BN Magazine annals: Remembering the Roses

The following is the September 2003 Badger Nation Magazine cover story commemorating the 1993 season

It had been nine seasons since Wisconsin had finished with a winning record. It had been 10 seasons since the Badgers had reached a bowl game. Wisconsin had won one bowl game in school history. The Badgers had never won 10 games, had not won eight games since 1962 and had not won nine games since going undefeated…in 1901. Yet somehow the Wisconsin Badgers became champions in 1993. A close-knit, hard working group, largely unheralded before, celebrated since, the Badgers that year won the Big Ten title and finished the season 10-1-1, the magical season culminating in a 21-16 victory over the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl.

The memories and the moments from that season stretch into the annals. Here, Badger Nation rekindles a taste of that incredible season, one decade later.

Tokyo, Dec. 4, heading to the Rose Bowl

"I happened to see that team on (ESPN) Classics the other day. I caught the last minute-and-a-half of the game and I got goose bumps. I remember that whole Rose Bowl experience, but more so I remember clinching the title in Tokyo. (Defensive coordinator) Dan (McCarney) and I in Tokyo after the game. It was just an unbelievable feeling; couldn't believe it had happened."

— UW coach Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin traveled to Japan in early December to play the 19th annual Coca-Cola Bowl—a game that would determine the Badgers' real bowl fate. The Badgers were assured their first bowl appearance since a 20-19 loss to Kentucky in the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl. Win, and the Badgers would move to 9-1-1 overall, 6-1-1 in the Big Ten, tying Ohio State for the conference championship. Wisconsin held the tie-breaker, so a win in Tokyo meant a trip to Pasadena. A loss would send the Badgers to the Holiday Bowl to play BYU Dec. 30.

The game was originally slated to be played Oct. 2 at Camp Randall, but a deal enacted in the summer of 1992 moved the game to Tokyo. In return, the Badgers and Spartans split an $800,000 pot and received travel reimbursements from the game's sponsors. Many commentators and fans found it a cruel irony that the Badgers would give up a home game and travel half way around the world to play the team's most important game since the 1963 Rose Bowl.

The Badgers were a solid favorite, but the Spartans were not to be taken lightly—a bowl-bound team that entered the game 6-4 and 4-3 in the conference. Any doubts about travel and a forsaken home game were quickly demolished, though. Running backs Brent Moss and Terrell Fletcher ran for 146 and 112 yards, respectively, and each found the end zone twice. The Badgers tallied more than 500 yards total offense and won 41-20. Wisconsin, a team coming off back-to-back 5-6 seasons; Wisconsin, a team that won 10 games total from 1986-1990, was headed to the Rose Bowl.

Hard-working guys

"(Coach Alvarez') big thing for us was, ‘we are just a bunch of working guys who just bring our lunch pail to work with us and go at it every single day.'"

—Sun Prairie High School Athletic Director Scott Nelson, a defensive back on the 1994 Rose Bowl Champion team.

Despite the Badgers' long wait for a winning season, there was reason to expect a competitive team in 1993. Wisconsin had been on the brink, going 5-6 each of the past two seasons. In 1992 the Badgers started 4-2, including a win over Ohio State, but finished 1-4, losing three of those games by 10 points combined.

What is more, the Badgers in those years had been a young team laden with freshmen and sophomores playing key roles.

"Everybody was hungry," Nelson said. "We knew we had been close a couple years—two or three points here and there in a game and we would have been in a bowl game two years in a row."

The tough losses and a feeling that the team was close to turning the corner drove the players to take it up a notch prior to the '93 season.

"We had 75 or 80 guys that stayed there during the whole summer and worked hard," 1993 quarterback Darrell Bevell said. "We could see that things were starting to turn around, that we could be pretty good. I'm not going to lie to you, but our goal was to make it to a bowl game and I'm not going to say that was the Rose Bowl, but it turned out all right."

