Category: Badgers

Postgame schadenfreude, Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts edition

Minnesota kind of ruined Wisconsin’s football season and the final home game of UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone by beating the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium one year ago.

Well, you know what payback is.
We begin with Megan Ryan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Rashod Bateman’s eyes shimmered. Tanner Morgan’s voice hitched.

But Winston DeLattiboudere looked like he always does: upbeat.

The Gophers had just left the TCF Bank Stadium field Saturday drenched with sweat and melted snow, disheartened from a 38-17 defeat to border rival Wisconsin. This loss didn’t just lose them Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the bragging rights that go with it. It lost the Gophers a chance at their first Big Ten Championship Game and likely their first Rose Bowl since 1962.

Bateman and Morgan, as sophomores, have two more opportunities to reach that goal and more. DeLattiboudere is done, just a bowl game left a long month from now before the final grain of sand in the timer of his college career falls.

Yet the underclassmen were visibly dejected, guilt heavy on their shoulders. They felt personally responsible for letting a close game — they trailed by three points at halftime — escalate into a blowout loss.

“My job was to go out there and play every snap as hard as I can for them because I just wanted to see them go out with a bang,” Bateman said of the seniors. “But we failed at that.”

DeLattiboudere, though, was doing exactly what players in this senior class have done their entire careers and especially this extraordinary season: leading.

“I’m overcome with emotion,” DeLattiboudere admitted, saying seeing his mom about to cry after the game nearly got to him. “But I feel like the young guys — everybody else in this senior class knows just as well as I know — that they look to us, that they’re going to mimic our behavior, our actions. And right now, it’s OK to be upset. We’re human beings. But we’ve got to keep our head held high because we’ve got one more game to play.”

They could have had at least two. All the No. 8 Gophers (10-2) had to do was beat No. 12 Wisconsin in front of a sold-out home crowd of 53,756 to keep their goals of a conference title, Rose Bowl or even College Football Playoff appearance still intact.

For about three minutes, the Gophers held those in their grasp. The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense scored a 51-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to Bateman on the second play to take the early lead.

But that was the last time the Gophers commanded the game. Even when DeLattiboudere forced a fumble that Carter Coughlin recovered, Morgan threw an interception into double coverage on the resulting possession. Wisconsin used that takeback to score its first points, a 26-yard field goal.

From there, it was pretty much an onslaught. While the Gophers statistically achieved their goal of limiting Wisconsin’s potent rush and Heisman Trophy running back Jonathan Taylor, it wasn’t enough. The Badgers spread their 173 rushing yards between players, and Taylor still scored twice. Quarterback Jack Coan also exceeded expectations, completing 15 of 22 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns while producing several explosive plays, including his longest 70-yard pass.

The Gophers, meanwhile, couldn’t find their balance. They allowed a big kickoff return to the 39-yard line that set up a score that put the Badgers up two touchdowns in the third quarter. The Gophers then trekked through an arduous drive, only to turn the ball over on downs just outside the end zone. Wisconsin turned that into a touchdown, too.

Morgan endured five sacks, one where he coughed up the ball at the 18, gifting the Badgers another fourth-quarter score. A third-quarter field goal and consolation 12-yard touchdown catch late in the game were the only other Gophers points.

Morgan finished 20-for-37 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He set the record for single-season passing yards at 2,975, Bateman took the single-season receiving yards record at 1,170, and Tyler Johnson tied the Gophers’ record with 31 receiving touchdowns.

But those records didn’t make Wisconsin chopping down the goalposts any easier to witness. Nor did it soothe the ache of disappointment at not playing in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title next weekend.

That was the game story. The dump-on-them-while-you’re-down comes from sports columnists — for instance, the Strib’s Chip Scoggins:

They were two steps behind in the biggest game of their lives. In physical talent and in coaching decisions. That’s how it felt watching the Gophers slosh through a moment rich in hope.

They looked skittish on the big stage. Overmatched. Every move and matchup countered by a checkmate.

This was a loud thud, considering the stakes. A chance to win the Big Ten West and turn remaining skeptics into believers. A sure ticket to the Rose Bowl, at a minimum. Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Poof. Gone. In the worst possible way.

The Wisconsin Badgers left no doubt which side boasts the superior team in the 129th meeting of border rivals, putting a 38-17 thrashing on the Gophers in a snow globe at TCF Bank Stadium.

“We did not play well enough to win the Big Ten West today,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not a good enough team to win the Big Ten West this year. We weren’t good enough to win the Big Ten West today.”

Problem is, football isn’t a best-of-five series. There aren’t do-overs in a one-game judgment. The team that plays the best gets the trophy and reward.

The Badgers claimed the West title and will play Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis next Saturday. The Gophers must wait to learn their bowl destination, knowing they had history at their fingertips and failed to grab it.

It’s wrong to call any 10-2 season a failure, especially at Minnesota, which is new to this neighborhood of relevance. The Gophers will still play in a desirable bowl game in a warm-weather locale. In time, people will reflect on this season with positive memories and potentially as a turning point for the program.

But this is about today, the present. Their season had a chance to be special, which is why this clunker should bring supreme disappointment.

The Gophers held a two-game lead in the division with three games remaining and failed to close the deal. They were sloppy in a loss at Iowa. And they were smashed by the Badgers. Two quality opponents, two poor performances.

One win would have guaranteed their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1962. The buzz locally reflected that hope. More people invested emotionally in the program. This is a kick to their shins, though Fleck tried hard to soften the blow.

“Let’s not start thinking, ‘Well, that’s typical [Gophers],’” he said. “That has to be out of our system. There are going to cynics, there’s going to be doubters and critics. But the true fans, what we want them to do is get that completely out of their mind because we are not going back to that.”

Big picture, sure, the program is on the right path. The season established different historical achievements. But that doesn’t mean people can’t or shouldn’t feel frustrated, or question why they performed so poorly with everything at stake, or fume over coaching decisions.

Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, the Gophers had a chance to make a statement, but Fleck went ultra-conservative. On third-and-2 from the Badgers’ 35, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca called a Wildcat run for Seth Green, who was stuffed for no gain.

On fourth down, Fleck opted to punt. From the 35. With two of the best receivers in college football and an accurate quarterback on his side.

Fleck defended his decision, saying he wanted to manage field position and believed two yards was too risky. His lack of aggressiveness felt deflating.

The Badgers, meanwhile, went for it. They played with their foot on the gas the entire game. They exploited matchups and mistakes and dominated both lines of scrimmage.

The Badgers dug into their bag of tricks and repeatedly pulled out gold. Trickery on a kickoff return netted 56 yards. They scored a touchdown on an end-around. A screen pass on third-and-long went for 70 yards.

– after a timeout, no less — and settled for a field goal.

It was a baffling performance in many regards, but the overarching difference was unmistakable: The Badgers were physically better, and they were ready for the moment. They deserved the mad dash to reclaim the Axe.

The Gophers left the field quietly, the scene and mood in stark contrast to the raucous celebration after their upset of Penn State three weeks ago. Anything felt possible that day. A division title. A trip to Pasadena. Heck, maybe even a spot in the College Football Playoff.

What a buzzkill.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Bob Sansevere adds to the buzzkill:

The Gophers finished the regular season with a 10-2 record. It’s not as impressive as it looks.

Just one of their 10 wins had you go, “Wow!” The victory over Penn State, and that’s it.

The Gophers lost to Iowa a couple of weeks back and were routed 38-17 Saturday by Wisconsin, crushing dreams, hopes, aspirations, etc., of this being a spectacular season.

“It comes down to making plays, and we just didn’t make them,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.

On a day when there was sleet and snow and a flurry of big plays by Wisconsin, the Gophers lost because the Badgers were better and because they still haven’t figured out how to handle success.

Handling success is a huge step in the maturation of a team. The Gophers experienced success in beating then-No. 4 Penn State on Nov. 9. That win wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t program-altering, either. After a 9-0 start — where they stood after Penn State — the Gophers lost two of their last three games.

Over their dozen games, the Gophers roused a fan base and injected excitement into a program that has been mostly average for the past half-century. Fleck and his players deserve a hearty clap on the back for that, but, really, what did they do on the field that was extraordinary?

There were fun wins and memorable performances from the likes of Tanner Morgan, Rodney Smith, Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman, Antoine Winfield Jr. and others. There were some stirring moments Saturday, too — such as a 51-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to Bateman on the U’s second play from scrimmage.

After that, they were outscored 38-10. Even as the score became more lopsided, they didn’t fold like a cheap bingo chair. They kept trying, kept battling. What they didn’t do was rally.

The Gophers were good this season, just not good enough. They offered snapshots of what could be throughout the season, lifting their profile by spending the past several weeks nationally ranked.

It’s nice, being ranked among the best teams in the country, but if the Gophers are measured the way established, successful programs are measured, they fall short.

There will be no trip to Indianapolis to play Ohio State for the Big Ten Conference championship, no Rose Bowl as a consolation, no more talk of possible greatness.

The Gophers beat nine of the teams they should have beaten and added a signature win against Penn State. Then lost to their two biggest rivals.

You can bet many Gopher fans will applaud the season, but that’s more because of how rare such seasons have been. If you’re under the age of 60, the Gophers have reeked for most of your lifetime. They haven’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1962.

