Oral history: How Barry Alvarez transformed Wisconsin Badgers football program

They were considered, by most reasonable standards of college football, a laughingstock. An embarrassment. Young men who put everything into a season but lacked the overall depth of talent to compete with nearly every Big Ten team.

Respect for Wisconsin football was nonexistent. Home attendance in the late 1980s evaporated. General interest from a disillusioned fan base waned. And the train tasked with pulling the rest of Wisconsin’s non-revenue sports programs along was leading it right into a disastrous, fiery wreck, a significant reason for the athletic department’s $2.1 million debt.

They were, as Barry Alvarez would later put it, "the shittiest program maybe in the country."

How had Wisconsin football fallen so low?

It began when respected head coach Dave McClain died unexpectedly of a heart attack on April 28, 1986 at age 48. McClain’s 46 victories in eight seasons were six shy of tying the program record by a head coach in the modern era. What transpired next was a deep dive into the college football abyss.

Defensive coordinator Jim Hilles served as interim coach the ensuing season, but he was not retained following a 3-9 finish. Don Morton then took over after a two-year stint at Tulsa and implemented the veer offense, an option-heavy system that led only to an extraordinarily high number of fumbles — 111 in three seasons — and little progress.

The result: a 6-27 record, including 3-21 in the Big Ten, while being outscored by more than two touchdowns per game. The worst offensive season in the past 45 years. A three-year home attendance decrease from 68,052 fans a game to 41,734. And a removal of Morton from the head coaching post by a 10-0 athletic board vote.

It was under these circumstances in 1990 that Alvarez — a successful assistant at Iowa and Notre Dame — became Wisconsin’s next head coach, tasked with fixing a decaying program that had not produced a winning season since 1984.

As the 25th anniversary of Alvarez’s first game as head coach approaches, FOXSportsWisconsin.com presents an oral history of how a football team lifted itself from the stench of misery and, four seasons later, remarkably came up smelling like roses during a landmark period that forever changed the program.

Warning: This story contains explicit language.

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Carlos Fowler (defensive lineman, 1990-93): You would think when you earn a lettermen’s jacket, you’ll be happy to wear it. My lettermen’s jacket my freshman year, I was afraid to wear it. We weren’t respected as a viable football team in Madison.

Scott Nelson (free safety, 1989-93): You’d get football shirts or shorts as a player, and that was probably something you didn’t necessarily advertise a whole lot. You weren’t ashamed of it, but I guess you didn’t want to broadcast it, either.

Jason Burns (running back, 1990-94): It’s kind of hard to have pride in something when you haven’t won much. Everything about the program was, if you lose long enough, it becomes who you are and people kind of buy into we’re going to lose. There’s no bowl game at the end of the year, the season will be over in November. That’s kind of how it was when we got there.

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George Perles (Michigan State coach, 1983-94): They were in the bottom of the league. They weren’t very good, and they never got better until Barry got there.

Brian Patterson (center, 1990-94): We were horrible. It wasn’t a place that you wanted to go to. It was like, "Are we ever going to win?" We were kind of the laughingstock of campus.

Joe Rudolph (left guard, 1990-94): Football was more the butt of jokes from professors’ opening statements in classes. Like, "Oh yeah, I can’t wait to get to that first game to see the band."

Lamark Shackerford (nose guard, 1990-93): I heard all kinds of stories from students. "Yeah, we go to the game just to party in the stands. We don’t even care about the football game."

Paul Winters (running backs coach 1990, tight ends coach 1991): It was probably as low as it could go. Not real talented. Not a lot of depth. I think the young men on the team were discouraged from the losing and had lost all their confidence. They just didn’t know how to win.

Joel Maturi (associate athletic director, 1987-96): We were broke at the time, too. Hell, I don’t know if they had the gal-darn pennies to change jerseys.

Jay Wilson (WKOW-ABC TV sports director, 1987-2006): I remember Don Morton’s last home game as coach, which would have been I think the first weekend of deer hunting in 1989, which didn’t help. They were playing Michigan State. And I remember looking at the north end zone, the student section, and seeing almost every aluminum seat in the bleachers open.

Matt Lepay (Badgers radio announcer, 1988-present): The state of the program? It went from anger to apathy is what happened. Nobody cared. The turnout for the last game of the ’89 season, I want to say it was listed as 20-something. And the thought was it was about 10,000 maybe toward the end of that game against Michigan State. There was a certain anger in the Don Morton era, and then they just stopped going.

Donna Shalala (chancellor, 1988-93): I think the people had given up. I actually think they had given up on the chance that Wisconsin would ever be a contender again. There was a generation of people that only knew losing.

Pat Richter (athletic director, 1989-2004): It was really in terrible shape, and that’s the reason that all the changes were made. Donna wanted the athletic director, Ade Sponberg, to let the football coach go, and he wouldn’t do it. So she let both of them go. Then when I came on board, the first thing they had to do was find a football coach.

Donna Shalala: I talked to Chuck Neinas, who was head of the College Football Association, before Pat started the search to see whether we could find a coach. Everybody told me we couldn’t find a coach for Wisconsin. Chuck was a Wisconsin alum, and I’d called him up. He took my call and he said, "If you’re serious about getting a first-class coach, I will get you a list." And he said, "But I have to call around because no one will think Wisconsin is serious about football."

Chuck Neinas (CFA executive director, 1980-97): There was no commitment to the program. Donna Shalala gets some credit for really saying we need to make a commitment. Wisconsin made a couple of mistakes along the way I think in their hires. For some reason, the Badgers were just stumbling along.

Joel Maturi: Donna was frustrated and embarrassed by the performance of our football team. I remember being in the box when she attended a game against Michigan. We were behind by 50 at half. That may be an exaggeration, but it was brutal. I remember her saying, "This will not continue."

Donna Shalala: Chuck called around, and he came back with a list, and Barry was on the list. I was still working on hiring Pat as athletic director. So I handed the list over to Pat.

Chuck Neinas: There were actually three coaches’ names I advanced. One was Bobby Ross, who at that time was at Georgia Tech, but he decided to go to the Chargers. Don Nehlen, who had just experienced some good success at West Virginia, actually did talk to Wisconsin. I said if we have to go and get an assistant, the person that we need to look at is Barry Alvarez at Notre Dame. The people at Notre Dame were very, very strongly in favor of Barry. So that’s how I got his name and advanced it to Donna.

Pat Richter: I don’t recall that. She might have given me a couple names. But basically from that point forward, I went after the coaches that I felt were capable, at least that I wanted to talk to. I talked to Lloyd Carr, Jim Colletto, Jim Harkema at Eastern Michigan, Jim Donnan, people like that. And then I talked to Don Nehlen by phone and Barry also.

Barry Alvarez (head coach, 1990-2005): I was defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. And my secondary coach, Chuck Heater, had coached at Wisconsin. Then, he went to Ohio State. Then I hired him as a secondary coach at Notre Dame. He knew some of the Wisconsin people. He said, "That Wisconsin job’s going to open up." And so I kept my eye on it. I felt like this was the perfect job.

Lou Holtz (Notre Dame head coach, 1986-96): When he talked about Wisconsin, I said to him, "Are you sure that’s what you want to do?" The program was down. I felt that there would be other better opportunities to come along for him. But he said he had examined it. He thought he could build a good program there. It was in the Big Ten. He was familiar with the Big Ten. He coached at Iowa for a long time. He had played at Nebraska. He knew the Midwest, and he felt it would be a good job there.

Donna Shalala: Pat had a philosophy that we should find an up-and-coming coach. Someone who was already a No. 2 who was hungry, who was at a school equal in academic stature to Wisconsin. And Pat thought that we should find a defensive coordinator. I remember exactly what he said to me. He said, "Someone who’s been a defensive coordinator also understands the offense. And Alvarez checks all those boxes."

Lou Holtz: He was an excellent defensive coordinator. Great with the players. He was very smart. Very calm. Never panicked. Very confident in himself, and that confidence carried over to the players. It was obvious he would be a head coach. It was just a question of when.

Pat Richter: Really, it boiled down to two people at the end. It was Don Nehlen and Barry. The way it was set up, the bowl game would have allowed Don to come to Madison and take a look at what we had. Barry would have been subsequent to that. Had Don Nehlen come to Madison, who knows what would have happened? But they lost a bowl game and when I called him and said, "Are you ready to come and take a look at Madison," he said, "No, I’d like to think about it for a day." When he said that, that’s when I went to Barry because Don obviously wasn’t really strongly motivated to go. And we needed somebody that was totally ready to come to our program, and that’s when I made the switch.

Don Nehlen (West Virginia head coach, 1980-2000): I never went up to Madison, but they did talk to me some. I really wasn’t interested in the job. Not because I didn’t think it was a good job. But we had moved enough, and I was in my 50s and my kids were here and my grandkids were here. We had decided two years prior to that that regardless of what happened, we were going to stay in West Virginia. But I knew that they were struggling. I knew they wanted to change directions. It was a job that needed a lot of work, I’m sure of that.

Barry Alvarez: I wasn’t nervous at all. I was ready. I’m very confident. And I was very prepared. I had everything laid out. I don’t think Pat interviewed anybody else that had a coaching manual. I presented Pat that. He laughed. I had a great plan. I had assistant coaches, three listed at each position that I would go after, the whole thing.

Pat Richter: The interview basically took place at his house in South Bend. He picked me up at the airport. The main thing for me, the interest was basically who was going to come with him? That was always a very strong motivation for anybody who hires is you’ve got to have people that are willing to put their careers on the line to follow somebody, and that tells you something about whether they have the confidence in that person or not.

