Grimyser: Trying to Go Out On Top

Finishing the last season of a career is hard enough, but losing at least a third of your games is devastating. The lasting memory can be undone with just one bad season. Recently, the Wisconsin seniors have dealt with such concerns during this difficult season.

MADISON - The first four game losing streak since 1996. College football's most disappointing team. Wisconsin's worst season in more than a decade.

That's what has been said about the Badgers this year. It's been hard to watch as they have gone from the ninth-ranked team in the country to the bottom of the Big Ten Conference. More than likely, fans will look back on this season with a large sense of disappointment.

Will the seniors remember their last year the same way?

"We haven't lived up to [our standards] for the past couple of games. It's always hard to lose," said senior cornerback Allen Langford. "Winning solves all problems."

Some of that pain has undoubtedly been erased with a tough 27-17 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall. In fact, some of the key plays defensively came from fourth year players. Linebacker DeAndre Levy led the team with nine tackles and Langford had a spectacular interception in the third quarter.

"Winning always feels great. I remember how we played against Fresno State when we had a lot of energy and excitement," said Langford. "We had some of that excitement today."

Playing competitive football taxes players physically and emotionally who have been grinding it out for four years. From the countless practices to the constant scrutiny by fans and media, it's a lengthy commitment to compete at such a high level.

The high for the seniors was the 12-1 season including a Capitol One Bowl victory. Unfortunately, this year is without question the low.

"It's something that's very hard to take," said senior defensive lineman Mike Newkirk. "We know there were games that could have been won or that aren't out of your control. Games that aren't acceptable."

No one wants to finish his career on a downturn. It pins a negative memory on a mostly positive experience. Fans also tend to remember the one season that could have been, instead of the season that was.

Unlike professionals, who can hide their lives from the public, these athletes are a part of the student body. Every week they engage and spend time with their fans or, in the worst of cases, their critics.

"When players go through a tough times, people on campus are always asking questions like ‘what's going on with the team?' We all have to answer those questions," said Langford. "We basically said we were just going to fix it."

That may be true, but fixing one loss is somewhat easier than fixing an entire memory.

How an athlete reflects on his performance and team is much different and skewered than a spectator. Fans can forget about the game within minutes as they return to their lives. However, players tend to live and die with each loss. A season like this could sour an otherwise fantastic career.

"We didn't come out the way we wanted to at the beginning of the year," said Langford. "Our performance helps make things feel a little bit better now. Our careers are still going to be what they are. It's a long way to go this year too."

This senior class has been accustomed to winning. That's not by accident as the majority of the best players are seniors.

That being said, much of the responsibility for correcting this disappointing season rests on the seniors' shoulders. They are the leaders that the underclassmen look to during the recent challenging times.

"It would have been easy to be 0-for-4 and just quit and focus on next year, but we didn't," said Langford. "The [younger guys] are getting a lot of reps and we have to show them the things they may not have seen off of experience."

Badger seniors might have led the way, but every player experienced this much losing for the first time. Coming into this year, Wisconsin's senior class had an unprecedented 31-7 record.

All that makes this season even more difficult for players. Especially for the players that will no longer be suiting up after the season is over, this could be one of the lasting memories of their great careers.

"Ideally, it's not something you'd like in your last year," said Newkirk. "It's not something that I'm not gonna be proud of. I'm not gonna turn back on this year and I'm still gonna remember it."

Apparently, athletes share some of the same feelings that fans do.

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