This was the year to do it, to accomplish more than a 10-win season. There was no Ohio State, no Michigan on the schedule. Next season, Michigan and Michigan State will be there, along with Iowa and Wisconsin.

“We have the capability to be whatever we want to be,” Fleck said. “We just accomplished nevers, firsts, restorations. We have older (fans) thinking we can go back to the Rose Bowl. We’ve restored belief in what we can be and what we will be.”

He mentioned several times the Gophers were co-champions with Wisconsin in the Big Ten’s West Division because they have the same record, but that’s not quite the case. He also talked up the 10-win season and every other positive he could muster. It was Fleck being Fleck.

“This is not just the end-all, be-all (game),” he said.

Fleck is a good coach, there’s no denying that. While he and his staff failed to make the right decisions and adjustments in the losses to Iowa and Wisconsin, he will recruit better players than the Gophers have had in years, continue to spout his “row the boat” mantra and likely keep the Gophers above .500 throughout his tenure.

He might even get them to a Big Ten championship game someday. It’s just too bad it wasn’t this year — The Year That Could Have Been.

The Associated Press looks at the revenge theme:

When Minnesota beat Wisconsin last year to stop a 14-game losing streak in the series, the Gophers had much to celebrate.

The Badgers, as it turned out, didn’t appreciate the lengths of the revelry that took place across the border over the past year.

After Wisconsin took back Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday with a victory as decisive as Minnesota’s was last season, the Badgers didn’t hold back in expressing their disdain for the way the 71-year-old traveling trophy was handled by their oldest rival.

”We just felt like they disrespected the axe by renting it out to people,” linebacker Chris Orr said, lamenting the ”everybody can touch it” opportunities that Minnesota staged over the last year at various venues, from the stadium to the state fair. ”It means more than that. People played this game for a very long time. It means more than that. It’s not a commodity or something that you can just rent out for money or whatever the case is, trying to make profit off it. I feel like that was disrespectful. They didn’t honor the players that came before.”

The Badgers avenged their 37-15 loss at home in 2018 with a 38-17 victory, overwhelming the Gophers in the second half with a fierce pass rush and strong pass coverage on defense and sharp play-calling and back-breaking long gains on offense.

When the game went final, a swarm of white-uniformed Badgers converged on the west goal post to perform the ceremonial chopping. With 22 wins in the last 25 years of the most-played series in major college football history, the Badgers have a 61-60-8 edge on the Gophers. Paul Bunyan’s Axe didn’t enter the picture until 1948.

”The worst feeling in the world was losing on our own field and having them take it,” Orr said. ”The best feeling in the world is beating them on their home field on senior day and taking it from them.”

The Gophers not only ended the long losing streak last year, but they became bowl eligible on the final try to end coach P.J. Fleck’s second season with a flourish, beating the Badgers at their own game with a powerful performance on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage. With a team that hasn’t finished in first place in the Big Ten since 1967, in front of lagging attendance, the university naturally seized the opportunity to renew some statewide pride in the program.

Fleck was asked earlier this week about complaints by the Badgers about the offseason Axe tour.

”That wasn’t a rub in anybody’s face,” Fleck said. ”There’s people who are very emotional when they had it. We had people rent it out all over. It was at weddings, anniversaries, parties. This year it’s Minnesota’s. That’s what rivalry trophies are. That’s why they’re so passionate. If Wisconsin wins it, they get to share it with whoever they want to share it with. It’s Wisconsin’s. When Minnesota wins it, they get to share it with whoever they want to share it with. It’s Minnesota’s that year. It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t just our players’. It was the state of Minnesota’s. For me, I wanted people to be a part of our football program, to invest more in our football program, see we can do things. It wasn’t like we were holding it out the window driving through the entire state of Wisconsin. That would be showing up. But sharing with our in-state alums, donors, boosters, supporters, I think that’s culture, tradition. I think that’s what the point was.”

Either way, the Badgers have it now.

”It’s going to sting for a little while,” Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan said. ”That’s football. You’ve got your highs and you’ve got your lows. This is obviously a low for us, but our team will respond. I can guarantee you that.”

I agree with The Cap Times!

The former editor of the newspaper formerly known as The Capital Times, Dave Zweifel:

The much-maligned sculpture dubbed “Nails’ Tales” has disappeared from its spot at the corner of Regent Street and Breese Terrace, one of the gateways to Camp Randall and the old Field House.
While some praised it as a piece of art that did what art should do — draw attention and provoke comments and discussion — most amateur art critics couldn’t have been happier when it was removed. They considered the $200,000 sculpture an eyesore that, instead of depicting the strength and virility of Badger football, looked more like a cob of corn or a phallic symbol.

It has been replaced, although across the street on city property, with a 10-foot-long sculpture of Bucky Badger created by the late Harry Whitehorse, the acclaimed Ho-Chunk sculptor and painter from Monona. He created the life-like Badger so it could be touched and sat on by people who came to see it.
We were talking about that at a luncheon the other day, when Joe Hart, who spent much of his newspaper career on our sports staff, including as sports editor, piped up.

Wouldn’t it be fitting, he said, if the UW would commission and install a statue of one of the football program’s greatest heroes who, unfortunately, seems to be largely forgotten? A kid from Lancaster, Wisconsin — Dave Schreiner.

He indeed was a hero, not only on the Badger football field, but in World War II, where he gave his life in the battle of Okinawa, only a few weeks before the Japanese surrender.

After graduating from Lancaster, Schreiner became one of Badgers football’s most revered players. He was a two-time All-American at end (he played both offense and defense), and was named the 1942 Big Ten Most Valuable Player. As a co-captain of that team, he led the Badgers to an 8-1-1 record. The loss was to Iowa, 6-0, and the tie was with Notre Dame, 7-7, while the big win was over number-one ranked Ohio State.

Following the ’42 season, he joined the Marines and two years later found himself in the Pacific Theater as a lieutenant and company commander in the Marine regiment that was fighting to clear the island of Okinawa of the Japanese.

After he had left to join the military, he was picked as a second round 1943 draft choice by the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately, at age 24, he was shot by a sniper after his unit had been part of the victorious last battle on Okinawa.

Schreiner’s career with the Badgers and the following horrors on the front lines during World War II are detailed in the outstanding book, Third Down and a War to Go, written by Terry Frei — the son of Jerry Frei, one of Schreiner’s teammates on that storied ’42 team.

“In that era you had to be multi-faceted and he was tough and clever,” the author noted. “Most important of all he was a leader by example. Others tended to follow in his wake.”

Camp Randall, of course, was the training center where young Wisconsin men were stationed before being sent to the front lines to fight to preserve the Union during the Civil War.

What an appropriate place to permanently remember a young man who represented everything that is best about Wisconsin football.

Zweifel, a retired Army National Guard colonel, is absolutely correct. It is unlikely to happen, of course, in this era in which, depending on which college student you ask, this country is either no different from any other country or the focus of all evil in the world, any reference to the military glorifies war, and students cannot possibly fathom the idea of sacrificing their own lives toward something more important than they are.


The Badger fauxback

The Wisconsin State Journal reports on tomorrow’s news:

Jonathan Taylor had no problem wearing tan to his high school prom, and he doesn’t see an issue wearing it for a University of Wisconsin football game.

“I’m a big tan guy,” the Badgers junior running back said. “I like tan. You can pull it off if you do it the right way.”

Judging from his reaction to the design Under Armour came up with for the eighth-ranked Badgers to wear Saturday against Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium, Taylor thinks the company found a tasteful approach.

Tan isn’t in UW’s traditional palette but it’s the color of the team’s pants for this week’s alternate uniform.

Under Armour, the provider of athletic apparel for both UW and Northwestern, said the designs both teams will wear Saturday are inspired by uniforms once worn by each team. The company issued them as part of the season-long celebration of 150 years of college football.

The Badgers have a largely traditional red jersey and white helmet with new touches on each: Large white letters UW on the chest and the same in red on the sides of the helmet. The back of the jersey doesn’t include the player’s name.

UW head football equipment manager Jeremy Amundson said Under Armour used a photo of a late 19th century Badgers football team as a basis and added its own touches.

One of them is the tan pants, which are more of a departure from the traditional white bottoms and carry an accent of a W inside a circle on the front of the left hip.

“When I saw the pants,” said Taylor, who served as the Badgers’ model for a video unveiling the uniform, “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I like it.’”

Instead of the typical process of Under Armour representatives meeting with the team to come up with a design, Amundson said, the idea for Saturday’s uniforms came directly from the manufacturer.

Company representatives approached UW with the idea in May 2018, and the Badgers jumped on board.

Northwestern’s uniforms are out of the same design, only in purple and white and with NU instead of UW.

Amundson said Under Armour appealed to the NCAA to allow the jerseys to go without numbers on the front to more accurately replicate the ones being worn in an 1891 photo, but the organization nixed the idea.

The Badgers haven’t worn a true alternate jersey since 2012, when Adidas made new looks for UW and Nebraska for a 30-27 Cornhuskers victory in Lincoln. Under coach Gary Andersen in 2013 and 2014, the Badgers experimented with red helmets and red pants.

Amundson said there are both practical and historical reasons why the Badgers don’t typically have dozens of jersey combinations like some other schools.

