Whether it was Pete Rozelle or Paul Tagliabue, I can hear the words in my mind: "(fill in the blank), you are on the clock."
Undoubtedly, a lot of fans in the Badger Nation have had some form of it since January 1, 2006. Others may have just logged it into their memory since it hit the 50-day mark. But, there is no questioning that a good number of people have a countdown. Why is that?
When I was in grade school, I can remember there being an assembly to watch the launch of space shuttle Challenger. It was always a pretty amazing thing to see the smoke build, to hear the sound increase, and then see the flames coming from the tail of the shuttle. The announcer would always have the official, "T-minus 30 seconds...20...and counting." Once the countdown hit 10, it was the cool thing for kids to count along. "10, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one..." That would be followed by a loud scream of excitement. On this day, however, there was a different scream....crying. But, the explosion cannot take away the memories of love for the families and friends of these fine these men and women. Things did get a little better.
On New Year's eve, 1988, I was at a under-21 dance club in Peoria, IL celebrating the changing of the year. There was this little known group, at the time, playing on the stage. In one of their songs, Step by Step, they use a countdown from five as a cue to each member to sing their little solo. At the time, and perhaps even now, their music is not really my style. But, just three months later they were playing the Peoria Civic Center to an arena record crowd of 13,092 people (bettering the old mark set by The Gambler). New Kids on the Block went on to sell millions of records and break millions of young female hearts everywhere.
During my senior year of high school, I can remember having tickets to see the Chicago Bulls vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. Having the chance to see my favorite player in the history of basketball, BJ Armstrong, and also the greatest player in history, His Air-ness, take the court was a pretty exciting moment for me. When my father told me he had tickets, I started a countdown in my bedroom from 15. My friends would tease me about it at school. "So, Jason, what is the countdown at, six or seven turnovers for BJ?" one friend told me. Another asked, "Is BJ going to get injured once or twice?" I finally got to the day of the game and it was amazing. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Scottie Pippen all on the same floor. This was eight percent of the best players in the history of the game. To top it off, BJ was there and he did not disappoint. He connected on his first nine field goal attempts and went on to score 24 points in a 102-90 Bulls victory. By the way, MJ dropped in 32.
However, the most anticipated countdown, up to that moment in time, was the turn of the century. Where was I? Working in a kitchen until 11:00pm to help with college expenses at Lincoln (IL) Christian College. The good news was that I always got free food from this well-respected Italian eatery, and they always paid me with cash. When the 11:00 bell rang, I made for my car. Where did I go? To my dorm room to watch the ball drop...twice....and then I fell asleep after hearing "1999" by Prince being played live. As you can tell, it was no big deal to me. Conversely, there is one moment in time that might be pretty large.
There will be two teams, from two different conferences, from, more than likely, two separate parts of the country. They will both enter the game with an a perfect 12-0 (13-0 if from a conference that has a title game) record. Each team will have a star player and a much publicized head coach. Both squads will have someone representing them at the Home Depot Awards Show on ESPN in the weeks leading up to the game. They will also have a lot of chances to be on different morning shows and evening talk shows. That is what the BCS National Championship brings to the table. It will be played on January 8th, 2007 in Glendale, Arizona. That is 161 days from now. People from every school in the BCS pool are already counting the days until that game.
Wisconsin returns at least eight starters on defense and four on the offensive side of the ball. The offense for the Badgers last season finished the Big Ten campaign in the ranked eighth, gaining 396.5 yards per game. QB John Stocco returns to an offense that threw for 227 yards per game. Yes, the team loses All-Big 10 performer Brian Calhoun, who rushed for 1636 yards overall and 802 during the Big Ten season (5th - Iowa's Albert Young led this category with 1002 in BT games only, 125.2 yards per game). Stocco amassed 1994 yards, 249.2 per game, during the eight game BT set (4th - Northwestern's Brett Basanez was top cat with 2409, or 301 per game). The defense finished the Big Ten season ranked tenth overall. To think, the team, statistically, did not have a very strong year and still won 10 games, including a Capital One Bowl victory against Auburn.
Taking into effect the statistical deficiency from last season, and the fact that the Badgers return as many defensive starters as anyone in the conference - you have to think this could be a special season. The schedule is quite favorable. I would consider eight, maybe nine, games as should win/favored in games: @ Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, @ Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State, and Buffalo. One additional game might be a toss-up on paper, that being an October 21 trip to West LaFayette, IN to face the Boilermakers of Purdue. If history proves right, this will be a close game as five of the last six contests between these two clubs has ended with the margin of victory at seven points or less. That team returns seven starters on offense, including QB Curtis Painter who led the team in the final five games. He is more of an option quarterback by trait, but is getting the chance to go from the gate this season in Joe Tiller's "pour but don't tip" style offense. That leaves just two games where I see the Badgers as a slight underdog: @ Michigan in the September 23 Big Ten season opener and November 11th @ Iowa, a place where only five teams have won since the turn of the century.
Honestly, this is going to be a special Badger season. More special than a space shuttle launch, of any sort. More special than a NKOTB concert, at least I hope it will (one win does that). More special, to Badger faithful, than seeing MJ and BJ take down MagJ in Chicago. And yes, more special than hearing Prince sing that song in the year of the song.
Some of you have the countdown at 161. Maybe a few more of you, now, have the countdown at the 103 day mark until the Iowa game on Nov. 11th. Others have it at 75, which is the number of days until the fury rodents from the west come to town for Badger Homecoming weekend. I am sure a lot of you also have 54 marked and have corresponding tickets for the game in Ann Arbor. But, there is a number that I know everyone has in their football memory banks right now.
33...then 32...then 31...then 30....just like seconds with each passing day.
Bowling Green: YOU ARE ON THE CLOCK.