A road win

"They won on the road. They made plays. As a coach you always think in your head, ‘if we don't get this first down, then we'll have to punt.' You are always anticipating, but we always made the play. It took a lot of questions away from what we had to do."

—Alvarez

Wisconsin had last won a road game in 1991, a 19-16 victory over Minnesota. Furthermore, when Wisconsin visited Dallas to play Southern Methodist on Sept. 11, it had not defeated a non-conference opponent on the road since a 41-17 win against Wyoming Sept. 28, 1985. Alvarez laid claim to a paltry 1-12 road mark entering the game, and the Badgers had just two road wins since 1986.

Like many such demons, this one evaporated in 1993, but not before an early scare. Before a crowd of just 19,000, the Mustangs were pitching a 13-0 shutout at halftime. The second half was an entirely different story. Moss and Fletcher each scored from a yard out and Bevell connected with J.C. Dawkins for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Wisconsin prevailed 24-16.

"I think that was pretty much a springboard for our season, the way we finished up our non-conference," Nelson said.

The Gophers take the axe

"It was just one of those days where things didn't go our way. We turned the ball over too many times and we still unbelievably had a chance to win the game or at least get a tie out of it. It was a disappointing game, but it didn't get us down or discourage us."

—Bevell, currently Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach

Wisconsin walked into the Metrodome Oct. 23, 1993 carrying a 6-0 record and a No. 15 rating in the AP Poll. The Gophers had reason to be fired up. Wisconsin had thrashed Minnesota the season before, a 34-6 thumping. Now, the Badgers were not just an up-and-coming team, they were an undefeated, nationally ranked team, fighting for a conference title.

Minnesota played the spoiler role well, taking advantage of six Wisconsin turnovers in a 28-21 victory, the Badgers' only defeat all season.

Rebounding against Michigan

"That is the great thing about that team that I remember is that each and every week we got better and better, even after the loss to Minnesota…coach brought us in, we watched the film, we threw it away, said, ‘OK, we are done with that one, let's move on to Michigan.' It was the biggest game of, probably, a lot of our careers at that point."

—Nelson

The Badgers had faced their first setback. Now, traditional powerhouse Michigan was coming to town. The Wolverines had not lost to Wisconsin since 1981, a 21-14 Badger victory over a top-ranked Michigan team. That was one of two home victories in Wisconsin history over the Wolverines.

In the lowest-scoring contest of the season the Badgers gutted out a 13-10 victory. Fletcher ran for 78 yards and Wisconsin's only touchdown. Moss added 128.

A near tragedy

"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."

—Dan McCarney, now head coach at Iowa State

After the game tragedy nearly struck. As students attempted to rush the field to celebrate the victory, a safety fence collapsed. The students surged forward, some moving 20 rows in moments, according to police and news reports at the time, and landing one on top of another.

The glory of victory gave way to agonizing sorrow, and many of the players, still on the field, rushed to where the accident occurred, lending a hand to rescue workers and helping free students from the pile. Walk-on wide receiver Mike Brin found two women who had stopped breathing and administered mouth-to-mouth rescuscitation.

More than 70 fans were injured in the stadium surge, some critically. Thankfully, and likely due in part to the actions of Wisconsin players, no one died.

99 yards

"Coach Alvarez did a great job, the following day after that incident happened he had people from the hospital and some of the police officers over to speak to the team, let them know that everyone was doing OK. He handled it in a great fashion to really help the team to mentally be able to move on from that."

—Bevell

A week after the emotional gamut of the Michigan game, the Badgers played host to another traditional powerhouse. At least Wisconsin didn't have as much history to erase with the 8-0, third-ranked Buckeyes. The Badgers had defeated Ohio State, 20-16, the season before.

Still, this was different. A victory would propel Wisconsin into a tie for first, and would put the Badgers in control of their destiny, with an opportunity to win the Big Ten title.

Wisconsin trailed early, but Darrell Bevell connected with receiver Lee DeRamus for an 8-yard touchdown pass to tie the game, 7-7, in the second quarter. Moss ran for a three-yard score in third quarter, giving the Badgers a 14-7 lead. Moss again ran for more than 100 yards, setting a then-school record with his eighth consecutive century mark performance.