The practical is money. A new set of helmets alone can cost up to $100,000, funds that he said would take away from other opportunities for athletes. For this week, UW is simply replacing decals on its existing helmets and swapping out red face masks for gray ones.

The historical is that, well, the Badgers have typically worn predictable combinations.

“There’s definitely a traditional element to it,” Amundson said. “We’ve never had a kid come here because he’s going to get to wear any fancy uniform. We’re pretty tried and true with our red and white.”

Coach Paul Chryst acquiesced to players’ wishes to change things up for last week’s victory against Michigan and wear the black shoes that were being broken in as part of the new design for this week.

“He was on board,” senior outside linebacker Zack Baun said. “He’s more happy to see the guys energized about it. He’s just happy that we’re happy.”

Other than Taylor, who was in on the plans for the alternate jersey because he wore it in the video shoot, players were unaware of the new look until fall camp.

Saying that the unveiling drew a positive reaction would be an understatement, Baun said.

“Everyone was screaming, yelling,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I was jumping up and down. It’s exciting because we’ve never got to do anything like that.”

It was so well received, senior inside linebacker Chris Orr said, because it’s so different from what’s normal at UW.

“When you put it together from looking at the uniform that they’re trying to imitate, it actually looks good,” he said. “It looks like a new-age version of the old cotton sweaters that they were wearing. I like it.”

At least one Badgers player made it sound like he would just as well play in one of those sweaters.

“They’re just uniforms. Honestly, whatever,” junior center Tyler Biadasz said. “We’re going to be a different color, but we’re still hitting the purple jerseys, I guess.”

This is, of course, ridiculous. The only acceptable throwback uniform is this one …

… from the 1960s Rose Bowl teams.

While I get the tan pants (because all football pants were tan canvas and, for that matter, all helmets were brown leather once upon a time), this goes back to no era of UW football.

The throwback helmet had the W on the front, not a “UW” on the side, and at no point has UW ever used a non-serif number font or had “UW” on the front. These are as useless as the Blue Bay Packers throwbacks the Packers have been unfortunately wearing. And without the names on the back, well, if you’re going to Saturday’s game and you haven’t seen them before tomorrow, your guess will be as good as anyone else’s as to who is whom.

There may be only one way for this stupid trend to stop, and that is for the team that thinks this is a good idea to lose.



Postgame schadenfreude, Hail Hail to Missedagain edition

It was not shocking that Wisconsin beat Michigan 35–14 at Camp Randall Stadium Sunday.

What was shocking was how thoroughly UW manhandled the Wolverines, by some accounts the Big T1e4n preseason favorite.

No photo description available.

Wolverine fans were in an ugly mood, reported by Elaine Sung:

On Saturday, the rumble in Camp Randall Stadium was “Jump Around.” The sounds everywhere else? Screaming, cursing, howling, spitting and shrieking from Michigan football fans.

The No. 10 Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh, who was hired in December 2014 to lead his alma mater to unprecedented greatness, just lost to Wisconsin, 35-14.

The game wasn’t that close. At halftime, the No. 14 Badgers were up 28-0, supremely confident with efficient and steady drives.

Social media got revved up pretty early. Michigan fans expressed outrage, fueled by each incomplete pass. Then it became scorched earth as Wisconsin kept adding the points.

The mocking contingent came out. Khaki pants were not spared. Talk about poking the bear …

DISCLAIMER: If you are offended by foul language, don’t look at the first tweet here.

If you are offended by bad football, we empathize …

You know there was going to be an Ohio State element in here somewhere:

Can you hear the people sing … Urban Meyer in blue and maize?

This is subtle, calm, reasoned and … cold.

This is even colder:

Some fans aren’t even mad now. They’re just sad.

Here we are, weighing in from South Florida:

I think Justin Bieber would be upset by this:

And the khakis, as always, take a hit:

Aaron McMann:

Two weeks and a bye later, the Michigan football team’s offense looks no closer to figuring things out.

And it’s defense, well, they appear to have problems, too.

The 11th-ranked Wolverines were manhandled in their Big Ten opener on Saturday, losing 35-14 to No. 13 Wisconsin while coming up on the wrong end of every major statistical category out there.

Michigan (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) was out-gained by an extraordinary 487-299 margin, watching as the Badgers opened the game with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. And it just got worse from there.

Ben Mason, who converted to the defensive line this season, fumbled the football away on his first carry of the season, on Michigan’s first drive of the game. Then the Wolverines had a long pass play to Ronnie Bell reviewed and called back on their second drive.

Jonathan Taylor, an All-Big Ten running back and Heisman Trophy candidate, gashed the Michigan defense from the very beginning. Taylor (23 carries, 203 yards, 2 TDs) had eight carries for 51 yards on Wisconsin’s first drive, then broke a 72-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter.

By that point, Wisconsin held a 14-0 lead and had momentum on its side. The Wolverines were never able to recover. They totaled just 15 first downs in the game, were 0-for-9 on third down and only possessed the football for a total of 17:45.

Meanwhile, while the Badgers found success on the ground, quarterback Jack Coan (13-16, 128 yards) was able to turn to the pass as well. He completed two passes of more than 20 yards as part of a 15-play, 80-yard second-quarter touchdown drive.

Wisconsin possessed the football for more than 41 minutes in the game, limiting the Wolverines’ opportunities for drives.

Michigan’s quarterback, Shea Patterson, was unable to replicate his big game of a year ago. He finished just 14-of-32 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also fumbled the football, for a third straight game, in the fourth quarter as Michigan tried to draw closer.

Complicating matters, the Wolverines were never able to establish a ground game: rushing for just 40 yards, with starter Zach Charbonnet (2 carries, 6 yards) appearing limited.

Ryan Zuke:

After No. 13 Wisconsin throttled No. 11 Michigan 35-14 on Saturday in Madison, the narratives were much different for each team.

The Badgers (3-0) are being regarded as a serious threat in the Big Ten after racking up 359 rushing yards and forcing three turnovers on defense.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines (2-1) continued to be criticized for their inconsistent play through the first three games of the season.

Even former Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson had harsh words for his alma mater on FOX’s postgame show.

“This does not look good,” Woodson said. “Right now, I don’t even know how to talk right now. What I could say wouldn’t be the right thing to say because it would be my emotions. What I am telling you now is kind of what I see on the surface. When I get home, I’m going to say some different things, but right now, I am sick about how Michigan football looks.”

Mitch Albom:

That wasn’t a football game.

That was Waterloo.

Forget national playoffs, forget challenging the elite programs, forget even moving the bar higher than last season. The Michigan Wolverines on Saturday looked as bad as they’ve looked since Jim Harbaugh arrived, not losing as much as surrendering a critical Big Ten game for which they had two weeks to prepare.

There’s no excuse. Worse, there’s no explanation. Where would you begin to explain this 35-14 beatdown by Wisconsin — which wasn’t remotely as close as that score suggests? The offensive line got crushed like walnuts. The defense gave up 143 yards to a running back — in the first quarter! The endless series of mistakes, miscues, missed assignments and missed chances stacked so high, watching it was like squinting into the sun.

I watched it, as many of you did, at home, and was left, as many of you were, stunned.  Stunned at the lack of preparation. Stunned at the apparent lack of inspiration. Stunned at the execution, errors and ineffectiveness of the Wolverines in areas they used to be known for, like an offensive line, like a running game, like a defense.

The defense. Oh, Lord. What happened there? The strong suit of the Wolverines with Don Brown directing looked like some weak impostor wearing maize and blue. There were more players out of position than a chessboard overturned by a dog. Wisconsin was all but laughing at the lack of resistance, and went for a fourth down on its own 34-yard line to prove it.

They made it easily.

Jonathan Taylor, the star running back for the Badgers, had such an easy time gaining yards Saturday, he looked like the NFL and the Wolverines like high school. Taylor had 203 yards on just 23 carries — and missed a big chunk of the game with cramps!

As for the Michigan offensive line? Wow. The area once the pride of Bo Schembechler was the shame of the Michigan game film Saturday. It allowed the U-M quarterbacks to be hit or rushed on nearly every play. It opened so few holes, the Wolverines recorded a paltry 40 yards rushing, barely averaging two yards per carry.

And yet for all the terrible performances, the origin of this debacle was, once again, mistakes. As it has been since the season started.

And that, for a program under a coach as accomplished as Harbaugh, is head-shaking.

Let’s just list some of the early mistakes. You’ll see how quickly they add up to disaster.

  • On the Wolverines’ first drive, they hit a huge pass-and-run, then promptly fumbled four yards from the goal line on a handoff to a fullback, Ben Mason, who hadn’t taken a handoff all year. That was their ninth fumble of the year.
  • On the Badgers’ third drive, the Michigan defenders were out of position, allowing Taylor to race 72 yards for a touchdown.
  • On the next drive, U-M drew a pass interference call, but followed it with a foolish unsportsmanlike penalty by Donovan Peoples-Jones. Shea Patterson missed two receivers he could have hit, and the Wolverines wound up punting.
  • In the second quarter, on a fourth-and-3, Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan again found Michigan defenders out of position and hit a 26-yard over-the-shoulder pass to Quintez Cephus.
  • On the Wolverines’ next drive, Patterson threw an interception.