Dan McCarney (defensive coordinator, 1990-94): Barry and I spent eight years together at Iowa and had an unbelievable experience together. Barry had interviewed with Pat Richter in his living room, just the two of them in South Bend. He hadn’t heard anything in a while. The longer it went, the more Alvy was thinking this may not work out this time around. The night before Notre Dame played Colorado for the Orange Bowl, I get a phone call, and it’s Barry Alvarez. And there’s screaming and yelling in the background. I can hardly even hear him. He says, "Get your butt to Madison, Wisconsin! I just got the Wisconsin job!" That’s how it all began.

Steve Malchow (football sports information director, 1990-2001): If you’ve been around Barry a lot, he’s always got a plan. When he showed up at his introductory press conference, he already had two of his most important assistant coaches with him from Iowa. One was Dan McCarney, who went on to become his defensive coordinator. And the other coach that he had on-site at his news conference was Bernie Wyatt, who ended up being extremely important as it related to recruiting.

Barry Alvarez: That was really a good start to get those guys in here. And it was so positive. I think Wisconsin was really in awe of what happened at Iowa at the time. Hayden Fry came in, turned it around. I don’t think Hayden lost to Wisconsin for I don’t know how many years. For me to come in and take two of his assistants was huge.

Dan McCarney: When Bernie Wyatt and I got on the plane to fly to Madison, Bernie had not accepted the job yet. We came into the McClain Center. There’s a mob of people there. We’re just standing in the back. All of a sudden Pat Richter comes out of the crowd up there where Barry was at, and he grabs both of us and just pulls us right up there on stage right at the front. Barry goes to the media, to everybody, "Here’s two of my best friends in life and my first two hires of Wisconsin football, Dan McCarney and Bernie Wyatt."

Well, Bernie hadn’t even talked about it yet. Bernie wanted to come up and take a look at everything, talk to Barry, then make a decision, then call his wife. He had not let Hayden Fry know that he was taking the job. He sure didn’t let Barb, his wife, know. Bernie is up on the stage, and here’s the microphones and we’re doing interviews. And Bernie looks at me and goes, "Mac, that damn Alvy got me again." How are you going to say no now?

Bernie Wyatt (recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, 1990-2001): Barry was a very good friend, and so was Dan McCarney. We were very close, all three of us. But they kind of recruited me because I just didn’t say I was going. So I flew up there with both of them. They were laughing and everything. They said, "We trapped you into this." I said, "No, you didn’t trap me into anything. I’m old enough to know what I’m doing." It was a great relationship.

Barry Alvarez: I thought things would change. I knew one thing: The three of us could recruit. We’d go out and flip over rocks and find players. Bernie was the strongest recruiter in the whole East Coast. Dan was as good of a recruiter as there was in the Midwest, and I’d recruited well every place I’d been.

Jay Wilson: I was there when Barry was introduced as the new head coach. When he got to the microphone, there’s just that something. There’s that charisma. When he walks into a room, people’s heads turn. There was that famous line about get your season tickets now or there won’t be any left. I don’t know if he believed it, but he sold it. And maybe he did believe it. That was the first time when people started going, "Hey, maybe . . ."

Matt Lepay: I remember the famous line. You’d better get your season tickets now because before long, you might not be able to. I remember thinking, Boy this guy is pretty confident in himself. And in my own mind, I’d only been here two years, was here for ’88, ’89, so I thought, I wonder if he knows what he’s getting into because it was a mess.

Barry Alvarez: That was not planned. That was just how I felt. I was very confident. Every place I’ve been, we’ve won. I just wanted people to leave me alone and support me. Let me run my program, and we’d win.

Scott Seeliger (tight ends coach, 1983-91): When Barry got in, I was a guy who was between coaches and trying to keep the recruits until signing day. He hired me. I remember it was on a phone call. This is how passionate the guy was. He and Dan called me at about 2 a.m. and woke me up and said, "Hey you’re in. You’re being hired. We want you." That was at 2 a.m. It was because all they were doing was planning and working and scheming on what it was going to take to get this program going.

Matt Lepay: I remember the doors to the football offices. It used to be pretty much free reign during the Morton era. But when Barry got there, the signs on the door said "football related business only." He had no time for bull. He just knew he had a big job to do, so he was going to focus on that and not anything else.

Bernie Wyatt: He was confident. He wasn’t overbearing with the players. But if they got out of line, he certainly wouldn’t hesitate to get them corrected. He wanted you to know he was the boss, but at the same time he wanted to be on your level.

Jeff Messenger (cornerback, 1990-94): There are certain people you just come around that are pure leaders. There’s something that kind of draws you to him. There’s no one real thing you can point to. But when you’re around him, you trust him, you follow him. What he said, he spoke the truth and didn’t throw a lot of BS out there.

Carlos Fowler: Barry was the epitome of I would say Tony Soprano. One day he invited all the offensive and defensive linemen out to his house for a barbecue. We were all excited. We think we’re going to go chill with Barry out at his house. He had us out there to move his hot tub into his house. He was truly the godfather of Wisconsin football.

Scott Nelson: The first time I ever met him was our first team meeting. It was intimidating. He walks in, some guys have hats on and are kind of slouched back in their chair a little bit and start talking. I think maybe after three or four words, he said, "OK, sit up straight, put your feet flat on the floor, take your hats off and your earrings out." Everybody kind of looked at each other and sat up straight and did exactly what they were told. At the time, we were like holy cow. It’s just a matter of respect.

Troy Vincent (cornerback, 1988-91): I wasn’t in position to question him after we went 2-9. Him coming over from Notre Dame, he had a pretty good resume as a coach. Calm. Young. Looked like a little Italian stallion. It was like, "Whatever coach, whatever you think is best. I’m behind you."

Kevin Cosgrove: He hired a good staff. We had six coaches on our staff that won Big Ten championships previously. You had the same feeling when we went to Wisconsin that it was a sleeping giant and that we were going to awaken it. We all believed it. But it was going to take a lot of work.

Steve Malchow: When Barry was hired, that’s when a lot of the foundational work started with him outlining what the new commitment was going to be as part of the program. There were about 50 players that just came in and said, "I don’t want to work that hard and make that commitment."

Mike Verstegen (left tackle, 1990-94): They were trying to weed out a lot of the players. I think if the number is correct, a total of 56 players quit that spring.

Reggie Holt: He damn near ran off half the team because he was trying to get players to buy into his system. He was just testing guys. Winter conditioning was probably the worst winter conditioning I’ve ever been a part of in my entire career. And he did that solely to run people off.

Scott Nelson: I thought I worked out hard before, and it wasn’t even close to what they wanted us to do.

 

Brian Patterson: I was the guy who tried to quit, and he wouldn’t let me. My roommate had quit a couple hours before. We thought we knew everything. We thought we were smarter than the program. We were running every day. We weren’t very good. When I went in to talk to him and coach Bill Callahan, they said they weren’t going to let me quit. He believed in me, and I believed in him and wound up happy I went through the whole process with him.

Troy Vincent: It was a different atmosphere. But if that’s what it took to win, I was all for it.

 

Joe Panos (right tackle, 1990-93): I remember Bernie Wyatt was in charge of this line drill, and I was a transfer from Whitewater and I messed it up. He started screaming, "You’d better get your ass back to Whitewater, boy." It was like you can’t do that shit here. It was very intense. That was before actual practice really started.

Lamark Shackerford: If you weren’t on board, you got run out of town. You either found somewhere else to go or you were asked to go somewhere else. That’s how it was. They had to change the culture around here.

Joe Panos: This is no lie. Ask anyone who you talk to. In the middle of the night, over at the seminary (during fall training camp), you would hear cars start and whiz past on the way out because they couldn’t handle it.

Joe Rudolph: There’d be guys running through the cornfields in the middle of the night taking off. You’d hear them yelling. Some cheering.

Barry Alvarez: That was spring and fall. Yeah, there was a constant exodus. Our out-of-season (program) was what I did the whole time. They weren’t accustomed to someone being on their ass. We were coaching hard. I think some of them realized they couldn’t play.

Kevin Cosgrove: We were running it like a Big Ten program should be run.

 

Dan McCarney: Some of those guys, based on what they’d been used to, thought it was punishment. It was not punishment. It was what we had to do to be successful, just to give ourselves a chance.

Scott Seeliger: I think it gets embellished with time. But having said that, they were demanding. We needed to show the players what it’s going to take if we want to be at the top.

Mike Verstegen: Our first team meeting, the senior captain got up and just expressed how you’ve got to believe in yourselves and things like that. They’re trying to stress to us that it was very important that everyone believe that we can win. But coach Alvarez came in the background and said he doesn’t think we have enough talent in the room to win a lot of games. And that was kind of a reality check for me.

Barry Alvarez: Nick Polczinski said, "We’re going to go undefeated and win the Big Ten. Anybody that doesn’t believe that, I’ll kick their ass." So I stood up and I said, "I don’t believe that, Nick." I said, "I just came from a team that lost one game. And you aren’t even close."

Carlos Fowler: Here’s this fifth-year senior saying we’ll kick your ass if you don’t believe us. Barry stands up and says we’re not going to win every game this year. We won’t even be a contender this year. We had to believe what he was telling us.

Lamark Shackerford: Barry basically said we ain’t won shit yet, so how are you just going to say we’re going to win the Big Ten all of a sudden? You appreciate his enthusiasm. But Barry had just been through it a few times winning at Iowa and winning at Notre Dame. We hadn’t experienced college winning. He set the right perspective, like let’s not even go there with all that because this is not happening in the first year. We’re working towards that.

Dan McCarney: It was a great lesson for everyone. Let’s be optimistic, but let’s be realistic, too. Let’s not live in some dream world. Let’s not be delusional. We’ll do it the right way, but let’s not start thinking something stupid around here.

