BN: Was there a rallying cry for this team?
Nelson: (Alvarez's) big thing for us was, ‘we are just a bunch of working guys who just bring our lunch pale to work with us and go at it every single day.' Look at it like a Heavyweight fight. It is a slugfest, and whoever is going to flinch first is probably the team that is going to lose. Like everybody says a lot, when you get knocked down, you have got to get back up. And when that happens to you, you get up faster, you get up stronger and that is when you really rely on your teammates. You say, ‘yeah I've been bounced around a little bit.' They boost you up and you boost them up. The coaches are there giving you the tools and knowledge to play the game. It is just a matter of you going out there and producing. You get 22 guys on the field doing the same thing right at the same time. You don't have to be Michigan or Ohio State. It is not a matter of rolling your helmet onto the field anymore, it is a matter of putting on the pads and beating the guy across from you and whether you beat him by one inch or one foot, you still got him. And if you can take that position from him—and he may be (better) as far as overall talent or a projected first round pick, but it doesn't matter because if you can beat him to point ‘a', then you have got him right where you want him.
That is the nice thing when you watch our team as far as how our offense and defense were structured that year, is that you can say exactly because the motion and movement of each knowing exactly where he was when he watched film. These guys were in position where they were supposed to be, so we have got the alley shut down for running or passing. We have got the zone-blocking scheme where the running backs can now pick a hole, whichever the first one is that he sees. Knowing in turn that the offensive linemen are going to maintain the block. A lot of little things that you may not see when you watch the game instantly. But when we had a chance to go back and see what was good and what was bad and how to correct those things, a lot of guys really started to understand what it takes. The small, little intricacies that in order to be successful you have got be better at.
BN: What was the biggest difference between the 5-6 seasons and the Rose Bowl year?
Nelson: In years past we had had a couple of injuries at a couple key positions that that year we didn't. For the most part everyone stayed healthy and when you get to play with the same guys over and over and over and it is such a competitive and difficult league in terms of the pounding your body takes. When guys stay healthy and play, you get used to the guy next to you and you can look at him and he knows what you are thinking and you can hold up your hand and they know what the switch is in an offensive or defensive coverage call.
Now it is very interesting in how those relationships are built that now it is not verbal any more. Now it is just body language and you can see what changes have to be made. A lot of the work on the sidelines, the players and coaches making adjustments to game plan and there is just a lot more of that because guys just know what is going on. We even had guys on the sideline that would watch and when we would come out would say, ‘hey, you saw this, this was a little different formation, a little different set that we hadn't seen during the week of practice' and everybody was into it. All 100 plus guys on that team were really into every single game and were participating in the game, whether it was physical or just mental.
BN: Has the team's camaraderie you spoke of earlier maintained over the years?
Nelson: It is hard because everybody scatters. You have got guys that go back to their hometown or you stick around here. You always have that bond and it even extends further from guys you actually played with because you have done something that not a lot of people have had a chance to do and you are part of your own little fraternity in that way. Guys who have worked and bled and sweat, survived a lot of battles that way. You are in a unique group of people.
It is fun to catch up on that—we just had the ten-year reunion with the team last spring. That was probably the neatest thing, one of the nicest things that coach has done for us since we got out is brought those guys back together. There were probably 50 or 60 guys back from the team and whether you were a walk-on, scholarship athlete, starter, not-starter, it didn't matter, everybody felt like they were back in the locker room sharing the old stories.
BN: Do you have any recommendations for Wisconsin's future athletics director?
Nelson: If he does anything like he did with the football program and the leadership he provides there—to carry that over to the entire athletic department, a lot of really good things are going to happen.
People want to be led and he is a heck of a leader. He has a plan and he sticks to it, and he is not afraid to adjust it when he needs to, but he has a lot of good people that are surrounding him and he knows a lot of the people around here, he knows a lot of the boosters, he knows a lot of the coaches and what he has been able to do through his entire tenure from 1990 on he has outlasted a lot of other coaches that have come and gone from other sports. That says something about him and his character and the type of program that he will run. He wants to win, there is not doubt about that, and he will bring people in who want to do the same and recruit top student athletes. I don't have any doubt about his ability to do that.
Previous editions of '93 revisited