All that was in the first 25 minutes. I could fast-forward to the final quarter, when Michigan blew a great punt with an illegal formation penalty, or got called for offensive pass interference, or ended its offensive day — and I do mean offensive — with an interception by the third-string quarterback Joe Milton.

But I’m stopping now, before you break something valuable.

Well, we’re not. John Niyo:

There are big questions and then there are smaller ones.

But for now, for Jim Harbaugh and those toiling inside his football program – and possession is at least nine-tenths of the law in college football, in case you hadn’t noticed – there’s no choice but to focus on the latter.

Everyone else will take care of the former after another nationally-televised debacle for the Wolverines Saturday, a 35-14 thrashing at Wisconsin that was worse than the final score indicated. And bad enough that it left one of Michigan’s all-time greats doing some finger-pointing of his own afterward.

“I’m sick about how Michigan football looks right now,” said Charles Woodson, the Heisman Trophy-winning star of the Wolverines’ 1997 national championship team, making his debut on Fox Sports’ studio show Saturday.

Flanked by none other than Urban Meyer, the former Ohio State coach who retired last winter with an unblemished record against Michigan, Woodson wasn’t done preaching to the choir, either.

“I came here with high expectations for how my team was gonna look, in front of you guys,” he said. “And I’ll be honest with you, man, I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed about that.”

He’s far from the only one. As another of his ex-teammates, Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson, tweeted Saturday, “I think I can speak for a lot of former UM players when I say, forget about winning. How about we just compete?”

And while Harbaugh betrayed few, if any, such emotions after another humbling loss Saturday – that has strangely become the norm the last couple years — he has to know that promises made aren’t being kept.

Sure, he’s 40-15 in four-plus seasons as Michigan’s head coach, and like it or not, job security probably won’t be a real issue in Ann Arbor unless fans stop showing up to games or off-field issues pile up. (It’ll certainly take more than a disgruntled fan painting “#FIRE HARBAUGH” on the “The Rock” at the corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street.) But Harbaugh’s teams are now 1-6 on the road against ranked teams in his tenure, with half of those losses by three touchdowns or more.

And as Meyer noted on that same Fox postgame broadcast, there are myriad problems for Michigan’s coaching staff to dissect before they can even think about changing that narrative.

“You lift up that hood and you’re not gonna like what you see,” Meyer said. “But you better get that fixed fast.”

How, though? And why? That’s what everyone is left wondering, and not just because Michigan was coming off a bye week and facing an opponent that hadn’t really been tested yet in season-opening routs of South Florida and Central Michigan.

As Woodson said, “It looked like they had never watched Wisconsin football before.” Or if they had, they’d simply forgotten what they saw, because the mistakes started piling up immediately after kickoff for Don Brown’s defense.

Michigan has allowed 1,482 yards and 138 points in its last three games against ranked opponents. And it didn’t take long to sense Saturday would fall right into that pattern. When junior defensive end Kwity Paye got caught diving inside late in the first quarter, allowing Wisconsin to turn a counter play into a 72-yard sprint to the end zone for All-America running back Jonathan Taylor, you could see where this was all headed.

Taylor had 143 rushing yards by the end of that quarter. And by halftime, Wisconsin had made it clear it owned the line of scrimmage, piling up 200 yards on the ground and converting three fourth-down situations with ease, the latter a quarterback keeper that saw Jack Coan dive into the end zone almost untouched.

Out-coached, out-prepared, outplayed? Check, check and checkmate.

Because on the other side of the ball, the Wolverines simply look lost. There’s no other way to describe it after three games and these results.

Michigan finished Saturday’s game with just 40 yards rushing on 19 carries, four more turnovers – that’s nine now for the season – and a stunning 0-for-10 on third-down conversions, something the Wolverines haven’t done since at least 1995.

Where to start, though? That’s the most troubling part for Michigan, and perhaps the reason why the players seemed to be at such a loss to explain what had just happened in Madison: Their head coach was, too.

“We were outplayed,” Harbaugh said at his postgame press conference. “Out-prepared, out-coached, outplayed. The whole thing. Both offensively and defensively, it was thorough.”


Multimedia Mike

With Mike Leckrone’s final UW Band concert(s) on Wisconsin Public Television Saturday at 7 p.m., we combine a UW–Madison College of Letters and Science interview and photos plus several YouTube videos and occasionally snarky commentary by myself:

My approach to teaching has always been that is it has to be fun. But at the same time, I have a reputation for being demanding, because I try to get students to constantly elevate their own standards. My approach has always been, “You’ll have a lot more fun if you get really good at what you’re doing.”

1971. Note the nearly empty upper deck.
So now I know the black band W debuted in 1972. This was also the year I saw my first UW football game. (Badgers 31, Syracuse 7.)
1975. Michigan 23, Wisconsin 6, which counted as a moral victory for UW in those days.

Music is one of those disciplines where you only get better if you do the repetitions. Anybody who has played an instrument knows that it’s the practice and the repetition that get the fingers working the way that they need to work. But we live in an era now where it looks so easy, and people forget the groundwork that has to be laid. We lose sight of that sometimes when we look at the finished product.


1976. Perhaps this should be called The Two Faces of Mike — official (in plaid polyester bell-bottoms) …
… and the version the 5,000 of us in the band over 50 years got to experience.
1978 Official Mike …
… and again our own special version. I believe this was the first or second year I went to a UW Band concert. claims this is 1985, but it is 1983 or earlier because in 1984 the black band W was replaced by the white band W.

I had an arranging professor many, many years ago who said you have to get the paper dirty. And what he meant was, if you’re writing an arrangement, the first thing you do is put something down on paper. And then analyze.

1981. Why is Mike happy? Look at the scoreboard. It was the first time in maybe ever that UW beat Michigan (then ranked #1, but not after they left Madison), Purdue and Ohio State, making it look like the Badgers might go to the Rose Bowl. Sadly, Iowa got in the way.
1991. Not-very-impressive pointed toes. On the other hand, he was my age now, and at the band concerts my marching style wasn’t very impressive either.

We interrupt this photo essay to bring you …

1994, after UW’s first Rose Bowl win, before the Ohio State road trip.
Late 1996, before the 1997 Outback Bowl in Tampa.

If you study things like the notebooks of Beethoven, you see how many versions he had of the Fifth Symphony or the Ninth Symphony that never came to light. And I’ve been listening to some Elvis radio, for the outtakes, the things he didn’t use and how many he would do until he got that feeling that was right. I think with any artist you’d find those trials and errors.

1998. The Badgers lost this week to Michigan, but, reversing 1993, Ohio State beat Michigan the next week to open the path for UW’s return to Pasadena by beating Penn State.
Disneyland in December 1998 before the 1999 Rose Bowl, when Wisconsin beat UCLA again.

Sorry to interrupt again, but …

1999. After going to the Rose Bowl one season earlier, the only way UW could go back to the Rose Bowl was by winning the Big Ten title outright. So they did. About time the football team was as good as the band.

One of the things that I talk about constantly with students is that your worst enemy is complacency. I get my own motivation partly from trying to motivate students. When I see that they will respond to the demands that are made on them, that more or less increases what I want to demand from them. So it becomes a circle.

And Mike becomes a bobblehead in 2003 …
… before he gets his own cow, “Mookal Leckrone,” in 2006.
2007 tryouts. Some people have to learn that Stop at the Top and toe-pointing thing, but I was a freshman once too.
That season resulted in another trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl. UW went to the Outback Bowl so often that you’d think Barry Alvarez had a condo there.

I talk a lot about the moments that you pull upon when other moments don’t go well. I like to call them moments of happiness. To be successful, you can’t dwell on the non-successes, on the frustrations and the bad things that are inevitably going to happen. I think if you can learn to set aside the bad and dwell on the good things, you’re going to succeed. That may sound a little Pollyanna-ish, but I firmly believe it and that’s basically the way I approach everything.

Mike with UW–Madison chancellor Biddy Martin before the 2011 Rose Bowl, the first of three consecutive Rose Bowl trips. It took Leckrone 24 years to get to a Rose Bowl, but then UW went to six in the next 19 years.

It’s hard for me to process what’s next because I’ve been so active my entire life. I don’t want to sit and just meditate. I’m not planning an around-the-world trip. I’m not planning to go to Florida and play golf. But I like all kinds of music and I do miss the opportunity to just listen. I will probably do a lot more of that when I have the time.

2017 vs. Florida Atlantic. Patriotic songs we played included “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” a medley of “America” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Promised Land.” Mike stirred some controversy when he pointed out during a controversy over “You’ve Said It All,” more popularly known as the “Bud Song,” that the Star Spangled Banner’s music came from “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British drinking song.
Mike in 2017 with Milwaukee-born Steve Miller, who created …

You have read here about Leckrone’s phrase, “moments of happiness.” In November he told the Wisconsin State Journal, “I realize what I do is not the most important thing in the world. I haven’t contributed to any great discoveries. I’ve brought a few smiles to people’s faces.”

Is that not one of those “moments of happiness” for someone else, though? Imagine (if you weren’t there) the ecstasy of the Fifth Quarter in Pasadena in 1994, or the basketball regional final win over Arizona to go to the Final Four in 2014, or beating undefeated Kentucky in the 2015 Final Four, or any one of the six hockey national championships. (I was in Detroit in 1990.) And if you were in the band, you contributed to someone else’s moments of happiness too. 