Mike Verstegen: That’s kind of the way Coach did it. He was very upfront with you, and it kind of came true that there wasn’t enough talent in that room at that time to win many football games.

Steve Malchow: We opened with Cal. That was our first game. It was at home. It was an ESPN game. So there was tremendous optimism. New coach. New era. New start. This is going to be a great showcase game for us. Cal returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown before halftime. That was the beginning of the slide. We ended up losing that game 28-12. It kind of popped the balloon I guess for the dream that we were all hoping for.

Barry Alvarez: The first year was hard because it was futile. I’d never been in a position when you knew you went in, you didn’t have a chance. And our guys played their asses off now. They really played hard. People don’t realize that. We were 1-10. We didn’t have an offense. We didn’t have a quarterback or a running back. We were in the fourth quarter, we were in every game because we’re playing really good defense. But we couldn’t get 200 yards of offense.

Joe Panos: Ten losses. Are you kidding me? We got our asses kicked the whole year. It was a rough season. It was a learning experience.

Mark Montgomery (fullback, 1990-93): Coming from a high school where I had a very successful career, going to a university where it’s just shit and you’re getting beat down by everyone you’re playing, that was the absolute most miserable time that I have had in my life is going through that experience.

Lamark Shackerford: You get to the game, you don’t really know what to expect and then you start seeing things on the field. You play a Michigan or an Illinois, where these guys had all these all-Americans and all-Big Ten guys and just returning studs. They just go out there and whoop us. That was like, "Wow."

Jeff Messenger: There wasn’t a whole lot of depth at that point. If somebody went down, you were in trouble. You could see they were plugging in a lot of the young guys.

Jason Burns: It was kind of a year of transition. The team was still primarily guys from the old regime, I guess you could say. Not everybody bought in to what they were trying to do.

Mark Montgomery: There wasn’t a sense of respect for the players already there. It was like, "Well, you guys haven’t done anything. And whatever you have done, it hasn’t worked, so you can’t tell us anything."

Paul Winters: We had some guys that were really outstanding. You can probably count on one hand those players, though. You’ve got to build a team, not just a few individual players.

Steve Malchow: Interest waned pretty quickly that year.

 

Jay Wilson: Not every game was on TV, and we wouldn’t stick around for postgame interviews because there was so little interest in the program. So the game ended, and everybody left.

Matt Lepay: Here’s what Barry walked into. We would do a weekly coaches show. And at the time, we just relied on listeners calling in. Nobody freakin’ called in. We made it up during the season. Dan McCarney would be Dan from Middleton. Bill Callahan would be Bill from Sun Prairie. We were like, we have to drum up some calls here. This sucks. You’re filling an hour show. Do you know how long that is when no one is calling? They’d say, "Coach I just want to let you know we support the program. We’re with you all the way." That’s for real. It’s a hit everywhere we tell that story, but it’s true.

Dan McCarney: I never used my first name. I used Myron from Middleton. Larry from La Crosse. I mean, we were calling in, just getting the interest going. Getting people to cheer. It’s the old give a crap factor.

Kevin Cosgrove: We had to fill the interest. We’d sit up there in the office on Wednesday night doing our work and Barry’s show came on. We’d call in and say, "Hey, you’re doing a great job. Just keep it up, Coach."

Pat Richter: We had a marketing campaign: a whole new animal. After the record was basically the same, some people were like it doesn’t look like it’s much different. Well, they didn’t really see the intensity and the way it was being played.

Troy Vincent: Those losses were ones where you can come back in the film room on Sunday morning and actually say, "Hey, if we correct this, we correct that, we keep the drive alive." The telltale sign was you’re not getting beat by 30 or 40 points. It’s not the second quarter and you’re saying, "They’re going to put 70 up on us. We’ve got a chance." I think that was a difference.

Matt Lepay: Alvarez was a dude who was at Notre Dame going to the Orange Bowl. The year before that, he won a national championship. He was at Iowa going to Rose Bowls. This was different for him, getting his ass kicked every week. We sat in the coaches locker room for the postgame show after they got beat 44-34 to Northwestern. He takes his ball cap, whips it across the locker room, like "Boy, I’m really glad I’m here doing this." That’s when it hit me that, yeah, they’ve got a long way to go.

Lamark Shackerford: That 1-10 season, it doesn’t get any worse than that.

 

Scott Seeliger: It was just slow and painful. It’s something that had to be done. It’s like going to the dentist. It’s going to be painful, but when it’s over, we’re going to be better.

Reggie Holt: It probably was hardest on Barry than anybody else. Hell, we were already used to losing, so 1-10, what does that mean to us? It’s just another season, right?

Barry Alvarez: It was just hard because I couldn’t show a sign of weakness. I’ve always used the term don’t flinch. So I couldn’t flinch. You’d get your ass beat. You’d have to go in and see your coaches on Sunday morning. Then you’d have to be confident so they could show confidence. Then you go meet your players. You had to walk in the room with confidence. Then I’d go and curl up in the fetal position in my office.

Barry Alvarez: When I interviewed with Pat, I knew all the issues. I knew the things that were going on here could be corrected. You had to take time. Because they were taking guys that really weren’t Big Ten players.

Kevin Cosgrove: At the time, we couldn’t get a top kid in the state. There was no respect for the program.

 

Barry Alvarez: The players in the state were leaving. Iowa, the year that I came, went to the Rose Bowl. Eleven guys on their two-deep were from Wisconsin. Michigan had Wisconsin players. Notre Dame had Wisconsin players. So they were leaving the state, and they were playing wherever they were going.

Dan McCarney: It didn’t really hit home to me until I went out those first few days on the road. Alvy said, "Here’s where we’re going, Mac. You’ve got Wisconsin. Hit it." I came back and I said, "We’ll know when we get this damn thing going, man. Everywhere I go, I see Iowa T-shirts, Michigan hats, Iowa sweatshirts." Here we are in the state of Wisconsin and I see more of that crap than I do Wisconsin stuff.

Brad Childress (running backs coach 1991-93, offensive coordinator 1994-98): You had to be able to build a fence around the state of Wisconsin, which is what Barry wanted to do recruiting-wise. The Michigans, the Iowas, the Notre Dames used to come in and pick a guy out of there every year that should’ve gone to Wisconsin.

Barry Alvarez: I knew that was going to be my No. 1 priority: keep the good players in state and win over the high school coaches. And I made a really strong effort to do that. I made the statement we’ll build a wall around the state, which we did.

Jeff Messenger: Wisconsin was kind of off the radar with the direction the program was going. I had pretty much set my mind to go to Michigan State until coach Alvarez came in and said, "Hey, hold off until we have our first official visit at the end of January." Out of courtesy for being a state kid and all, I held off for that. Once I got there, it was just kind of a no-brainer. I knew that he was the right person for it.

Mike Thompson (defensive tackle, 1990-94): I actually committed to Iowa State. I didn’t want to stay in-house because of the way the program was. And then I came back home and I heard that coach Alvarez was just hired and he was coming to my high school to talk to me. He walked in and just the presence displayed was unbelievable. The enthusiasm that he showed for me and the will to win was an easy sell. I’ll put it that way. I knew things were going to head in the right direction.

Steve Stark (right guard, 1991-95): For me, it was the idea that Barry made you believe that you could be part of something really special.

Cory Raymer (center, 1991-94): Dan McCarney was the first guy that I talked to. Alvarez always came with McCarney. Dan McCarney could make you feel comfortable and laugh at your mother’s funeral. There was something about him. He was always on Cloud 10. He was fired up.

Dan McCarney: We had to stir it up and touch people’s hearts and get their spirits alive again, and their emotions stirred with the Wisconsin Badgers program.

Mark Montgomery: McCarney said, "I want you to come down and visit Wisconsin." I still remember my response was, "Wisconsin? Do they even have a fucking team? Are you kidding me? Is that a joke?" He literally said, "You need to come down here and talk to coach Alvarez. Listen to what he has to say. It will change everything that you feel."

Bernie Wyatt: We sold them on the fact that they had a chance to play sooner because we were just starting to build a team, and we wanted to build it with our players that we recruited.

Brad Childress: Our big sell was, "Hey, it’s a different kind of fun to be part of the turnaround, and this place is going to turn around."

Barry Alvarez: We sold them on us. We sold blue sky. We sold them on we knew how to turn it around. Be a part of the turnaround. We sold them on being able to play early. All those things. And that was true.

Mark Montgomery: The first thing that absolutely got my attention and sold me was Barry had a huge wooden desk in his office with this big leather chair on wheels. The first thing he did, he rolled the chair from around his desk and he sat right next to me side-by-side. And that said something because when I was at Iowa, Hayden Fry stayed behind his desk. I was on a couch like 20 feet away. And the arrogance of Hayden Fry really annoyed me. When I got there, I absolutely hated Hayden Fry. With Barry being more personable, it made it more welcoming. That right there was a huge plus. But then also the first thing out of his mouth was, "This school isn’t shit. And that’s why they hired me. That’s why we’re going to turn this program around." After that conversation, I was ready to put on a helmet and play for this man.

Lamark Shackerford: It was exciting. You wanted to be a part of it. Even when I took my visit, the Morton era was pretty much gone. They were already working to try and improve things. We got the new indoor facility, new weight room. Things were in the works. It wasn’t like it was just total garbage. It seemed like once Barry took over, then any signs of Morton seemed to disappear, really. That’s how I honestly felt about it. I always felt like I was coming into Barry’s show.

Bernie Wyatt: I was on the road almost every day for the first year other than Saturday. I’d go out Sunday evening, fly to where I had to go, and then I would meet up with the team Friday night and come home with the team on Saturday and do the same thing. I did that throughout the entire first season. I was on the road quite a bit, and my wife didn’t appreciate it. That’s what you have to do to be successful. You have to be able to recruit.

