BN: How unexpected was it, or was it unexpected to you that Wisconsin had such success in '93?
McCarney: Well, I don't think there is any doubt that we were close to really breaking through, especially in that '92 season. I remember opening the season out in Washington that year and they were coming off a national championship. It was a 27-10 game, but very, very competitive in that ball game. We beat Ohio State in one of those breakthrough victories that you had to have. They were ranked, we were not. And of course the Wisconsin-Ohio State series through the years has always been pretty exciting regardless of records. That was really a monumental victory for the program at that time. I remember getting the Axe that year. We got the Axe, beat Minnesota, beat them soundly and really had our chances. We went into the last game of the year at Northwestern with a real strong opportunity of going to a Bowl game had we won that game. It would have been our sixth win and it was all but guaranteed because Pat Richter and Barry Alvarez could negotiate with the best of them and a lot of that was done prior to that game. We knew going into that game that there was a great chance that we were going to postseason play. A couple of crazy plays at the end of the game and Northwestern forces a fumble on (Jason) Burns, our running back, and we lose the game 27-25. There was no question that we had made major strides that year even though we had just won five games.
We had a great nucleus coming back, a pretty veteran defense. A lot of real fine players, led by (Terrell) Fletcher and (Brent) Moss at running back on offense and (Darrell) Bevell at quarterback. It was a team coming back with a lot of confidence even though we were 5-6 that year. There was experience, there was talent, there was confidence. About as close-knit football team as I have been around and the rest was history. We went on to win 10 games and win the Rose Bowl for the first time in the history of Wisconsin.
BN: When did it sink in that you could achieve that kind of success?
McCarney: There were no easy ones, it is amazing. I remember how much we struggled, we were down in SMU that year. We were not playing well, it is anybody's game and I think we end up winning by a touchdown down there. That was hard-fought, a really tough game. But we got on a streak, I think we won our first six or seven games before Minnesota beat us.
To make a run and to have a chance to be in the hunt for the Big Ten championship, to me it was after the Michigan game. We beat them 13-10 in front of a national audience in an unbelievably important game. That day we knew, whether we were going to win it or not, there was no doubt we were going to be a real factor in the Big Ten race after beating Michigan that day. Of course, the next Saturday we end up tying, there were no overtimes back then, and we end up tying Ohio State.
Then we came out of the Illinois game—you talk about a flashback. I remember going into that game and the Holiday Bowl rep was there in Champaign and they were courting the Badgers because they knew the kind of fans we would bring—the numbers, the quality of the team. And they were just ecstatic that we were a team that was ready to go on the Bowl scene. When we won that game and we blew them out 35-10 I remember seeing the Holiday Bowl rep outside the locker room as we came off the field in celebration and it looked like somebody shot both his dogs. He knew right then that we were ready to jump on a plane and go to Tokyo and have a chance to capture the Roses over there and I think he knew that the way we played that day, if we carried that to Tokyo they were not going to see us and they were dying to get us out there.
But that Michigan victory, I think we knew we were in the race then, and it was all about how we finished and we finished extremely strong. It was just an unbelievable experience.
BN: What was it like the week after that victory, coming off the near-tragedy after the Michigan game and then Ohio State coming into town?
McCarney: As you would imagine just all extremes of your emotions. And of course it changed so fast. In fact in the locker room it went from euphoria to this unbelievable, horrible feeling. Because we were down in the locker room, most of us didn't even know what was going on in the stadium. We were down in the locker room celebrating, hugging, because it was one of the great victories in a number of years at Wisconsin and then we got together and said a prayer and Barry said his words and then we realized then that there were a few guys missing. I remember Joe Panos wasn't there, Mike Thompson, one of my defensive linemen. We started to go, ‘Where is Joe? Where is Mike?' We are still trying to get to all of our individual players and hug them up and celebrate and I remember the players coming down one-by-one coming down with these big huge tears coming down their faces. And they are saying, ‘Students are dying out there. They were blue. They were crushed. They were turning blue and its horrible.' And we didn't know anything about it. We are going ‘What in the name of God are you talking about?'
So it was unbelievable. Here, we went from just a few minutes before this amazing celebration in the locker room to getting the news and I remember walking out of the locker room after we showered and ambulances one at a time pulling away from Camp Randall and it was one of the most horrible feelings I have ever had in my life. The roller coaster of emotions.
Really that week in preparation for Ohio State, we're clearly in the hunt now, in the Big Ten race and here comes an unbelievably good Ohio State Buckeye team. You knew you had to be ready and we knew we had to play good and yet, how much emotion could you play with after being drained like we were for a lot of reasons the Saturday before. Even without a win in that game, the way the kids played and the effort that was given, it was a 14-14 tie. I think one of the real measures of the leadership of Barry Alvarez was to get a team to be able to come back after what we went through the Saturday before and still be able to play outstanding football.