The new director

Regular readers know about my recent and longer-term association with the UW Marching Band, whose director, Mike Leckrone, retired after 50 years directing the band.

(About which, for a great perspective on what we learned, read this.)

Well, almost no one is irreplaceable. (ABC Radio tried to replace Paul Harvey and then gave up.) And so my alma mater reports:

 It has been a full five decades since the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music has selected a new leader of the UW Marching Band.

But after an extensive national search, they’ve found the one: Corey Pompey, who has been serving as the director of athletic bands and associate director of bands for the University of Nevada, Reno, will take the baton from legendary UW bandleader Michael Leckrone beginning this summer, becoming the school’s new director of athletic bands and associate director of bands.

“Corey Pompey is the clear choice,” said Susan Cook, director of the School of Music. “He has a deep musicianship along with an enthusiasm and energy on the podium that was infectious; he really connected with the students.”

Pompey brings a strong background in music education and extensive experience with marching bands to his new role at UW. He studied music education as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Alabama and earned his doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Texas-Austin, two music programs similar to UW–Madison in terms of size and scope, both with deep marching band traditions. Prior to his time at University of Nevada, Reno, Pompey served as assistant director of bands at Penn State University.

“When I think of UW, I think of a great institution of learning,” said Pompey. “The second thing I think of is its wonderful tradition of marching bands. There’s a strong legacy at UW.”

Interestingly, Pompey didn’t initially set out to become a band leader. He began his career teaching music in public schools in Pleasant Grove and Brookwood, Alabama.

“I went into music education with the intent of doing something else with my life,” Pompey said. “Then the music grabbed me. The profession found me – I didn’t find it.”

In discussing the vision he’ll bring to his new role with the UW Marching Band, Pompey emphasized the importance of collaboration, music selection and the student experience.

“It’s important to be entertaining the crowd, always,” he said. “But I also want to provide the students in the band with a great experience. I want them to learn something.”

The UW students who participated in the interview process were also impressed with Pompey. CJ Zabat, a 22-year old senior who serves as the band’s drum major, said he and his fellow band members felt an instant connection.

“He was really deliberate, knowledgeable and detail-oriented,” Zabat said. “He was aware of everyone in the room with him, and it was clear there were a lot of musical gears turning in his head.

Pompey is also mindful of the deep tradition and national profile of the program he’s inheriting from Leckrone, who has led the band since 1969. Last fall, Leckrone announced his intent to step down as director at the end of this academic year.

“I want to acknowledge how honored I am to have the opportunity to lead this program,” Pompey said.  “I also want to thank Prof. Leckrone for all he’s done. I look forward to carrying on the excellence of the program.”

Pompey will officially start at UW on July 20.

The huge question, of course, is: What do Pompey’s bands look like?

This appears to be an example of “corps-style” marching, patterned after drum and bugle corps. We band alumni added an E to “corps” because there is no real marching involved here.

Band members who have been interviewed have been very positive about Pompey. That shows that it’s a new era. (When I was in high school I was never asked who I wanted to be the next band director.) Getting buy-in is important, because not getting buy-in can be disastrous, as anyone who observed from a distance former UW Band assistant director Justin Stolarik’s experience at Oklahoma University can attest.

Pompey’s music seems good, though those who marched for Leckrone would not approve of Nevada’s marching style, which is not anywhere near as distinctive as Wisconsin’s. (Leckrone inherited a band that was doing a pretty standard Big Ten style, but modified it with Stop at the Top, where there is a discernible pause between steps.) Leckrone’s bands didn’t just play older rock music, of course, but played big bands, show tunes and even classical music as well.

There is a parallel (at least in my strange mind) to politics here in a nonpartisan and non-ideological sense. A lot of political candidates talk about change in glowing terms. Well, change may be inevitable, but progress is not, and “change” and “progress” are not synonyms. People want things to be better, not merely different. And no one will complain if Pompey improves the band. But there are things — the marching style being a major one — that changing may not result in approval.

On the other hand, Pompey starts in July. Assuming similar schedules from the past, he will start with students a month later. The Nevada band might have been the band he inherited too late to do anything with marching style other than what they were already doing. It would seem difficult to adopt a brand new style of marching to upwards of 200 returning band members in just two or three weeks. (Their first home game is against Central Michigan Sept. 7.)



A week after eating a rock

An outstanding newspaper wrote a story and a column about last weekend’s UW Band concerts.

alumni band practice
Photo by Gary Smith. Good thing this is only practice, but Leckrone always said you play like you practice. Toes not pointed, upper leg not at a 45-degree angle. What is the statute of limitations for being on the Dummy List?
old trumpet player
For those who assume I’m making all this up, my cousin shot this photo as evidence that I indeed marched one more time with the UW Band.
The 50 alumni — 50 for 50 years, get it? — who played in the concert. Photo by Gary Smith.



alumni trumpets
The oldest trumpet players in the concerts.

If you look toward the lower right of the screen you will see more evidence that I did actually play:

Another band alum posted about the first time he met Mike Leckrone. Since my parents are football season-ticket-holders of long standing, and I generally got to go to one game a year, I saw the band starting in the early 1970s, and went to two concerts in the late 1970s. (A Madison TV station had a preview of the concert that night including video of practice with Leckrone not too happy with the band. That’s what we call foreshadowing.) The first time I saw him close enough to be recognizable was at a high school marching band practice, in which Leckrone exhorted us to march with a sense of confidence and pride and we’re-the-best-there-is. I didn’t get that until three years later when I made the band.

(About which: I survived 1983 Registration Week practices, thinking I was going to die 15 minutes into the first practice. The following Monday the list of those who made it and those who didn’t was posted. I went over, looked at the you’re-in list, and then found the trumpets, and there I was. I stared at it for a few minutes not believing my eyes. Then I called my parents and, after a pause for dramatic tension, told them that now they had a reason to go to the games.)

The funniest thing about Wednesday’s practice — other than Leckrone’s telling his band they weren’t going to practice more than twice so we wouldn’t get tired out — was that he indicated his displeasure with his band using the exact words he could have used on us 35 years ago, beginning with the band director chestnut, “Why are you talking?” after they stopped playing. (That might be a reality of even military bands.) That was followed by a criticism for lack of spacing while playing and a general observation that “you play like you practice.”

The UW Band Alumni Association Facebook page has a huge list of people’s favorite shows or music (in my case, the James Bond Medley from freshman year, Too Old for MTV sophomore year, West Side Story and the international On Wisconsin show from junior year, and Jesus Christ Superstar from first senior year), and people writing about the impact Leckrone and the band had on their lives.

All of the lasts of Leckrone’s final season …

The four days with the band were better than I thought possible. There were two marchers from Leckrone’s first band, in 1969. The most numerous marchers seemed to be from the group that started in 1979, which got not just bowl games …

… but NCAA hockey championships to go to and play.

There were a lot of tears Saturday night. I wasn’t one of them because I’m not built like that. (Recall the Dr. Seuss phrase, “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”) Perhaps it’s because, like my last year in the band, all my lasts didn’t hit me as lasts until the following August when I wasn’t about to start Reg Week rehearsals.

(I am virtually certain I am somewhere in that video.?)

The Peace Corps calls itself “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” The term “love” is grossly overused today, but I loved being in the band. What did the band mean to me? Take your pick.

Three more times

Ask me about the ’80s, and I’ll show you what I was doing:

1983 Rank 25
Rank 25, 1983 (last year of black band W).
1984 Rank 25
Rank 25, 1984 (first year of new uniforms, last year with personally supplied trumpets).
1984 Illinois
At Illinois, 1984. Worst artificial turf I have ever seen. Seams as wide as the yard lines.
1985 On Wis snow
The final game of the 1985 season against Michigan State. Also the last UW game Dave McClain ever coached.
1986 Vegas
Las Vegas, 1986. I recovered from the crushing blow of not winning a Ferrari on a slot machine. on the big event tonight through Saturday night:

He has thought long and hard about what to say to the thousands attending the UW Varsity Band spring concerts this week at the Kohl Center.

Spectators want more than a show. They want to witness UW Bands director Mike Leckrone’s last “last”: the sold-out concert series — slated for Thursday, Friday and Saturday — that will cap an end to a storied 50-year career before he retires this academic year.

“This is the moment everybody is sort of looking for to represent the curtain coming down in a lot of ways,” Leckrone said. “Is that too dramatic?”

Leckrone’s speech at the end of the show, he’s decided, will be one of reassurance.

“This is the thought that everyone seems to be bringing to me now is, what’s going to happen next?” he said. “Where is the band going to go? What I want to do is assure people that there is a tradition. There are certain things the band has done over the years that I don’t see evaporating. There will be changes, yes, but there’s not going to be a complete change in the traditions.”

He paused, as if editing the speech inside his head.

“That’s kind of the gist of it,” he said. “I will hopefully say it much better than that.”

This entire year has been a last year since Leckrone’s announcement last August …

… and the end of the football season last fall.

In March 1975, just five years into his career, Leckrone, then 37, decided an end-of-the-year gathering for his Marching and Varsity bands would be nice.

“Let’s have a party,” the kids said.

“Let’s have one last performance,” Leckrone replied.