Bryan Jurewicz (outside linebacker, 1992-96): I could’ve played anywhere. I was an all-American coming out of school. I visited Notre Dame and talked to Lou Holtz at the time. There was just something that coach Alvarez had. Those coaches had a different passion.

George Perles: Barry knew the game. He was a good teacher and got along in recruiting. He was tough to recruit against because families liked him. Parents liked him. He was the type of guy you could trust.

Terrell Fletcher (running back, 1991-94): Coach came to our house. My dad is like, "Hey, if my son comes to the school, are you saying that you guys are going to win games?" And Coach says back to my dad, "I’m saying that if your son doesn’t come to the school, we’re still going to win games. We’re working hard to get him. But if he chooses not to come, we’re still going to win games and we’re going to kick his butt wherever he’s playing." It was great. I think that sold my parents. My parents were Badgers after that. I didn’t become a Badger until about eight weeks later.

Brent Moss (running back, 1990-94): I knew Alvarez was a builder. My other choice was Michigan State. And they had a winning program at the time. And some people are different when they’ve got a winning program. I just felt uncomfortable there. I just didn’t trust it. I went with Barry Alvarez because you saw the way he talked and what he’s like. You look into his eyes, you just know what kind of man he is, what kind of coach he is. And plus I’m from Wisconsin. My whole goal was to play for all of Wisconsin.

Joe Panos: The first year or two, we’d lose the Wisconsin kids. By the time we left, every Wisconsin kid that was worth a shit came to Wisconsin. Then we’d get other guys. Coach Wyatt would get some East Coast guys. We saw them get better recruits every year.

Matt Lepay: They were getting a roster full of Big Ten-caliber players who bought into what he was coaching. Work your ass off, be tough, love the game, all the cliches, I guess. But that’s what they recruited to. You could tell.

Brad Childress: We really took a bunch of kids that we thought had great work ethic. They may not have been your Triple-A star recruits, but we took kids we thought were lunch pail guys and felt we could win with them and convinced them we would win if we could run the ball and stop the run.

Kevin Cosgrove: We worked our butts off recruiting and started to get some pretty good players. Our running backs were Brent Moss and Terrell Fletcher. Darrell Bevell came in at quarterback. Lamark Shackerford became one of our captains. You go on and on.

Bryan Jurewicz: They did recruit hard. Literally I have memories of coaches being at my house meeting with us when they came down for my visit doing drills on the floor. Saying, "Let me show you how hard we’re willing to work. We’re going to get on the floor and actually show you drills that we’re doing right now with our team." They were serious.

Terrell Fletcher: The guys that they brought in my year and the year before, we were very different than many of the guys that were already there. And I say this very respectfully. What coach Alvarez did was they went all over the United States and grabbed kids. They were pulling us out of Jersey, out of St. Louis, out of Georgia. They were unafraid to recruit. They recruited like they were perennial Rose Bowl contenders.

Jason Burns: What I noticed was that most of the people from my class, which was his first class in ’90, and then the class of ’91, most of the guys came from winning programs in high school. I kind of have a theory that they purposely did that to quickly change the mental culture. When we got here, losing didn’t sit right.

Brent Moss: The class we had was the true ballers. I’ll put that against anybody. We turned shit into sugar. So you can’t beat that.

Dan McCarney: Our second year in ’91, we were playing Western Illinois in the opener. I think we were behind at halftime. And I remember coming off the field, and the fans are chanting, "Barry! Barry! Barry!" in Camp Randall. I’m looking around at Alvy like these people are freakin’ nuts. We’re getting our ass beat by Western Illinois and they just love the style of the football. We were being more physical. We ended up winning the game. It was a sign of the fans, and it was a sign of the support that we’ve got something really special here. Let’s build this thing the right way.

Jeff Messenger: There were a lot of firsts. We won our first road game. Won a couple Big Ten games. That kind of stuff hadn’t happened in quite a while. It was just a matter of kind of getting the wheels turning.

Terrell Fletcher: My first year in ’91, we start off 3-0 and we finished the year at 5-6. And there were seniors that were leaving that were crying because they had never won that many games in their career. I’m serious. And I’m telling you, I was sitting with Lee DeRamus. And we’re watching these guys hugging each other and crying, and it’s like, "Y’all all right, man? This sucks. We suck. We’re 5-6. What a bunch of losers in this locker room. We stink."

Lee DeRamus (receiver, 1991-94): We were pissed off. I do remember that. And they’re running around, jumping around. Me and Terrell were looking around like, "Are you kidding me?"

Jay Wilson: You had to get a group of guys who weren’t going to cry at a 5-6 season. They were going to say, "Hey, we want to win eight. We want to win 10. We want to go to the Rose Bowl."

Terrell Fletcher: There was just a different mentality in those first and second recruiting classes that coach Alvarez had. We were hungry. We didn’t like being 5-6. We wanted to vie for bowl games. We saw the excitement in the city and, quite frankly, we didn’t understand it.

Joe Rudolph: In 1992, everything started changing. During that 5-6 year in ’91, everyone was excited that you are doing good things. The 5-6 year the following year, there was a lot of disappointment. The mindset at the end of that year was more of, "Boy, these opportunities are precious and they go by fast."

Jason Burns: In ’92 was when the zone offense and all that type of stuff came into play. The identity of the offense started to be set when you had people running for 1,000 yards and people knew Wisconsin as a power football team.

Barry Alvarez: We were a good team that year. We went out to Washington and played the defending national champs with the nucleus back to open the season. They were loaded. The big tackle, Lincoln Kennedy, grabbed me after we lost the game and said, "Coach, we’ll see you in the Rose Bowl." Those cats weren’t intimidated anymore. The guys we recruited could play.

Joe Rudolph: It kind of set a tone for what you’re capable of doing and set it early on.

 

Jim Hueber (running backs coach, 1992-94, offensive line coach, 1995-2005): We made a change to make Darrell Bevell the quarterback at halftime. And then we never changed. After that, we never flinched. With his maturity and him being a little bit older, that really proved to be a big deal for us.

Barry Alvarez: We played them off their feet. I started Jay Macias in that game, and if I’d have started Bevell in that game, we probably would’ve won. Macias was intimidated, and he couldn’t get the ball to DeRamus. They were playing man coverage. They couldn’t cover DeRamus. But I knew right then we can compete with anybody.

Steve Malchow: We played Ohio State on Oct. 3 in Madison. We were 2-1 at that point in the season. Barry gets up in front of the student body at this Friday night pep rally and for lack of a better description says, "We’re going to kick their butt tomorrow." I about died. Everybody is all fired up. He runs off the stage and looks at me and goes, "Hey, how was that?" And I’m like, "Are you kidding me? You may as well have broadcast that on national TV. Ohio State has all their local TV stations here." He looked at me and he goes, "Perfect. Just the way I wanted it." The result on that Saturday morning was Wisconsin 20, Ohio State 16.

Mike Thompson: Ohio State was ranked 12th at the time. That was sort of a game I believe that took us to the next level as far as confidence.

Scott Nelson: We knew we had turned a page. Maybe started a new chapter. But we also found out the hard part was you beat an Ohio State team, great. That doesn’t carry the rest of the way.

Reggie Holt: We were stronger. We were faster. We were smarter. But we weren’t quite there yet. We didn’t know how to win close games. If we jumped up on a team, we were looking at the scoreboard and the clock hoping the clock would run out before the other team would beat us.

Eric Unverzagt (inside linebacker, 1991-95): It was like we were more competitive, but we couldn’t get those breaks that the good teams make happen. We couldn’t make that deep pass. We couldn’t make that stop that we needed to make.

Scott Nelson: We ended up dropping a number of games — most notably the Northwestern game down there.

 

Steve Malchow: That was the last game of the year. We had a couple bowl bids locked up if we won the game.

 

Pat Richter: We would have been 6-5 and could have gone to either the Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl or the All-America Bowl in Anaheim. But that didn’t happen.

Terrell Fletcher: We were on their turf. Their crowd was excited. To them, we were always a rivalry game. We were like the two teams that sucked. We assumed we’d go in there and we’d win this game and we’d go to our first bowl game.

Barry Alvarez: It was huge. We’re in field-goal range. We’re going to kick a chip shot, although that wasn’t guaranteed either because we had missed one earlier. But to not even have a shot at it because the ball pulled out of Jason Burns’ arms — he does a spin move and the ball flies out. Just protect the ball. Yeah, that was crushing because that would’ve been huge. First bowl game in a while. It would’ve been a reward for those guys.

Jason Burns: I got hit as soon as the ball was handed off. But it was still my responsibility. I took responsibility for it. But the season is much longer than one play. I don’t look at it like I lost the game or I cost us a bowl game. It’s one play in a long string of plays.

Terrell Fletcher: We just didn’t take care of our business. And it wasn’t just Jason’s fumble. It was other missed opportunities along the way in that ballgame. I won’t put that on Jason. But I felt bad for Jason that day. It just wasn’t in the cards.

Barry Alvarez: I felt terrible about that. That was really hard.

 

Jim Hueber: I probably wanted to strangle him. Jason was always one of my favorites down there. Like anything else, that’s the play everybody remembers. But obviously there were opportunities before that for the game to be different.

Brent Moss: Jason was my roommate for years. To me, Jason was one of the best backs, way more talented than me and Terrell could ever wish we was. I don’t know if Terrell would say that. But I know I’m going to say that. Jason Burns was the Barry Sanders of that day at Wisconsin. He had a problem holding onto the ball. As far as a running back, man, he was awesome. I just told him, "Don’t worry about it. Hold on to that ball. When you get your opportunity again, you’ve got to shine."