Ohio State, though, was not done. The Buckeyes went 99 yards in just four plays and 46 seconds, capped with a 26-yard touchdown connection between receiver Joey Galloway and quarterback Bret Powers. With the game tied 14-14, Wisconsin kicker Rick Schnetzky lined up for a late 33-yard field goal attempt, but Buckeye Marlon Kerner blocked it.

The Wolverines' gift

"We were having pre-game while they were playing the game and when we went into the locker room coach, Alvarez told us that that game was over and our destiny was back in our hands."

—Bevell

The Badgers and Buckeyes had two games remaining and Wisconsin needed some help. They got it, care of Michigan, who ended Ohio State's perfect season in 28-0 fashion. Wisconsin still had to beat Illinois, which possessed one of the best defenses in the nation that year, to set up the game in Tokyo. Wisconsin was not to be denied. Illinois had not yielded a 100-yard rusher all season but Fletcher ran for 139; Moss 124. The Badgers took advantage of Michigan's gift, dismantling Illinois 35-10 and following through nearly a month later against the Spartans.

The Badgers had what they had been playing for—a trip to the Rose Bowl had become reality.

The Granddaddy of them all

"When we landed in Chicago to bus from Chicago back to Madison, that is really the first time that I really realized the impact of what we accomplished because there were all kinds of Badger fans all over the airport when we had landed…and here were these pictures (in the Wisconsin State Journal) of downtown Madison on State Street and all over, just a sea of fans and people hanging in the trees and climbing everywhere and it really sunk in what we had accomplished in Tokyo."

—McCarney

The game was in Pasadena, UCLA's backyard. The Badgers, however, buoyed by more than 70,000 traveling faithful, held the home-field edge at the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin had its balanced attack, with Moss and Fletcher leading the running game, and Darrell Bevell throwing to the likes of DeRamus, Dawkins and Mike Roan. Quarterback Wayne Cook and receiver J.J. Stokes led UCLA's offense.

Playing in its first Rose Bowl in 30 years, Wisconsin did not blink. Moss found the end zone twice in the first half, giving the Badgers a 14-3 lead. Bevell's improbable 21-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run gave Wisconsin a 21-10 lead. UCLA made a valiant comeback, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter, but time ran out on the Bruins' final drive.

The program that for so long had struggled for mere victories had won one of college football's most treasured titles.

A decade of smelling the Roses

What was a surprise to many started a new tradition at Wisconsin. Suddenly, the Badgers were on the football map. This was no fluke. Five years later, Wisconsin again defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl, this time topping a sixth-ranked Bruins squad 38-31. The following year, they made it three Rose Bowl championships in seven seasons with a 17-9 win versus Stanford. Before ‘93 Wisconsin had been to just six bowl games, winning one. Beginning with the 1994 Rose Bowl victory, the Badgers have appeared in eight Bowls, winning seven, in the past ten seasons. The 1993 season is a memory, a thing of the past. What it did for the Wisconsin football program will not soon be forgotten.

"Our '93 team came back for a reunion during the spring," Alvarez said. "Some of my guys were seven years old that year, they have no idea who (the '93 team was). We have been able to maintain things, we have won two Rose Bowls since then. So (the '93 win) doesn't carry much water when we tee it up and play this year.

"I'll tell you what it did. What it did was allow our players to believe that they could win and that they could be champions. I think that is very difficult. There are a lot of mental barriers that athletes go through and put restrictions on themselves. There are times when teams take the field playing against a traditional power and don't think they can win and just a little bit of doubt allows someone else to make the play or allows you to be hesitant, and you lose.

"Those kids had a determination and they won. That took the monkey off the back. You have been a champion. You are a champion. I don't have to sell that as a pipe dream. I don't have to sell it as blue sky. My guys know that if they follow our plan and do what is expected of them, they can win a championship."


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