Leckrone met the students half an hour before the concert began in Room 1341 of the Humanities building. On the blackboard, he scribbled down the songs students would play later that night in Mills Hall.

They had debated earlier whether to charge a dollar to attend.

“Nobody will pay a buck,” someone said.

About 450 people did.

He sweated through his red blazer by intermission. On went a gaudy blue and red splotched shirt he had brought to wear to the after-party as a joke.

The next year, he wore a red sequined vest, and his attire kept escalating in ostentatiousness from there.

The single-day show has morphed into massive, multi-day blowouts led by ringmaster Leckrone.

Saturday’s show sold out Jan. 14, the first day tickets became available. Friday’s show sold out the next day. Thursday’s show sold out three weeks later.

Those who can’t get tickets can still see the show when it airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on Wisconsin Public Television at

Leckrone has few concrete plans to share when people ask him about his retirement plans.

“I haven’t had time to think about it,” he said. “It’s been a nonstop pace practically since I announced (my retirement).”

He gave up golf long ago. He doesn’t like to fish or hunt. He even considers eating a waste of time.

“I can absolutely guarantee I’m not going to pack up, sell my house and move to Florida or Arizona,” he said.

UW-Madison granted Leckrone, who never took a sabbatical in his 50 years working for the university, a paid leave next academic year.

He plans to spend part of it archiving some of his work with Mills Music Library. He looks forward to composing and arranging more music. He will also host a Wisconsin Alumni Association tour traveling through Europe next fall.

While Leckrone may be on campus from time to time, the sabbatical doesn’t change the sentimentality of his last year.

“I’m not going to have that day-to-day contact with the students,” he said. “That’s the finality of it.”

Leckrone has received between 400 and 500 letters from students and former students this year thanking him for the influence he had on their lives. Over his 50-year career, he’s accumulated file drawers’ worth of notes.

For a man who says he has never seen a perfect performance — the tubas came in too early in one song, or students sprung from their seats too quickly or the flugelhorns lacked fervor — these concerts are Leckrone’s grand finale.

The first meeting for this week’s shows took place in July.

His concerts have featured fireworks, blimps, confetti, strobe lights and a Fifth Quarter chicken dance, among other special effects. One year, sparklers attached to his hands accidentally misfired, burning a few strands of his hair. Another time a boxing championship banner caught fire.

Leckrone directs 280 students, along with scores of stagehands, electricians, sound technicians, pyrotechnicians and others. He says everyone knows what his or her job is but jokes that the only person who knows everyone else’s job is himself.

Leckrone’s entrances have become legendary. He has swung from a trapeze, soared over the stage on a motorcycle and ridden a bicycle across the Fieldhouse on a wire.

In 2017, he took it easy following double-bypass heart surgery. He characterized his 2018 entrances as “modest.”

His grand entrance this year?

“Oh that, I’m not telling!” he said. “But we’re going to blow the whole thing here.”

After the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, whose opening ceremony included someone flying into the L.A. Coliseum on a jet pack, Leckrone considered that for the band’s 1986 100th-anniversary concert in Camp Randall Stadium, but decided he didn’t have enough time to be properly trained on it.

Doug Moe adds:

Ask Mike Leckrone to sort through a half century of Badgers memories for a favorite and he’ll give you the 1994 Rose Bowl, Wisconsin’s first appearance in the modern era.

“It was so over the top,” says the longtime band director, who is in his final weeks as conductor. “We played every possible venue. We were on the Queen Mary, at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. Then we won the game!”

Over the top? Leckrone conjures another indelible memory: the 1973 NCAA hockey championship at fabled Boston Garden. It was the first national title for the Badgers hockey team. The Wisconsin fans nearly stole the show, and not for the last time. Coach Bob Johnson — whose exuberance matched Leckrone’s — knew the fans’ value and would occasionally shout from the bench to his friend, “Get the crowd going, Leckrone!”

Perhaps nothing says over the top quite so much as the three-night extravaganza known as the University of Wisconsin–Madison Varsity Band Concert. Slated for April 11-13, this sold-out edition is the 45th, and Leckrone’s last. He directed the first one in March 1975 — six years after arriving on campus — and helped turn it from an impromptu gathering at Mills Hall into a pyrotechnic, multimedia spectacular at the Kohl Center.

It won’t be the true swan song for Leckrone, 82, who last August announced he’d retire at the end of this school year. The band will play at commencement in May. But the three nights of spring concerts figure to be particularly memorable. Leckrone said 150 or so alumni band members might return for a riff on “The Music Man” he has planned.

Mike Leckrone has taken an over-the-top approach almost from the beginning. When he was a kid, Leckrone and his dad had a comedic musical act that wowed service clubs in rural Indiana. Leckrone blew some specialty notes on trumpet and his dad played intricate piano pieces with mittens on.

“It looks harder than it is,” Leckrone says.

Leckrone explored other avenues — chemical engineering and coaching — but music kept its grip on him. He earned a music degree at Butler University and later became the school’s band director.

That’s where UW–Madison found him when Ray Dvorak retired after leading the UW bands for 34 years. At the time Leckrone thought, “How could anyone do 34 years?”

While Leckrone was considering the Madison job, he and his wife, Phyllis, got a tour of the campus. It was the Vietnam era and there were protest signs and broken windows in sight.

When Leckrone announced he was taking the UW–Madison job, his wife burst into tears. “She was an Indiana farm girl and didn’t know what she was getting into.” Phyllis warmed to her new home and became known as the “Badger band mom.” Her death in August 2017, after 62 years of marriage, was a crushing blow.

When they arrived in Madison in 1969, Leckrone himself took some time to acclimate. His duties expanded beyond marching band. He began teaching. Early on, Leckrone was asked to assemble a pep band to appear at indoor sporting events. That led to the season-ending varsity band concerts.

Every year — for 50 years now — 100 to 150 new students have attended tryouts for the celebrated UW band. Do the math: Leckrone has met and mentored more than 5,000 young men and women.

Dr. Frank Byrne, retired president of St. Mary’s Hospital and a member of the UW alumni band (although he went to Notre Dame; it’s a long story), is a friend and fan of Leckrone.

“What you learn in marching band is accountability and teamwork,” Byrne says. “You’re accountable to each other.” Leckrone held them accountable — but he always had their backs.

“He’s entertained millions,” Byrne continues. “But he’s changed the trajectory of thousands of lives by giving them the opportunity to get engaged with music.” …

Prominent in Leckrone’s memory bank is directing the varsity band concert just weeks after his double bypass heart surgery in January 2017. “I’ll never forget the day I walked back into rehearsal,” he says.

Leckrone had prepared everyone for his not being there. That’s what he’s doing now, preparing people — himself especially— for his retirement. He’s been too busy to really think it through. Leckrone will be on a Wisconsin Alumni Association cruise down the Danube River in Eastern Europe in September. After that, only one thing is certain. “It will have something to do with music.”

I’ve been thinking about that this week. There were football halftimes — turning boos into a standing ovation from 100,000 fans at Michigan; what I considered to be a perfect (at least error-free) performance at Illinois, the one bowl game I got to march in. There were also football games — beating Ohio State twice — and other games — a triple-overtime game against Indiana in 1987, beating Iowa in 1985 (preceded and followed by an amusing five seconds with a group of Hawkeye fans), and UW’s going 9–0 in overtime hockey games the five years I was at UW.

I can’t remember all the shows I marched, but I remember a number of them. The 1984 rock show, which included “Sh-Boom” and “Tequila,” got performed four times — at Michigan, at Illinois, at Homecoming against Minnesota and at the bowl game. (All UW losses.) I marched “West Side Story” in high school (since our director was a field assistant) and at UW. The next year, we did “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

There were other moments. A 1987 Marching Band practice was interrupted for about 10 seconds by a tornado warning — five seconds of Leckrone’s announcing the tornado warning, followed by five seconds of tuba players’ yelling “Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It’s a twister!” There was the day coming back from a concert in Merrill where we had to push our bus through an intersection in Madison to get to the hockey game we were playing in that night. There was the brief drag race between Leckrone and myself on South Park Street going from the Fieldhouse to the Dane County Coliseum from the former’s basketball game to the latter’s hockey game. There was the night after an exhibition basketball game against an Eastern Bloc national team where a group of us tried to find the team at a series of Madison hotels, but failed. There was having an entire hotel in Indianapolis to ourselves coming back from the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl, where the bowl game was replayed in the halls at 2:30 a.m., and the right team won.

There is another reason to bring this up. Leckrone’s final three concerts will include a contingent of alumni playing part of “The Music Man.” I will be one of those alumni band players, so if you are at one of the concerts, or you watch on Wisconsin Public Television taped or live, you may see me playing. That is a bit ironic since I’ve only played a couple of alumni events since I graduated, but on the other hand I enjoyed playing in the concerts more than watching them, I get my chance tonight through Saturday night.

I’ve written here before that 30 years after I graduated I still have dreams about getting thrown into either football games or UW band concerts, lacking most of what I need for the performance. It turns out the dreams (nightmares?) came true.

The last Camp Randall whistle

On Wisconsin magazine, which we UW alumni get:

As he had done at the end of countless UW Marching Band practices, director Mike Leckrone stood on top of a ladder on a hot, sunny August afternoon. The band’s veterans, along with rookies who had just won a coveted spot, crowded around to listen.