Carlos Fowler: When we fumbled the ball, their quarterback, Len Williams, came back on the field. And his cadence really chapped my ass. He’s like, "Ready, Wisconsin, y’all thought you were going to a bowl game this year. Blue 19, y’all ain’t going nowhere. Y’all asses are going home." That chapped my ass so much that they were like penciled in. We will beat Northwestern. I don’t give a damn if we didn’t win one other game that next year. They will pay for what they said there.

Reggie Holt: He gets under center, and I’m there. We’re lined up. He tells the team before he signals hut to down the ball to end the game, "You fuckers think that you were going to a bowl? You ain’t going nowhere but home. Set. Hut." And he killed the clock. We were so angry. And I think that partially motivated us that next year to say we’re going to kill everybody.

Mike Thompson: All they had to do was snap it and take a knee. That was lodged in our brains, to rub it in our face like that. There was no doubt when they came to Madison the next year, they didn’t have a chance.

Joel Maturi: Barry was angrier than heck slamming things in the coaches’ locker room, just really disgusted because we had in essence given one away. And I’m wondering, "Oh boy, how’s he going to address these kids?" He went into the locker room with the team, and he thanked the seniors for turning the culture around in Wisconsin football. He said, "We’re going to go to the Rose Bowl because of what you’ve established here at Wisconsin."

Joe Panos: I know Coach really wanted to go to a bowl game that third season to give us kind of a springboard for the fourth. But it’s almost better that we did not just to know how close we were. Talk about a motivation factor going into that Rose Bowl year.

Matt Lepay: What I remember was the banquet that they had after the season. This is going to sound corny, but it’s real. There were players who were already talking about how much they were looking forward to next year and seeing Northwestern again and what they were going to do to them. Lamark Shackerford said, "I kind of feel sorry for them right now." I thought, "Oooh, OK." As much as that hurt at the end of ’92, to me it kind of set everything up for what drove them in the summer and training camp.

Lamark Shackerford: It was like putting a piece of food in a starving man’s mouth and just pulling it away at the last moment. That’s how that felt. Like a tease. Like, "Damn it, we were right there." To not be able to do that just seemed like another, "All right, we’re going back to the lab." It wasn’t no laboring like, "Man, Jay blew that for us." Nothing like that. It was like, "Damn, we coulda. So now we have one more year of this thing. Next year, we’re getting it."

John Palermo (assistant head coach, 1991-2005): Barry did a great job of preaching to the guys, "Hey, we’re close, but close isn’t good enough" at the end of the 5-6 years. We’ve got to win the close games in order to turn the program around. And all of a sudden, bam, we were able to do that.

Terrell Fletcher: Coming out of that second 5-6 season, we knew we were good. We knew we had great talent. We didn’t have that killer mentality yet to just go in there and do business with Northwestern and then get out of it. That was what we fed on all summer long.

Scott Nelson: Probably 75, 80 guys stayed around to train, work out and stay together that summer. I think we knew that we had something pretty special.

Yusef Burgess (inside linebacker, 1990-93): Most of the guys stayed on campus and went to summer school or worked. I would put the number at 99 percent.

Barry Alvarez: I went through every position and evaluated throughout the league, and I thought we were comparable to anyone. And there were guys who were tough because we pushed them hard. Our practices were physical. They knew how to play, and they knew how to compete. There was no doubt in my mind we’d be pretty damn good.

Lee DeRamus: You see it happening in front of your eyes. And you see us getting better. You see the route running getting better and the passes getting thrown tighter. The practices run smoother. You see the new recruiting class coming in and they’re not bums. You got some ballers coming in and competing. That’s when we knew like, "Yo, we’ve got a nice little squad."

Terrell Fletcher: There was a group of us that shaved our heads. And we said we’re not growing our hair back until we beat Michigan or something like that. So guys were setting those kinds of goals. Guys were going and getting Rose Bowl tattoos. I have my rose on my back to this day that I got in the summer of 1993 because we had just gassed ourselves up that we were that team. Guys were making championship commitments long before we had actually become champions.

Cory Raymer: If anybody says that we believed we were going to go to the Rose Bowl in ’93, they are completely full of crap. We kind of came out of right field for sure.

Darrell Bevell (quarterback, 1992-95): There really wasn’t any talk of that. I remember the first team meeting when we got back, coach Alvarez got up there and was talking about the goals for the season. One of the top goals was to get to a bowl game and win the bowl game. It wasn’t, "Hey, we’re going to the Rose Bowl and winning the Rose Bowl."

Scott Nelson: We knew we had enough that if we took care of business, we could get to a bowl game and get the program started back on track. It was the road to recovery, so to speak.

Joe Rudolph: We played Nevada first and won 35-17. I remember going into that game feeling like if we played at our best consistently, we would always have a great opportunity to win. We were never behind or struggling in the game.

Jay Wilson: The Southern Methodist game, that was only the second game of the season. But that was the one that you kind of went, "Hey, they could be OK."

Barry Alvarez: SMU, they weren’t a great team. But we hadn’t won at night, and winning on the road had been tough. We get down there and it’s hot. It’s a poor atmosphere. Christ, we’re dressed in like a high school locker room, walk across the parking lot, across a street. I mean, a street with the cars and stuff. It was bush league, and you go out there and you fall behind the first half.

Dan McCarney: One of the flattest football teams I’d ever been around, and they’re kicking our ass in the first half. We looked like a scout team defense. That was a pretty lively halftime speech from all of us. There were some helmets flying and fists punching, hitting a chalkboard. It was legitimate. It wasn’t for show. Everybody was so damn upset the way we were playing. If we’re going to lose a game, let’s lose a game playing really good football, not this nonsense we’re watching in the first half.

Mark Montgomery: In the locker room at halftime, players were coming together and remembering where we came from and how bad it hurt to lose. The attitude all of a sudden just clicked. All my teammates were like, "We’re not losing this game, we’re winning it and we’re going."

Barry Alvarez: We came back the second half and beat them. That was a huge win. It really was.

 

Mike Verstegen: One of the coaches said you know that you’re a good team when you can play poor and still win. That was probably the turning point.

Mark Montgomery: Once we were able to come back and beat SMU down there, that’s when we finally turned the corner. We were full speed ahead after that point. That single game changed everything.

Reggie Holt: We were confident. Once we came back from that SMU game, we had a different attitude going into the Big Ten season.

Steve Malchow: We beat Iowa State the next week 28-7 and started off the Big Ten by beating Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue. And all of a sudden, I think a team that was pretty good started believing they were really good. That’s a hard thing to describe, but you could feel it.

Eric Unverzagt: When we went to 6-0, we knew we were going to have a bowl that year. I remember coach Alvarez saying, "We’re going to a bowl. Now we get to decide which one."

Barry Alvarez: We beat Purdue, and we went 6-0. Now we’ve got our first bowl game locked up. And somebody in the media talked to Joe Panos — and I would never let them talk past the next week. One week, the New York Times had us ranked No. 1, and I wouldn’t even talk about it. One of the media asked Joe at the press conference, "Would you even think that Wisconsin would have a chance to win the Big Ten championship?" And Joe’s response was, "Why not Wisconsin?" And I think that sent a strong message to all the other guys. We’re not bullshittin’ around. We’re pretty good.

Joe Panos: That was the attitude that we had. We were like, "Why not Wisconsin?" I was just echoing what everyone felt. Like why not us? Why not Wisconsin? Who’s better than us on paper after the first six games? Who’s worked harder than we have? Why can’t we win the Big Ten? Now in saying that, I put our neck out on the line. But that’s OK. We loved challenges. We weren’t being cocky or anything. I was just being very truthful. Why not us?

Lamark Shackerford: That’s how we all felt. We felt like we arrived to put our name up here on the Mt. Rushmores with the Michigans and the Michigan States and all those guys.

Matt Lepay: I think when Joe said that, it struck people because they had asked can you be in the race? And he said, "Why not Wisconsin?" That goes back to where it’s not OK to be 5-6. We’re trying to be better than that.

John Palermo: Guys listened to him. Joe was one of those guys that wasn’t afraid to throw somebody up against the wall if they didn’t buy into what we were preaching back then.

Barry Alvarez: It was a burden that was lifted off everyone.

 

Lamark Shackerford: We didn’t care who we played, what, where, let’s go. You want to go play in the parking lot? Let’s go. That’s why Joe was like, "Hey, why not us? We’re just as good as anybody else."

Joel Maturi: Then, they lost at Minnesota to a very inferior Minnesota team.

 

Eric Unverzagt: That one hurt. We made a lot of mistakes. Bevell threw five picks. We didn’t make plays on defense. We had missed opportunities. We knew we played so bad. And we still could’ve won the game. They beat us 28-21. It was gut-wrenching.

Darrell Bevell: There was bad throws in there, there was throws bouncing off a guy in there. I remember one of the running backs fumbled as well. So we turned the ball over six times in that game. We weren’t ourselves. I didn’t play well enough for my teammates.

Scott Nelson: The stumbling block with Minnesota, as much as that hurt for us, I think that was a great checking point for us to say, "OK, there’s a lot of work to be done." I think guys really rededicated themselves that last half of the season.

Mike Thompson: I believe that was a wakeup call to say, "Listen, we’re good. But we’re not invincible, so we need to go back to the drawing board and figure this out."

Mark Montgomery: That literally brought the reality back of where we came from when we were losing all the time. I will say this time and time again. If we didn’t lose that game, our season wouldn’t have been the way it was.

Joel Maturi: Barry goes back in the locker room and he tells the kids it’s all part of the plan. It’s all how we respond. We have a great football team. What Barry knew that I had forgotten is the next week, we played Michigan and the week after that, we played Ohio State. Both a whole lot better than Minnesota.

Eric Unverzagt: There was no time to feel sorry for yourself.

