, but being a patient teacher.

Maturi went on to serve as athletic director at Miami (Ohio), Denver and Minnesota, all hockey-centric schools.

“I owe my career to Jeff Sauer,” Maturi said. “Every place I went from there was because of hockey and because of what I learned from Jeff.”

After his college coaching career ended, Sauer lent his wisdom to WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, USA Hockey – with former UW player Jim Johannson in a supervisory role – and wound up serving as a mentor to a host of coaches, players and officials at all levels.

Tony Granato said that selfless love of the game is Sauer’s enduring legacy.

“That’s an incredible man,” he said. “After all he had done for so many kids in our program, players and people that he touched, to say, ‘You know what? I have more to give.’

“That’s what makes Jeff Sauer remarkable. It’s the stuff he did for people, period.

“You’re so thankful you had him in your life, but you also wish he could be around here every day to watch and still be a part of it.”

There are certain people (and they know who they are) who never gave Sauer much credit because he didn’t match Johnson’s accomplishments at UW. Well, who could? That’s like saying that Johnson wasn’t as good a coach as Herb Brooks because Johnson only won three NCAA titles and didn’t win Olympic gold.

I had a couple of encounters with Sauer when I was a UW student. I interviewed him once about the crazy possibility of an on-campus arena, which a dozen years (and a $25 million contribution) later became the Kohl Center. Then I interviewed him as a sports intern for a Madison TV station. He was helpful and friendly in both cases.

Being in the UW Band gave me a view of his work during games. He wasn’t a screamer, at least during games. He seemed to be the same whether the Badgers were up or down, which is less entertaining to watch than the screamers, but probably more effective. He also would occasionally crack a smile at some of the Band’s wittier observations about the game.

Unfortunately I was a victim of bad timing in that Sauer won his first national championship the year before I became a UW student, and won his second two years after I graduated. (However, I made the trip to Detroit to see the Badgers brush off Colgate.)

The 1990 Badgers accomplished what only one other UW team did — sweep the WCHA regular-season and tournament championship and the NCAA title.

I also saw him last May, when he spoke to a group of 12-season high school athletes, who played sports in every season in their high school years. He spoke to the students about lessons you learn from sports and what you get from sports (which is less about the accomplishments and more about how you get there). I told him I was a student when Sauer had the only successful major sports program (i.e. program that brought in revenue) at UW.

He was a great ambassador for hockey and for UW.