It had been a year since Leckrone had lost his wife of 62 years, Phyllis. Seven months before that, he had undergone heart surgery. Today, he would tell the band of the decision he had shared with only a few senior university officials: he was ending his remarkable half-century reign. He would lead them through one more football season, followed by hockey and basketball and the spring concert.

In this moment, Leckrone told his musicians what he expected of them.

“You must maintain the traditions, the intensity, the desire, and everything that everybody for the last 50 years has brought to this group,” he said. “I would be sorely disappointed if I see that doesn’t happen, because it’s in your hands to do that.”

Later that day as the news quickly spread, alumni band members began posting decades-old photos of themselves in their band uniforms on Facebook with the hashtag #IMarchedforMike. In September, the annual alumni band day — when former members march during the football pregame and halftime shows — drew record numbers. So many people wanted to play under Leckrone’s direction for one last time that organizers had difficulty creating a routine that would fit more than 500 people on the field, all wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with his name.

“Any one of us whose paths have crossed Mike’s feel that … he deeply touched us and continues to do so,” Sarah Halstead ’87, a cymbal player who spent four years in the band, said shortly before the alumni band took the field. “We’re here to honor him and, in some way, say, ‘Thank you.’ We’ve heard so many times from him — ‘Just one more time.’ And this really is the last time.”

It may seem strange to think now, but Leckrone could have spent decades performing the University of Minnesota fight song.

Every Badger fan who has attended a home basketball, football, or hockey game since 1969 knows the man wielding the baton — a beloved, charismatic musical leader who exhorts crowds to shout, “When you say Wis-con-sin, you’ve said it all!” So it’s hard to picture Leckrone leading a stadium full of Gopher fans through their signature chant of “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A.”

But in 1968, seeking a step up from his job as marching band director at Butler University, Leckrone looked to the Big Ten and applied for openings at Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both schools turned him down.

A year later, the UW called and asked if he was still interested. Leckrone said yes, even though it did not have the makings of a dream gig. At that point, the band had cycled through three different directors in as many years. And in the last 20 games, the football team had logged 19 losses and one tie (see page 13). The band’s ranks had dwindled — from around 130 participants to just 96 — and they frequently played to partially empty stands. It was also the height of the antiwar protest era on campus.

“It wasn’t really politically correct to put on a uniform and march around campus in those days,” says Leckrone, 82, an Indiana native and the son of a marching band director.

Unimpressed with the band’s lack of energy, Leckrone changed its marching style. He made the switch to a high step, which requires a musician’s knee to hesitate while lifted at 90 degrees, which he calls “stop at the top.” Leckrone stressed pride in the band and worked on small details like the snap of the “horns up” movement. Gradually, more students joined and, by his third year, the band began to transform into a cohesive unit.

Initially there was some resistance, recalls Ray Luick ’73, the band’s drum major when Leckrone took over. Luick played tuba his freshman year in 1968 before serving as drum major for the next three seasons.

“He had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do and we didn’t have a clue. Here’s a guy whose lifelong ambition was to be a Big Ten band director, and we were just part of the group he inherited,” says Luick, who returns each year with his drum major baton to lead the alumni band.

Fifty years after watching Leckrone take over the band, Luick is not surprised to see the director in charge this long.

“He has never lost the enthusiasm or the realization that this is just a lot of fun for a lot of people,” Luick says. “I think that recognition of how all these insane pieces fit together is very important to him and allowed him not to see this as 50 years of work but a continuation of something he enjoys doing.”

When he was hired, Leckrone figured he would transition to an administrative role in the School of Music within 10 years. But he enjoyed the marching band so much that, within a few years, he put aside thoughts of taking off the black uniform he wore for football games.

He says he’s lucky Minnesota turned him down. With a smile, Leckrone explains that Wisconsin has a much better fight song.

“Part of that is the cleverness [songwriter William] Purdy used in the song. That first four-note interchange — da, da, da, dum — you can turn it into all sorts of musical ideas. It doesn’t sound forced. It has a flow to it,” he says.

It has been decades since Leckrone struggled to find enough players to fill the band’s ranks. About 300 students make up the current band; 230 march at halftime. Others, usually freshmen, serve as alternates ready to step in for an injured player.

When you say Wisconsin …
The UW band first played its rendition of one of its signature songs more than four decades ago, when rowdy Badger hockey fans wanted to hear a polka.

Leckrone instructed the band to play the Budweiser jingle, but switch up the drum beat to make it sound more like a polka. At the next hockey game, fans chanted, “We want a polka!” The band responded by playing “You’ve Said It All,” also known as “The Bud Song.” Soon, Wisconsin replaced Budweiser in the lyrics, a substitution Leckrone suggested for fear “the crowd would get the wrong idea of the drinking habits of the band or the audience.”

Fans demanded the song throughout the season as the men’s hockey team played its way to the 1973 NCAA championship. Gradually the band began playing it at other events, including football games. But worried fans, who did not like the way people jumping and dancing to the song made Camp Randall’s upper deck sway, complained to Athletic Director Elroy Hirsch x’45, who asked Leckrone to stop playing it.

Leckrone had another idea.

“Wouldn’t it be fun if you make a production of it, and announce the band will not play the song right after the game, but give five minutes for those of you who are faint of heart [to leave the upper deck],” Leckrone says. “Elroy thought it was fun. So we did it, and it just blossomed from there.”
And so, “You’ve Said It All” became the cornerstone of the Fifth Quarter.

To his musicians, Leckrone is more than a band director — he’s a mentor and coach who instills the necessity of hard work and having fun. And as the fortunes of Badger sports teams have soared and sunk over the years, there’s always been one constant: the appeal of the band.

“Mike is without question one of the most beloved figures in the history of UW–Madison. He has made a significant impact on campus, in Madison, throughout the state, and beyond,” says UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. “When we speak with officials from bowl games each year, I tell them that Wisconsin will bring the whole package — team, fans, and band. Mike’s leadership of the band has certainly been an important part of that package for our school for many, many years.”

Although it might look seamless to fans at Camp Randall, each band performance at home games represents much thought, planning, and practice. Leckrone is one of the few — if not the only — college marching band director to continue to arrange all the band’s music as well as write charts for the pregame and halftime shows.

In addition to leading the marching and pep bands at sports events, Leckrone also teaches classes and conducts the symphonic band. A fan of big band music, his jazz and pop music courses are popular because of his encyclopedic knowledge and his infectious excitement for the tunes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and other early jazz legends. During a lecture on his favorite jazz artist — trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke — Leckrone has been known to dramatically rip open his overshirt to reveal a “Bix Lives!” T-shirt.
“It’s pretty amazing to keep up with his schedule. He’s a very energetic guy. I hope I have at least a quarter of his energy when I’m his age,” says assistant director of bands Darin Olson, who’s some 50 years Leckrone’s junior.

Leckrone knows the students who crowded around his ladder in August are the last group of young adults he’ll lead at the UW. They are the ones who will play his last football games at Camp Randall. They will tell the musicians who join the band next year and the year after that, what it was like to play for a legend.

He reminded them to keep up the intensity — but, most of all, to have fun.
“You have provided me with so many moments of happiness,” an emotional Leckrone said during his August address. “I can’t even begin to thank you. I will tell you those moments of happiness have gotten me through difficult times. I hope they can do that for you. Live for those moments of happiness.”

Then Leckrone climbed down and sang “Varsity” with his band.

I have heard this phrase “moments of happiness” numerous times this fall. I honestly do not remember him ever saying that in the five years I was in the band. (Which, let us remember, are part of the first half of Leckrone’s epoch at UW.) There was another phrase I do remember, one we came up with — don’t do what he says; do what he means. 

The last pregame, halftime and Fifth Quarter

It’s not yet 7 a.m. and students gather at UW-Madison’s practice field, shivering in the dark.

Without a word from their leader, and while most of their classmates are still asleep, the 260-some members of the UW Marching Band come to attention, ready to rehearse.

“Gooooood morning, Elm Drive!” band director Michael Leckrone’s voice booms, his headset carrying his game-day greeting to the street just east of the field.

The students start doing jumping jacks to get their blood pumping. A thermometer reads 37 degrees.

The band runs through its halftime show, a routine that changes every home game. For this particular game, the Nov. 3 contest against Rutgers, Leckrone came up with “Jersey Boys,” an arrangement filled with plenty of the high kicks and hip-popping that’s made the Badger Band so distinctive.

The sun rises and Leckrone moves to the tower positioned on the sidelines at the 50-yard line. From his perch, he picks at every imperfection.

“I sure see a lot of mistakes,” he says with a shake of his head. “Tubas, do it again.”

He corrects their spacing, fixes the way a particular note is played, reminds them that the balls of their feet, not the center, should hit the lines on the field. He does not praise them.

“That was better,” he says of their final run-through. “You’re going to get one more chance at 12:30 today.”

It’s a variation of a common refrain he tells his kids: You only get one chance to get it right.

And on Saturday, they’ll only get one more chance at Camp Randall under Leckrone, who will direct his last home football game after a 50-year career leading UW-Madison’s marching band.