Joe Rudolph: Michigan had lost that same week and we were to face each other. And the talk was like, "Well Michigan, they’re going to be fired up." And I just remember thinking, "Who cares? We’re pissed off. They’d better worry about how we’re feeling."

Carlos Fowler: Some guys from Michigan put out there saying, "We’re going to roll our helmets out there and Wisconsin is going to lay down." I’m like no the hell we ain’t. We totally believed in ourselves. It was like each week we’re going to make believers of them one way or the other. This is not your grandpa’s old Badgers. We are for real.

Cory Raymer: Most years, Michigan could probably roll their helmets out on the field and beat us. At that point with Alvarez, he stopped that completely. He made you believe whatever animal or creature or team or anything that stood in front of you out there on the football field, you could beat.

Terrell Fletcher: The Michigan game sort of was the game that made people across the nation turn around.

 

Bryan Jurewicz: That Michigan game was really the turning point. Suddenly, we’re in a position to take this team wherever we want to go this year.

Eric Unverzagt: They thought they were better than everybody. That they would just show up and win. It was a big win for the program. And I honestly feel like 13-10 didn’t justify the score of that game. We controlled it for the most part.

Terrell Fletcher: We just gave it to them. I was fortunate. I scored that winning touchdown. But it’s like now you guys have to account for Wisconsin. Y’all got to account for us. We’re here to stay. We’re as good at every position on the football field.

Bryan Jurewicz: Then, obviously the crush happened in the celebration.

 

Mike Thompson: I was actually one of the last ones off the field. I was over on the sidelines talking to my family. I walked over there and literally saw bodies stacked 10-feet tall. One on top of the other.

Susan Riseling: Literally 70 rows of people in the student section compressed into 40 rows of students. So essentially 30 rows of people marched right on down toward the field, compressing all the people that were in front of them.

Mike Thompson: I started pulling people off and at the bottom there were a few people there that were lifeless. They had blue lips.

 

Cory Raymer: It was the craziest thing. You didn’t really know what the hell was going on. I’ve never felt anything like it before or after. You couldn’t do a damn thing about it. The people in the way top of the bleachers were pushing everybody down. It wasn’t no fault of anybody. It was just an unfortunate thing.

Susan Riseling: Railings that keep people from just kind of falling out in aisles or rows, those railings gave way and the bolts that were bolted into the concrete literally came out of concrete. And the railings were tangles almost like spaghetti, even though these were iron railings.

Carlos Fowler: Joe Panos was really shaken up. He was holding a girl, and the girl almost died in his arms. We saw a lot of things we’ve never seen before.

Mike Thompson: It was very, very emotional. I remember going into the locker room and Dan McCarney was high-fiving me. He had no idea what was going on. I was crying. He said, "What’s wrong with you? I said, "I think there are some people that are dead out there." He said, "What are you talking about?"

Dan McCarney: We start leaving the locker room and seeing kids coming down the tunnel with tears in their eyes screaming, "There might be some students dead out there." We were in the locker room celebrating. We didn’t know. It was an unbelievable swing of emotions.

Mark Montgomery: People were coming into the locker room like, "Wow, there’s a big deal going on in the stadium. There’s a lot of people hurt." That’s when players started coming out of the locker room helping to see what was going on. That’s when we realized, holy shit, there’s a tragedy occurring inside the stadium.

Mike Thompson: It was very disturbing. Everyone was very fortunate the help was there. The paramedics and players jumped in to do CPR to not lose any lives.

Cory Raymer: Thank God nobody got killed or very seriously injured. It wasn’t the way you wanted to celebrate a victory after coming off the field. It was pretty scary.

Eric Unverzagt: That’s adversity right there. Biggest win in Wisconsin history in a long time and then we’ve got to deal with all that side stuff. Coach Alvarez, he had counselors in for us. He spoke to us. He organized trips to the hospital.

Kenny Gales (cornerback, 1992-94): As a group, it did bring us together to say, "Hey, we are a team. And the community is behind us." That unfortunate incident showed just how much excitement there was. I think it did help us pull together.

Eric Unverzagt: I remember going to the hospital and visiting people. I still remember the girl is like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m fine. So anyway, about Ohio State." I’m like, "Oh my goodness. You’re in the hospital. You almost died." She’s like, "Yeah, I’m fine. But we’ve got to beat Ohio State this week." The fans were excited.

Carlos Fowler: Ohio State, each year they had all these perennial all-Americans, like all-Big Ten players. Here, we don’t have that. But we believed if we played as a unit, couldn’t nobody stop us.

John Cooper (Ohio State head coach, 1988-2000): They were beating us there at the end of the game. I remember specifically looking out on the field, and I told my offensive coordinator, Wisconsin had a junior college defensive back that had a knee brace on. I said, "Let’s throw the ball against this guy." We threw about three or four passes in a row and scored on them.

Eric Unverzagt: We should have beaten Ohio State. Up 14-7, they drive the field in three, four plays. And then obviously they blocked our field goal. I was good friends with Rick Schnetzky, the kicker. He was like, "It was good. It was definitely good."

John Cooper: They came roaring back. One of our guys blocked a field goal the last play of the game. But we couldn’t get the ball back. That was a trademark of Barry’s teams. They’re going to run it until you stop them. The one big advantage they had over everybody they played was ball control.

Lee DeRamus: We tied, and we both shared the title and all that. But to this day I think a couple of us are still a little rubbed the wrong way about that O-State game. We really wanted to beat them.

Mike Thompson: A tie is like kissing your sister. I guess a tie is better than a loss.

 

Eric Unverzagt: It shows where the program was in that short of time. Ohio State was happy to tie us. We were upset. We felt like we lost. That was a credit to coach Alvarez that tying wasn’t acceptable.

Bryan Jurewicz: We knew Michigan and Ohio State had to play each other, and if Michigan was able to win that we would literally have the driver’s seat for the Rose Bowl.

Mike Thompson: We went to Illinois, and Michigan was playing Ohio State. They had the early game, and we had the later game that day. We knew that if Ohio State won, they’d be the ones going to the Rose Bowl. We were sitting in the hotel room, and Michigan thumped Ohio State. There was a lot of enthusiasm.

Bryan Jurewicz: We still had to go to Japan and beat Michigan State to go to the Rose Bowl. But the math had been done.

 

John Palermo: Before the season, we had scheduled a game over in Tokyo to be a reward for our players because we weren’t sure that we were going to be a bowl team.

George Perles: They came to me and wanted me to play over there. I said, "Well, I’ll go, but I’m not going to use a home game up." Well, Barry felt that they hadn’t been to a bowl for a while, so he decided to go there, and of course that was a great year for them.

Pat Richter: We gave up a home game because we could use it to recruit people to say, "Hey, you could come to Wisconsin, you go to Japan, a lifetime experience." Then of course, when we did, it was for the chance to go to the Rose Bowl. So it was much different than what we anticipated.

Dan McCarney: When that dang thing was signed for Michigan State and Wisconsin to go play in the Tokyo Bowl, who the hell would’ve known that if we win, we’re going to the first Rose Bowl since 1963?

Steve Malchow: Barry, typical to form, tried to find out how it was an advantage for us. The advantage he sold was that we started working on getting our body clocks turned. He had the players trying to sleep in the daytime and stay up late at night. They were wearing sunglasses around during the day to start trying to get your body clock turned ahead because the time difference between here and Tokyo was so significant.

Lee DeRamus: When we got that itinerary in the team meeting, we’re looking around like, "Really?" At the same time, a couple of us were like, "Yo, they know what they’re doing. We’re on some professional new-age stuff. They’re taking us to something new."

Kenny Gales: If he told us to wear sunglasses in class at 12 o’clock in the afternoon and he told us to wake up at 1 in the morning and turn the light on for an hour to adjust your body, we didn’t question it. We were like, "Hey, this guy’s trying to win the next game, and so are we."

Eric Unverzagt: It was this whole plan. He spoke to the people at NASA.

 

Bryan Jurewicz: I think we were all drinking the Kool-Aid.

 

Jim Hueber: We were all in. What the hell do we know? We had a professor on campus tell us that it can help us get prepared for the game by helping us beat the traveling time distance. Everybody was all in. Whatever they told us, we did. We were going to try to win the game.

Reggie Holt: I thought he was nuts in terms of all the tactics that he asked us to do. But I tell you what: When we landed in Tokyo, we were ready to go.

Jeff Messenger: We took it as a business trip. There was no way we were going to go over there and lose. We felt very confident we were going to do whatever it took to win that game.

Eric Unverzagt: I remember on the plane, Michigan State was sleeping. And we’re like, "Stick to the plan, guys. We’ve got to stay up." Coach had the trainer up there. We had guys being stretched out by our strength coach. We had a plan for everything. He had a hydration plan for us. And it worked. Obviously, the score told the tale on that one. We beat them 41-20.

Reggie Holt: We really did a number on them. We believed all the crazy things that Coach had us do leading up to that. We believed that was the reason behind it.

Cory Raymer: At no second of any day, leaving Madison to go to Tokyo, was any one of us jetlagged or wiped out because we were tired. All the crazy tactics that we were making fun of him before we got out there, it all worked because we were ready to play football.

George Perles: We didn’t think of that like he did. We should have because he was right in doing that.

 

Mike Roan (tight end, 1990-94): Celebrating the game and the win in downtown Tokyo with your measly 40 dollars per diem you got for the week and trying to survive on nine-dollar Heinekens in downtown Tokyo, it didn’t go too far. I definitely remember hitting Tokyo, probably one of the most expensive cities in the world, with a college per diem in your pocket. It didn’t last long. We had a good time regardless.