A Wisconsin institution

Nostalgia has laced much of Leckrone’s last football season: In the back of his mind and in his assistants’ and students’ minds is a ticking clock, counting down the days, the rehearsals, the games he has left.

“Every event, someone will say, ‘This is the last time you’re going to do that,’” Leckrone said. “You’re only going to come on the field three more times. Two more times. Four more times. It’s a constant reminder. As we get closer to ‘the final curtain,’ as Frank Sinatra used to say, I think it’ll be more on my mind than ever.”

Since his first day — Sept. 1, 1969 — six chancellors and two acting chancellors have come and gone. He’s on his ninth football coach and directed halftime shows for 50 of Camp Randall’s 101 years.

“He represents the spirit of the university,” said Janice Stone, a former UW band member who has volunteered as one of Leckrone’s field assistants for 27 years. “When I think of the faces of the university, it’s the chancellor and Barry Alvarez and Mike.”

He’s also a rarity in the college band world: He is the marching band director but he is also the director of bands at UW-Madison, which means he is in charge of instruments, budgets and other administrative work. He also teaches.

Leckrone considered staying on as a music professor next year — he teaches one music course in the fall and two in the spring — but decided to retire fully at the end of this academic year.

His wife’s death in August 2017 — the love of his life, whom he met in seventh grade, married at 19 and spent 62 years with — factored into his decision. Since her passing, tucked into his black band jacket on game days is a photo of the two of them, surrounded by palm trees in Pasadena on their first trip to the Rose Bowl.

Leckrone’s health played a role as well. He had double bypass surgery in January 2017.

He also didn’t want to hear whispers that his time had passed, like a TV series that should have ended three seasons ago. He wants to end strongly, on a high note, like Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

“I wanted to not do it as a last gasp,” he said.

On Aug. 25, Leckrone told his students that this year would be his last. And he requested that this season be “business as usual.”

Students wiped away tears as Leckrone took long pauses and announced he would relinquish not only his baton, but an identity that has defined him.

Not a ‘sweetheart’

What the Camp Randall crowds see is a nice man who always sports a smile, still does the chicken dance at age 82 and looks as fondly at his students as at his six grandchildren.

What isn’t seen in the stadium is the hours of nitpicking on the practice field.

They don’t hear him screeching into his mic, “Hands! Watch the hand positions!”

They don’t see him throwing his clipboard from the tower only to ask a student to retrieve it after a two-minute diatribe about the trumpet players’ failure to “put some fight into it.”

They don’t catch that his request to play it “one more time” really means five more.

They don’t know how much he enjoys blowing his 35-year-old whistle, once, twice, three times in a row, however many times it takes for the students to stop playing so he can tell them what’s preventing them from achieving perfection.

“I don’t particularly have a reputation for being a sweetheart,” he allowed.

Halftime shows

Unlike the football games that sandwich the halftime shows, Leckrone has no final score on which to judge his success.

Cymbals clanging, drums beating, the Badger Band marches up and down the field as it’s done since 1885.

Leckrone’s assessment of the Nov. 3 show: “Pretty good,” but he says he likes to withhold judgment until he gets his hands on the film the following Monday.

Leckrone is always among the last to file off the field. He pats nearly every student’s shoulder or brushes their hand, dishing out a “good job” to those who look like they need it.

The students’ faces are red and their lungs out of breath after the 10-minute show, but they look pleased with themselves and the crowd’s reaction.

As Leckrone turns to head back to the end zone, one of his longtime assistants leans in and says to him what Leckrone has tried to forget all season: “Well, one more.”

‘Nobody like Mike’

Leckrone has the longest tenure of any marching band director, past or present, in the history of the Big 10, according to a survey submitted to each institution’s marching band director.

Mark Spede, president-elect of the College Band Directors National Association, pointed to just one current director with a tenure nearly as long as Leckrone’s. Arthur Bartner started at the University of Southern California in 1970, one year after Leckrone.

Leckrone was the clear frontrunner at UW-Madison, said H. Robert Reynolds, who led the university’s hiring search for the marching band director in the late 1960s.

Reynolds drove down to Butler University where Leckrone had worked his way up to band director just a few years after earning his music degree there. It was clear Leckrone had high energy and a special rapport with students.

Born and raised in Indiana, Leckrone would have been happy staying at Butler for his entire career.

“But you get ambitious,” he said.

Reynolds never expected Leckrone to stay so long. Directing marching bands is “a young man’s game” that people usually trade in for teaching or concert band positions.

Leckrone also didn’t expect to spend 50 years directing. Like many in higher education, he figured the next step in the career ladder was administration.

He tried it out, about 20 years ago, when he served as assistant director of the School of Music before quickly realizing it wouldn’t work. He missed making music.

Leckrone specifically requested not to serve on the search committee for his successor. Having the next director looking over his shoulder at the last one wouldn’t work, he said.

“I think Wisconsin’s been very lucky to have had him for 50 years,” Reynolds said. “And I think this transition is going to be difficult to satisfy the students, the alumni, the crowd at the games. They’re going to expect a Mike Leckrone band. Don’t get me wrong, there’s good marching band directors out there. But there’s nobody like Mike.”

Ideas unfulfilled

At 82, Leckrone still works full time, spending a few hours working from his Middleton home in the morning before driving his Ford Escape to campus between 9 and 10 a.m. Among his pre-set Sirius XM radio channels is Frank Sinatra.

He holds rehearsals from 3:45 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays and handles administrative and teaching duties before practice.

Leckrone gets home at about 6 p.m. and works until 11 p.m. on whatever needs to get done.

“There’s always the next show, always the next performance you have to get ready for,” he said.

He has ideas in his head for next year that will go unfulfilled.

Establishing traditions

Many Badgers fans come for the football and stay for the band.

It wasn’t always that way.

Leckrone took over the band at a “low ebb” in its 133-year history. The football team hadn’t won in 24 consecutive games. With the Vietnam War at its peak, the idea of putting on a uniform and marching around wasn’t popular, and Leckrone fielded fewer than 100 students in his first year.

Whereas others saw setbacks, Leckrone saw an untapped opportunity, a “sleeping giant.”

His 50-year career was not without some bad headlines: hazing, lewdness by band members, and an assistant director who resigned after reported inappropriate sexual behavior.

Leckrone suspended the band from a single home game in 2008, an action he said was wrong in hindsight because it punished all of the students instead of solely the offenders.

As the Badgers football team’s success grew and universities recognized how much money could be made in college athletics, the unbridled band faced new restrictions.

“There are times when I would love to play ‘On Wisconsin’ because I think the crowd needs it and the team needs it, but the script says it’s time to show the whirling hamburgers or whatever,” he said, referring to the advertisements shown on the Jumbotron.

Leckrone is most in his element during the Fifth Quarter, the 15-minute post-game show born in the early 1970s out of Leckrone’s own boredom at playing the same old songs.

“I realize what I do is not the most important thing in the world,” Leckrone said of his legacy. “I haven’t contributed to any great discoveries. I’ve brought a few smiles to people’s faces.”

Moments of happiness

On game days, Leckrone insists on walking from his office to the stadium and back, about two miles round-trip.

He rests occasionally on a stool in the band’s section, particularly in the second half, but is ready to hop on his ladder and strike up the band whenever the Badgers score.

Each year’s group of students has its own personality. Some are a little flaky. Some are tricksters, pulling pranks on Leckrone during practice. This year’s bunch, because of the circumstances, is more serious.

Leckrone has a theory he shares with all of his students about “moments of happiness.”

“Your mind lives on the moments of happiness,” he says. “They sometimes don’t last long and aren’t as big as we think they are, but if you can find a lot of them, you can live on them.”

With 1:06 on the clock and the Badgers ahead 31-17, restlessness sets in among the thousands at Camp Randall on Nov. 3.

Some of the spectators start filtering out of the stadium, hoping to beat the rush in the parking lots. Bucky Badger continues to work the crowd.

The showman stops watching the game, slowly turning himself around, capturing views of Camp Randall from every angle of his perch at the end zone, taking it all in — a moment of happiness.


After the game, band members gather in the courtyard of the Humanities building, looking up at their leader on the second-floor balcony. At least a hundred others — some parents of the students, others longtime band supporters — squeeze in to listen.

Gone is the voice that boomed over the stereo waking up Elm Drive, replaced with one speaking so softly that the crowd leans in, straining to hear his second-to-last dismissal speech.

The next couple of weeks will go by fast, Leckrone tells them, and himself, as he blinks back tears. He repeats one phrase four times: “Don’t take it for granted.”

Linking arms, the band sings “Varsity,” the tune that caps the end of every dismissal.

Leckrone says he can’t imagine life beyond this academic year. What will happen when there are no more arrangements to dream up in his head? Where will he watch next season’s football games? What will he do every Tuesday through Friday from 3:45 to 5:30?

He still has his last home football game on Saturday. There will be hockey games and basketball games and concert requests around the state. And in the spring, he will direct his final concert.

After dismissal, fans flood Leckrone for hugs and thank him for his service. Young children come up to him for photos or autographs. Much of this season has already felt like the last game, just an extended version of it.

Leckrone finally returns to his office, Room 4557, where dozens of framed photos and plaques adorn the walls. Two more frames lean against his desk, waiting to be hung.

“I’m running out of space,” he said. “But I’m running out of time, too.”