Jim Hueber: When we drove back into the state, people were on overpasses. People out on the highway were beeping their horn, following the bus up the interstate to Madison.

John Palermo: It really hit all of us, what we accomplished. We knew it was big.

Carlos Fowler: Three years earlier, we were 1-10. Here we are now at the mecca of college football in California. It was like a culmination of everything that we ever dreamed of was happening there.

Steve Malchow: Initially the thought was, "Can you believe it? We’re here." And then that quickly got altered because Barry not only wanted to get there, he wanted to win the game. That was really important to him.

Barry Alvarez: If you go out there and lose, that’s gut-wrenching. I saw that at Iowa the two times I was out there. And the Big Ten had gone out there and lost I don’t know how many. The Big Ten couldn’t win out there.

Matt Lepay: They were very good at playing the underdog. The chip on your shoulder, all of that stuff. They really fed off of that. That was a big part of it, and they used it as effectively as you possibly could.

Steve Malchow: We were playing UCLA on UCLA’s home field, but it was our turn to be the home team. We got to choose what locker room we were in. And Barry said, "Guys, we are taking UCLA’s locker room." He sold it on we were the home team, we earned that locker room and we were taking their locker room. We were taking something from UCLA and treating them as a visiting team in their own venue.

Joe Panos: Coach always had a plan. Whether that plan was good or not was irrelevant. As long as we thought it was, and it worked to our benefit, we believed it.

Terrell Fletcher: He told us the cameras are going to be on them. UCLA is going to act like you guys are not here. And that was the angle that he was starting to play with us. He said, "They’re not as tough as you are. They’re prettier than you are. But they’re not as tough."

Barry Alvarez: I’ve always felt like the West Coast teams could be soft. They played hard when they feel like playing hard. We were big underdogs. And I knew they’d think they were going to intimidate us, they were going to kick our ass. I knew they’d do that. But I also knew they had some issues. They had to stay wherever they were living in L.A., and that pissed them off. It’s not a reward for them. So I knew there would be an attitude problem. I just knew we could surprise them by being more physical and not being intimidated. And they tried.

Lamark Shackerford: When we’re out there, you do little joint events with UCLA. You both go to Disneyland. Those guys talked a lot. I’ll just say it like that. We kind of laughed. We had what Barry called, his term was dark alley guys. The guys that you would say if I’m going to walk down this dark alley, I want him and him with me. So we always looked at people who talked like that like, "Man, when we get on the field, we’re going to kick their ass." It became personal.

Mike Thompson: They were talking smack the whole time. It was who’s Wisconsin? They didn’t know we were on the map or even a college football team at that time.

Brian Patterson: They strutted around like peacocks. There were people in California that didn’t know where Wisconsin was.

 

Mark Montgomery: From jump street, they had this arrogant attitude. They figured they were going to walk all over us, that we didn’t even belong on the same field with them.

Barry Alvarez: I’m going to tell you one thing: You’re not going to intimidate my guys. They’ll go to a back alley with anybody. They were not going to be intimidated by guys wearing powder blue uniforms. Are you kidding me?

Terry Donahue (UCLA head coach, 1976-95): I don’t recall us going into the game with a lack of respect for Wisconsin. I think we were well aware that they were very physical and that they had good coaches and tough players. They were very capable of beating us if we didn’t play well.

Brad Childress: The night before the game in the team meeting, Coach said, "Where do we play our best football?" Everybody said, "Camp Randall." He said, "We do. That’s exactly right. And tomorrow when you come out at the Rose Bowl, it’s going to be like Camp Randall West because it’s going to be a sea of red." And he didn’t lie. The red jerseys compared to powdered blue and yellow was unbelievable. It truly was like a home game.

Terry Donahue: The Wisconsin people were so excited to come out to the Rose Bowl and hadn’t been for so many years that they just escalated all of the ticket prices. It happened right on our campus. Our students would get in line to get their student tickets for the Rose Bowl. The minute they’d step out of line, the ticket guys would offer them outrageous amounts of money for their tickets. And they would sell them. Not only did that occur, but all of our season ticket holders didn’t come to the game. We sold our tickets to ticket people that were running tours and running tricks for Wisconsin people.

Cory Raymer: When you walk out and see UCLA fans scalping tickets to Badger fans just because they’re willing to pay three times face value, that tells you something. You walked out to an away game, and 90 percent of it is red and only 10 percent in blue. It’s a hell of a feeling.

Matt Lepay: It was a home game against a team playing on its home field.

 

Joe Panos: The whole sea of red. Camp Randall West. The place seats 100,000 people and almost 80,000 were our guys wearing Badger red. That was awesome.

Barry Alvarez: They said 15,000 fans outside the stadium got bumped from tickets. They set up movie screens out there so they could at least be there and tailgate and watch the game outside.

Terry Donahue: I had always told our team about how spectacular the Rose Bowl game was and how you walk out there and there’s going to be blue and gold pom-poms everywhere. We walk out there, and it’s 80 percent Wisconsin people. And they’re yelling at us and screaming. Frankly, it was like playing at Camp Randall.

Bryan Jurewicz: There was definitely a lack of respect. Even from the standpoint that the fans barely even showed up compared to the Wisconsin fans. Like, "Well, we have this one in the bag."

Terry Donahue: It was a huge factor. Our team got like racehorses that were jittery at the starting gate. It was very, very unsettling to our team. It was unsettling to our coaches. It was unsettling to me. Because we didn’t expect it. We didn’t know that avalanche of red was going to be there. The support that the Wisconsin fans gave their football team was just unparalleled in the history of the Rose Bowl game.

Joe Rudolph: When you walked onto the field and you saw all the red, it was empowering. It was like, "All right, this is on."

 

Jim Hueber: Brent Moss had a tremendous year. He was deserving of every honor that he got. We used to joke after we were there for a long time, if you needed one yard, who’d you want playing running back? Brent’s name always came up. He scored two early touchdowns for us.

Brent Moss: In big games, I blank out the excitement and don’t realize it until the game is over with. I can’t remember how exciting it was to score those touchdowns. During the game, I’m like focused.

Cory Raymer: Brent Moss didn’t look like much back then. He wasn’t the biggest man, he wasn’t the fastest. Damn it if he didn’t get it done week in and week out. That Rose Bowl was no different. He would always show up.

Jim Hueber: He was the MVP of the Big Ten. He was MVP of the Rose Bowl. I don’t know what more he could have done that season.

Darrell Bevell: Brent was our bell cow. He was the alley cat. It was as many times as you could hand it to him, something good was going to happen. He embodied the blue-collar, hard-working style of player, which was kind of our identity.

Mike Thompson: UCLA was extremely shocked at how physical of a football team we were. They had never experienced anything like that before. Just for us to come out early in the game and punch them in the mouth and show them, "Hey, we’re here to play, shut your mouth now. We’re going to beat you." The early momentum that we gained continued throughout the game.

Terry Donahue: They had a big, physical offensive line and they historically and traditionally have always been a very strong, powerful running team. Certainly that day, they were difficult to stop. They had physical players at running back, at offensive line. They played an outstanding game, and frankly we didn’t.

Dan McCarney: We forced six turnovers in the Rose Bowl, which is almost unheard of. We collapsed the pocket on the quarterback. The defensive line played lights out. Dominated up front. That will go down in the ages.

Terry Donahue: We went into the game as the No. 1 team in the country in turnover margin. When you turn the ball over six times, you’re not going to win the game.

Wayne Cook (UCLA quarterback, 1991-94): We couldn’t hold onto the ball. I don’t remember the crowd being a problem as a player calling plays. We had 500-something yards of total offense and only 16 points. We just couldn’t score.

Eric Unverzagt: You’re thinking like, Jesus, these guys can’t hold on to the football. We’re going to get this thing because these guys can’t score.

Wayne Cook: It just kind of all fell apart. It was like the perfect storm. Then both teams had a couple guys kicked out of the game early on for a fight. The stuff we did in that game wasn’t characteristic of us. It was hard to deal with.

Darrell Bevell: They came in hooting and hollering and jawing back and forth and talking. None of that does anything. There was some heated moments in the pregame, where their defensive back came out getting in our guys’ faces. All that doesn’t matter until you get between the white lines.

Bryan Jurewicz: There was a lot of taunting, a lot of talking back and forth. I think even by the second half, those guys knew we were for real.

Mark Montgomery: The smart-ass talking going on was just outrageous. Something was definitely going to blow up, which it obviously did.

Lee DeRamus: Marvin Goodwin was their main defensive back, and he was from New Jersey. I played against him in high school. Used to beat him up all the time, and he hated me.

Barry Alvarez: He was a DB on the team. And he played against DeRamus and all those guys from Jersey. He’s the one that started the fight.

Cory Raymer: It was fourth-and-1. It was a stretch play over to the sideline. When I kind of rolled over, all I saw was a bunch of UCLA people. I’m like, "You know what? This is not good. This is not the place you want to be." Basically the second after that play started, it just needed a spark. Just a hint of smoke and everything went up in flames. Everybody just went nuts.

Lee DeRamus: I had just run by Marvin Goodwin on a stutter and go. He fell. He pass interferenced me. You see him getting frustrated. Then he came right at me. I’m chilling. Trying to get away from the problem, grabbing my homies off the pile after the run. As soon as I look up, he is full speed sprinting at me. I look up and I just get tackled. I’m like, "What?" So I knew it was him and I knew it was time for us to get it in. Ever since high school. That’s what happened.

Mark Montgomery: Brent had the ball, he dove for the first down. From my perspective, their linebacker came in after the play was over and jumped on Brent. It was a late hit. So now protecting our players, I went in and jumped on the linebacker to get him off of Brent Moss, and then once it happened the fight was on. Just from the beginning of the game, now leading up to this moment here, tempers are flaring, the fight’s on and it’s moving toward their sideline. And once it got to their sideline, it just erupted.

Jeff Messenger: Lee DeRamus and Mark Montgomery, those guys weren’t going to back down from anybody. It didn’t matter what was said or done. They were going to make sure that they knew who we were. Both guys were ejected.

Mark Montgomery: I don’t think it was severe enough for players to get kicked out with myself and DeRamus and with their two players. Especially being the Rose Bowl, they could have given both teams a warning. For the ejections, it’s unfortunate. And the only reason why I can talk about it is because the outcome was still in our favor. If we would have lost that game, there’s no way I would be talking about this ejection.

Lamark Shackerford: Could we have handled it better? Probably. We ended up losing our starting wide receiver, our starting fullback. But at the same time, seeing the guys do that, that amped the team up. We lost two guys, but we were like, "Man, we’re in a dog fight now." They tried to come at us. It just became like, "OK, it’s time to roll up the sleeves now. It’s on." That’s what that was about. We weren’t going to take no shit from nobody.

Yusef Burgess: There were some extracurricular activities. Even with the guys being thrown out of the game, the pendulum hadn’t swung too far.

Bryan Jurewicz: Obviously, everybody would say Bevell’s run was kind of a game changer.

 

Matt Lepay: It certainly was the most unlikely run in Wisconsin history.

 

Jim Hueber: It was the run for the ages at the time.

 

Scott Nelson: The Darrell run in and of itself, I think a lot of us did a double take at each other like, "Who the heck was that?" Then you realize it was Bev, running for his life, running scared or just running for a dream. Who knew?

Darrell Bevell: The play was four verticals. It was the fourth quarter, and we motioned the fullback out to run four verticals. I wasn’t known as a runner. As I dropped back, Mike Verstegen on the left side, I don’t know if the guy made an inside move on him or what, but I just felt the whole left side cave in. He kind of pushed him in. It just gave me this lane outside, so I took off.

Steve Stark: I was in awe at how long it took. It was an incredible play, and in fact he outran me. So I guess I shouldn’t say too much. I remember him running outside of me and following him into the end zone.

Darrell Bevell: I kind of had flashbacks to a game earlier in the year where I ran more sideways than I did vertical. So I kind of turned it up the field to get as much as you can and get down. As I turned up, I caught J.C. Dawkins coming out of the corner of my eye. I just kind of moved to go behind him. It looked like he was coming to set up a block. Next thing you know, I was in the end zone.

Brad Childress: What an unlikely candidate to take off and run anywhere for any yardage, let alone a 21-yard touchdown run. I’ve kidded him more than once on that. That’s when you knew things were happening the right way, that’s for sure.

Kenny Gales: We were all on the sideline like, "Hey, if they’re going to let Darrell run for a touchdown, this game is over." I seriously thought that. I just laughed. I said they don’t know who they just let score.

Darrell Bevell: Even I knew that it was kind of a special play at that moment, thinking, "Jeez, how in the world did I pull that one off?"

Cory Raymer: It’s the only time he’s ever done it. It couldn’t have been a better time to do it. It put us up 21-10 in the fourth quarter.

 

Wayne Cook: I threw a touchdown pass to Mike Nguyen that set it up to where we had an opportunity to win at the end. We got the ball back with two minutes left. But we ran out of time.

Kenny Gales: The final drive, I don’t think anybody on defense thought we were going to let them score. I think we were confident the whole time. But I do remember them moving the ball. I kept lining up and looking at the clock.

Wayne Cook: I think we were just inside the 20. Listen, I know I screwed up. But what’s so sad is from my perspective, I was thinking as clearly as I’ve thought in my life.

Mike Thompson: I just remember Cook dropping back. I rushed up the field and he tucked it under him. I made the tackle. I remember laying on the bottom holding him down as long as I could so the clock would continue to run. I was extremely exhausted. I truly wanted to make that the last play of the game.

Wayne Cook: We called a clock play, which means you had no timeouts left, so you go up, you throw the ball to the ground and you get more plays. Our clock play had two five-yard outs that are assigned to it. So in my mind, this is the honest truth. Clear as a bell, we had never thrown our clock play. Ever. But I was so well coached by our offensive coordinator, Homer Smith, in my head, I went, "Wait a second, we’ve got five-yard outs."

Everybody on the defense was acting like they knew we were going to throw the ball to the ground. So they were just kind of standing flat-footed. I drop back to throw the five-yard out. Well, everybody on my side of the field thought we were going to throw the ball to the ground, too. And they didn’t do what they normally do.

Kenny Gales: I kept telling myself as the clock was winding down five, four, just thinking if they get this off, they’re throwing it to J.J. Stokes. He had a huge day. I said if they snap this ball they’re going to throw it deep to him and it’s me and him. That’s it. No help.

Wayne Cook: This is where I screwed up. I didn’t think two steps ahead. I just thought one step ahead. When my receiver didn’t do what I thought he was going to do, I could have just thrown it over his head. I ran. And that’s when we ran out of time.

Bryan Jurewicz: They did not finish that game smart.

 

Wayne Cook: I still get people like, "Why’d you choke at the end of the game?" This is 20-something years later, right? I’m like you know, it’s sad. From my point of view, all I was thinking about was winning the football game.

Terry Donahue: In fairness to Wayne, that was as much of a coaching error as it was a playing error. It’s always easy to place blame after the fact and things like that. But the reality of it is we didn’t have Wayne trained well enough for that situation. We really didn’t. It wasn’t Wayne Cook’s fault. It was Terry Donahue and Homer Smith, the head coach and the offensive coordinator. It was our fault. For Wayne to carry that burden around all this time is ridiculous.

Pat Richter: I was on the field towards the end of the game. When the last play, the fellow ran across the line of scrimmage, I kind of screamed at somebody and scared them. I realized once he ran across the line of scrimmage, there was no way he could get another play off to stop the clock.

Kenny Gales: Thank God the quarterback kind of made a mistake and went down. We just had to watch that big clock go to zero. That’s when we really knew.

Mike Thompson: Once everybody came off the pile, the refs tried to rush back to the line of scrimmage, get everybody set. I remember the official set the ball down. I turned around. The clock showed zero. There was more uncoordinated football players doing the beer barrel polka on the field than I’ve ever seen in my life.

Darrell Bevell: From that moment, really it’s just chaos. There’s so much excitement. There’s so much exhilaration. You’re basically running around and have no idea what to do. You’re looking for everybody on your team. You’re hugging everybody on your team.

Kenny Gales: That was still one of the greatest feelings ever. It was one of those where I wanted to run around and hug my teammates. And everybody was saying, "We did it. We did it. We did it."

Dan McCarney: Carlos Fowler had his hands in the air in jubilation. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, "Respect us, America." That was the cover of the L.A. Times after we won the Rose Bowl for the first time in 80 years. It just puts in perspective how far we had come and what we accomplished and what we did together.

Carlos Fowler: When that final gun went off and all those lights started flashing, I lost it. Emotions, tears. I get goosebumps right now just thinking about the flash of the lights and everything like that.

Bryan Jurewicz: We were on top of the world. We might as well have won the national championship as far as we were concerned. There was nothing like it.

Cory Raymer: The birth of a child, being married, those are the kinds of days that only come by a few in a lifetime. Winning the Rose Bowl is definitely one of them. It was the greatest moment of my life.

Brent Moss: I felt like a superstar. I felt like at a rap concert or something. My cousin took me to meet Snoop Dogg and all that other stuff. That was one of the best times I ever had in my life. I just went to the club, VIP, everything.

Steve Malchow: I walked into the locker room, and there were a number of us on staff that had worked with coach Alvarez at Iowa. When I came into the locker room and our eyes met, he came over and gave me a typical Barry Alvarez bear hug and looked at me and said, "We did something the old Texan never did." And the old Texan, of course, was Hayden Fry, who had taken Iowa to the Rose Bowl a number of times but never won it.

Cory Raymer: It goes to prove that when you play together and you believe in one another from head to toe and you’ve got a state that’s behind you 100 percent, anything can happen. We were living proof of that.

Reggie Holt: It’s hard to explain a team that nobody expects to do anything to pull it all together. To go to Tokyo, to win that, and now we’re Rose Bowl champions, man, it is one of the greatest feelings that I’ll ever experience in my lifetime.

Brad Childress: It was brick after brick after brick. It was sometimes painful to just be there on the edge, 5-6, 5-6 and then have the breakthrough. I think that was a huge, huge deal.

Kevin Cosgrove: We worked our ass off. And that’s what it takes.

 

Lamark Shackerford: You can’t write a script better than that.

 

Dan McCarney: It’s easy to be average in life. And in football, it’s pretty hard to be elite. That group of young men and coaches will be remembered forever, and it was pretty damn special to be a small part of it.

Bryan Jurewicz: I don’t know how you couldn’t say it was the culmination of this rebuilding project. Nobody could have guessed Barry could have done it that fast. To go from no bowl to the Rose Bowl in one year was amazing.

Darrell Bevell: Our class and our team was able to put Wisconsin back on the map. I can go to Wisconsin to this day and be able to see the W everywhere and get a T-shirt, get a hat, get a sweatshirt. They’re in all those stores whether it’s Wisconsin or Arizona. We’re proud of that.

Barry Alvarez: We went through tough times. We stuck with it. We never compromised who we were and what we were all about. I told people from Day 1, you can go back and read it. I told them just be patient. We’re going to build on a good foundation, and we’ve been good ever since. For us to go to six Rose Bowls from ’94 through two years ago, that’s unbelievable. And three of them in the ’90s? Win three championships? From the shittiest program maybe in the country to three Rose Bowls in the ’90s? That’s ridiculous.

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More Longform: First and Long Series